Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 21

Kenneth frowned when Thorn looked down at his food, letting out a small sigh. “What’s wrong, Thorn?” Kenneth asked. The collection of greens and meat left on his plate didn’t look that disappointing.

A small smile flashed across Thorn’s face, the same sort of smile Kenneth saw on the faces of his fellow students when they were hiding something from the professors. “Nothing.” His gaze flashed to the door again, but other than the stained wood, there was nothing interesting. “Nothing, truly. Just a thought about work. Nothing important.”

Kenneth leaned back in his chair. Whatever it was, Thorn didn’t want to talk about it, and Kenneth wasn’t going to push it, not when the day was going so well. Kenneth muttered a small spell as he picked up his bread, the soft loaf warming in his hands. It was good on its own, but he always preferred his food hot.

“So, I had hoped to introduce you to some of my friends, but apparently they don’t eat here much anymore either,” Thorn said, craning his neck as he peered around the room. “We’re all so busy these days.”

“I met Saul, at least,” Kenneth said. He wasn’t sure if meeting someone who was clearly afraid of him counted. “Who else should we try and find? Do you hang out often with other students?” At the collegium, friendships were based on class and family, most of the time. Kenneth had never been close to his fellow students, and the amount of political wrangling and outright backstabbing when it came to pursuing grades and opportunities had long made him leery of doing more than going out drinking with his peers. He hoped it was different here. The sheer amount of people at the inventor’s college was already different enough from the cloistered halls of the magi collegium.

Thorn’s gaze went distant, and he picked at his bread before answering. “My first year, I was friends with nearly everyone who lived in the same hall as I did. We were all terrified, given an opportunity to study for no pay. Doing our work successfully meant the difference between staying on and going hungry. We all clung together, like puppies in a basket.” He shrugged one shoulder. “A few of them have graduated already, and as we found our niche, we drifted apart. Saul is the closest friend I have now from that group, so I am glad you met him.” Kenneth nodded. “It’s a shame, to think of it, but I guess since I’m graduating soon, I won’t be seeing the old familiar faces. I’ll even miss Professor Varlen.” He gave Kenneth a smirk.

“You’ll meet plenty of new people. I will, too,” Kenneth said.

Thorn nodded, but the pleased smile Kenneth expected didn’t come. “I hope I can stay in touch with people here too,” Thorn said.

A prickle of unease went down Kenneth’s spine. Of course. Thorn, by going with him, would be entering the world of mages, meeting nobles and staying in Kenneth’s mansion. Kenneth had hoped Thorn would be excited.

But Thorn would be losing things too, and Kenneth had to remember that. “We can arrange ways for you to stay in touch with others,” Kenneth said, the words coming fast. “There’s letters, and we can set up a system of message flames or magicked paper to—“

Thorn held up a hand, palm out, shaking his head and laughing. “Relax, Kenneth. I understand. I’m sure I can send letters. It’s just…graduation, is all. Aren’t there people you’ll miss? Experiences you’ll wish you could have again once you move on and become an Enforcer?”

Kenneth tapped the table with a finger. His first year had been spent arguing with his father about pursuing war magic. Alchemy was intriguing, and he had done well, but given his background, his future had never been in doubt. He would return to his parent’s home and run the household, with a focus on maintaining connections to other nobles and the Councilmembers, not with fellow students.

He suddenly wished he had taken the collegium more seriously. His studies had never been important as anything more than just another way to win recognition and gain status. It had never meant the difference between success and starvation, not like Thorn.

He wished he could understand Thorn more. He wanted to stay with him, desperately, but fires, their lives were so different.

“I suppose you’d rather not remember the collegium, judging from your expression,” Thorn said, putting his hand on Kenneth’s.

His touch sent sudden passion through Kenneth, sending the aether reeling as his magic jumped. Fires.

Thorn drew his hand back, shaking it. “Ouch. Static.”

Kenneth closed his fist, willing himself back under control. He had been doing better, but it seemed he hadn’t quite gotten over the effect of Thorn’s nearness, not yet. At least Thorn hadn’t attributed the shock to Kenneth’s magic. “What say we go back to your room?” Kenneth asked. Maybe, if he could be physical with Thorn, he would get himself together. The thought only made things worse, of course, but soon…he swallowed down a surge of lust.

Thorn’s mouth turned up, his gaze going heavy-lidded as he glanced at Kenneth. “I would like that.”

We’re not so different, Kenneth reassured himself as they headed down the hall, Thorn’s hand soft in his. We’ve had different backgrounds, different lives, but we love each other. That’s enough. Love and lust made him squeeze Thorn’s hand, and as they rounded the familiar corner of the dorms he moved to stroke Thorn’s neck.

Thorn froze, Kenneth nearly bumping into him. The door to Thorn’s room hung open, the wood splintered.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

New Release!

Book 5 in the Enforcer's Series is out today!

Having survived a dangerous ordeal, Kenneth is ready to  spend time at home with his partner Thorn, relaxing and  recovering after his brush with death. But Enforcers rarely  have time to themselves, and they must continue  investigating their newfound enemy, the group calling
themselves the Iris.

Kenneth and Thorn organize a meeting of their fellow  Enforcers, with the goal of figuring out their next steps. But when their only lead is found dead, it becomes clear to Kenneth and Thorn that not all Enforcers are their allies—and that they have invited danger into their home.

Grab it over at Extasy Books!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention Part 20

 Part 20

The gift was perfect.

George had put a lot of doubts into Thorn’s mind. He wasn’t betraying his people. He wasn’t selling himself out. Becoming an Enforcer didn’t mean those things, not logically. But when faced with George’s anger, it was hard to remember that.

But the little automata—sure, it wasn’t perfectly made. It was a toy meant for children, an experiment into a steam engine that had clearly not panned out. But it was perfect. Kenneth had meant it as a gift to remember their first meeting, and it was that. But it was more, too.

The talentless had dreams. There were many ways to achieve them, many roads to take. The gift just made Thorn feel more sure about the one he had chosen.

Kenneth may not understand everything about talentless life. But his heart was in the right place, and that was good enough. He was far from the noble mage who had recoiled in fear from the sigh of an artificial hand.

If only others could see it too.

Thorn clenched his jaw. Others would see it. He had been hiding Kenneth, in a way, afraid of what others would think. He had acted like being with Kenneth was something to be ashamed of. That was a mistake.

Kenneth was here to fix his magic, sure, but he was also here to learn about Thorn and his life. It was time to help with that by introducing him to others. George could go to the fires. Thorn wasn’t ashamed.

“Thorn?” Kenneth asked. “You alright?”

“I’m fine,” Thorn said, placing the automata carefully back in the bag. “I’m just fine. Making plans for tonight.” He met his lover’s sky blue eyes. “How would you feel about seeing the mess halls where students typically eat?”

Thorn hadn’t been here in a while. Between Kenneth paying for meals and the money he made selling things, he had been able to afford better fare. But plenty of people still ate at the mess, and it had saved him often enough his first few years when he hadn’t a penny to his name and had gotten by washing dishes and forging utensils.

And it was a great way for people to meet Kenneth.

“Does the collegium have a place like this?” Thorn asked as they entered, after having safely stowed his gift in his dorm room. His lover was surveying the mess, which looked smaller than Thorn remembered. Long tables and benches stretched across the room, and the ceiling was low, with beams criss-crossing the corners that would probably force Kenneth to duck if he walked near them. It wasn’t as crowded as Thorn remembered either, with only about a dozen people eating at various locations along the long tables.

“No,” Kenneth said. “Not quite like this.” Someone looked up at his voice, her eyes widening. She turned back to her book.

Thorn sighed. “C’mon, lets grab some food.”

Compared to the near-rotten fare at the orphanage where he had grown up, the meals here had been heaven. Now they were simply bland in comparison to the restaurant fare Thorn usually procured for himself, but still as filling as he remembered. Kenneth, for all his culture, ate heartily.

“I’m surprised,” he said. “This is good.”

Thorn raised an eyebrow. “What, expecting weevils in the grain and mold on the bread?”

Kenneth paused, glancing at his food.

Thorn chuckled. “That was what food was like when I was a child. Not here. We trade with local merchants, fixing their gear and such. We get good ingredients.”

“It’s not so different than quick meals grabbed nearby, you know,” Kenneth said. “I suppose…some people think talentless eat rotten food or dogs or somesuch, but really, its similar. I happen to like plainer things now and then.”

“I do hope you’re not calling me plain,” Thorn said, his voice dry, and he laughed again when Kenneth shook his head. “Food is a fact of life. It unites everyone, rich and poor, talentless and mage.” He leaned back, looking over the few people in the mess. The woman reading a book had left, but others remained. No one made eye contact with him, or looked at Kenneth.

It was fine. He didn’t need them to react. He just wanted to feel safe among his own people with his lover. He wanted to be accepted.

A door banged, and Kenneth looked up from a bite of his bread. The woman who had been reading a book stood in the doorway, along with George.

Thorn’s meal squirmed in his mouth as though there really were weevils in it. He swallowed hard.

He wasn’t going to let George push him around.

“What is it?” Kenneth asked. Thorn tensed, expecting George to come over to them, to begin his abuses again.

Instead, the other man merely met his eyes, then turned away.

Thorn let out a breath, his appetite gone. Somehow, he doubted very much that his leaving meant George had given up.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 19

Part 19

Kenneth watched as a small glass bead wound its way around a series of tubes constructed from wood, iron and rubber. It finally rolled to a stop, and once it did a tiny door on the top of the contraption opened, a wooden bird emerging from inside and making a peeping noise.

“A clock, m’lord,” the woman at the stall said.

Kenneth smiled and shook his head. It was cute, but not what he had in mind for Thorn.

He knew it was foolish. Thorn could make his own devices that were a thousand times more useful, and probably better made, than what would be sold here. But it was Kenneth’s chance to find something that would let Thorn know how Kenneth felt about him, even if it may not actually impress him.

The stall he wanted was not nearly as crowded as the others. Kenneth paused before he approached, taking in the sight. Most of the small wheeled contraptions didn’t move, but one rolled back and forth, puffs of steam emerging from the top like a small chimney. It was slightly different than the one that had scared Jade the first day he had met Thorn—the wheels were smaller, the metal lighter. But it was close.

“Excuse me,” Kenneth said, and the young man working the stand jumped, his eyes widening when he saw Kenneth.

“Yes, my lord,” he said, his voice wobbling. Kenneth wished he hadn’t worn his silk robes. Then again, he didn’t own anything that wouldn’t make him stand out. “Are you interested in a heater or perhaps a fan? Or a humidifier?”

Kenneth blinked. “I’m curious about these,” he said, pointing to the contraption. “How much are they?”

He immediately regretted the question, remembering the man in the shop who had fleeced him for a simple steel bar. But it was too late now.

“O-only a sixpence, my lord,” the man answered. Kenneth had to grin. At least the inventor’s college students were honest.

He paid twice that, telling the boy to keep the rest. He packed up the contraption, what the boy explained was a “wheeled automata,” in a cloth bag. Kenneth hoped Thorn would like it.

He walked Jade back to the edge of the crowd, finally noticing his lover, still on horseback, where he had left him. Thorn peered into the crowd, his eyes narrowed and his forehead creased.

“Thorn?” Kenneth asked. Thorn’s face smoothed when Kenneth approached, but the careful glint didn’t leave his eyes. “Is something wrong? You seem on edge.”

“Kenneth.” Thorn smiled. “No, I’m just fine.” Kenneth raised an eyebrow, but didn’t pry. Thorn glanced around him one more time, Kenneth turning his head to follow his gaze. He saw only other talentless milling about, and a boy chasing a large bug with a stick. Filthy, but harmless.

“I got something for you, just as I said I would,” Kenneth said. “Would you like it here?”

Thorn grinned. “What say I take you out to lunch first? You can give it to me there.”

Apparently in talentless towns, it wasn’t unusual to eat outside after being served food that could be easily carried. Chunks of meat on a stick wasn’t exactly the most appetizing meal, but the taste made up for it. Kenneth and Thorn sat outside a restaurant on a bench provided for diners like them, watching the road as heavily laden carts trundled by.

“So,” Thorn said. “What is this gift of yours?” There was something in his voice, some sort of wariness or nervousness, but it wasn’t directed at Kenneth. Something must have happened, but Kenneth had no idea what. If Thorn wanted to be distracted, though, he could do that.

“I do hope you enjoy it,” Kenneth said, a blush stealing over his face. “I know its probably not impressive compared to what you could make, but it reminded me of the first time we met, and—“

“Kenneth,” Thorn said with a laugh. “Just show me.”

Kenneth presented the bag, untying the knot with his hands rather than using magic, mindful of the people around them as they walked by. Thorn broke into a wide smile when he saw the small machine.

“Of course,” he said, his eyes glinting. “Just like my old automata.” He took it from Kenneth’s hands, peering at the underside and tapping the strange chimney-stack like apparatus.

“The wheels are turning slowly,” he said. “I suppose it needs more water.”

“I didn’t expect it to be very good considering what you said of the Journeyman’s fair,” Kenneth said. “But it reminded me of our first meeting.”

“Its wonderful,” Thorn said. “A fitting gift—and a good way to remember where I met you. And the inventor’s college, of course.” He turned, Kenneth following, seeing the large, ugly edifice of the college in the skyline.

Ugly to Kenneth, anyway. To Thorn, it had been home for years, if the talentless attended schooling for as long as magi did.

“Will you miss it?” Kenneth asked.

Thorn looked back at him, his eyes focusing on Kenneth as if losing sight of something else. “A bit,” he said. “I learned a lot there, and so many dreams happen there.” He cradled the automata. “Most first years make these. You know why?”

Kenneth shook his head.

“They’re called wheeled automata, and they’re treated as toys, but long before the war, they made these full size. The dream was for people to ride in them, to replace horses and carriages. It was one of the inventions forbidden by magi even before the war, and never perfected. We make little ones now, in an ongoing attempt to perfect it. One day, I’m sure, someone will find a way to make them efficient, and then the world could change.” He smiled at the small automata. “They represent a lot.” His eyes shone as he looked up at Kenneth. “Thank you.”

Warmth bloomed in Kenneth’s chest. “I just want you to be happy.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 18

Part 18

Thorn grinned, pulling his horse closer to Kenneth’s and leaning over to kiss him, a quick peck on the lips. Kenneth grinned as he headed toward the stalls, his cheeks a russet pink the way they always were when Thorn kissed him.

 Thorn watched his lover navigate through the crowds, a small smile on his face. Today had gone well so far. Kenneth’s words made him think about his years here at the college, and about all the projects he had worked on.

His first year had been nervewracking, the lone man with no family and little other than a knack for fixing broken heaters. He had scrimped and saved money from repair projects throughout his years at the orphanage, taking lessons in mathematics from the merchants that came through. Knowledge of economics hadn’t helped has much as he hoped when it came to designing, but it had kept him afloat throughout the years in terms of selling his wares.

Of course, he wasn’t the only one who had had no one. So many had lost parents to the war.

Kenneth couldn’t understand. The beautiful blond mage, astride a horse bedecked with a jade halter, dug through a fat coinpurse as he spoke to a vendor. Thorn wondered what he was buying. Buying objects purely for the purposes of remembering a place, a time in one’s life—that was a luxury too.

A luxury he would have, if he stayed with Kenneth. No more scrimping and saving, the worry of having to save for a store gone…all of that was possible with Kenneth.

If he became an Enforcer. Thorn wished he knew more about them.

“You,” a voice said, and he turned, reining in his horse when the animal stepped nervously. George stared up at him, a scowl on his face. “You just kissed him, that mage of yours? And where’s he gone now, left after the servicing?”

Thorn’s face heated, but no one else in the crowd had taken notice of them. He had a mind to ignore George, to stare straight ahead like a noble mage and pretend George was beneath him. But he couldn’t do that. He was no mage, and challenges had to be answered when they were from equals.

“I’m no prostitute, and Kenneth isn’t like that,” he said. George crossed his arms, and Thorn wished he could sound more confident. “Why are you here, anyway? Following me?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” George said. Thorn wondered how he had ever found the other man attractive. “I just couldn’t help but notice you. Don’t bring that mage of yours around again. Just because you’ve sold yourself to them doesn’t mean any of us want anything to do with them.”

Thorn twisted the reins in his hand. He had lost sight of Kenneth in the crowds. “I’ll do what I please,” he said. “You’re no mage either, to order me around.”

“You truly want to cause trouble?” George raised his voice. “You’re in your last year, about to graduate, and all you’re showing the first year students is how to succeed by offering yourself to the first mage who asks. It’s pathetic.” Thorn ground his teeth. “We’re students at the inventor’s college, independent from mages. We fought a war to get away from them, and talentless like you go scuttling back. It makes me sick.” Thorn’s own anger faded in the face of George’s obvious deep-seated hatred. “The last thing I want is to people waste their abilities on magi.” He spat the last word.

Thorn’s skin crawled as memories of his own childhood, his own anger and fear, came back to him. “What did they do to you?” Thorn asked.

George’s nostrils flared. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He took a step forward, sending Thorn’s horse’s ears back.

“I…” Thorn stammered on the words. “I just meant…why are you so angry?”

“Why aren’t you?” Someone turned at George’s words and then hurried away. Another woman ushered her child further from where the two men stood. “I suppose you’ve had a perfect life.” Thorn’s eyes narrowed. “No losses to magi, no mistreatment. Not all of us are so luck—”

“Does this look perfect to you?” Thorn shouted, holding his fist down for George to see. “I lost it as a child, when I lost my parents! Don’t tell me what I have and haven’t experienced at the whims of magi.”

George glared back at him, Thorn’s heart pounding and his throat tight. He hated this. He hated feeling angry, especially at one of his own people.

“Sure, I’m angry at magi,” Thorn continued. “Everyone is sometimes. But I don’t let it control me. The war is over, George.”

“Its only over when they leave us alone,” George said. “You bringing a mage around here is not what anyone wants. You disrespect all of us by being with one.”

Thorn set his jaw. “I don’t care what other people think.” That wasn’t true, but he hoped George believed him. His stomach and chest quavered with uncertainty. He was a talentless. He had lost his parents and his hand to magi in the war. He knew Kenneth could never understand, through no fault of his own.

“You’re an idiot, then,” George said, turning away. “The worst sort of whore.” The last word dripped venom. “Keep your mage away from us, or else.”

He disappeared into the crowd before Thorn could ask who “us” meant. Thorn sat on his horse, watching the crowd, suddenly wishing he hadn’t kissed Kenneth in public and also ashamed that he would ever regret it.

He wanted to have a perfect day of showing Kenneth that their small part of the city was better than a slum. But if people were like George, it would be difficult.

And he didn’t like the threat in George’s words. He couldn’t hurt Kenneth. But he could hurt Thorn.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A look back and a look ahead: 2015!

Hello all,

No Wednesday Briefs this week--that will resume next week. Instead, this is my annual review of the past year and a look ahead to the next!

This year was marked by a few things. One was a continuation of the Enforcer's series, notably book 4, Capture, which was the longest in the series yet. Kenneth and Thorn's story will continue into the next year.

Second was the beginning of a series of Erotica shorts featuring cyborgs! I intend to keep releasing these also, and the next should be an anthology of what's been released so far with a bonus story to go along with them.

And finally, I'm sure everyone has noticed my involvement with Wednesday Briefs and an ongoing, light-hearted look at Thorn and Kenneth's college days. That will also continue into the new year. 

It's no secret that releases were a bit scarce this year, but there's a reason for that--I got my Ph.D! Now that the worst of that is over, expect more in the new year.

And on that note, let's start with two announcements!

Enforcer's Book 5 is in contract with Extasy and should be released this year, and Freshmen Blues is done, contracted with Dreamspinner press, and should be released sometime in July or August! Freshmen Blues should be getting a print version also!

I hope people look forward to those, and I'm sure to have more announcements soon!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wednesday Briefs Christmas Special: A Christmas Decision

Today we have a special Wednesday briefs. We revisit Blaze and Herman, from Perils of Forgotten Pain!

A Christmas Decision

The lights were the first thing Herman noticed. They glowed from the windows of the crumbling castle, and more hung in multi-colored, flashing drapes across the stone.

“Pretty, right?” Blaze pointed, a cold breeze ruffling his red hair. “Do you know what its for?”

“Of course not,” Herman said, voice gruff. He hadn’t even been among the King’s men a year. He had grown up on a space station, and fought on ships all his life. How was he supposed to know what strings of lights meant on Earth?

The annoyance faded at the sight of Blaze’s smile. This man, his lover, was always so positive, so happy, even while the war between the Distant Rule and those who wanted to make their lives on Earth was fought all around him.

Herman no longer wanted to fight. It was the first of his own choices he could remember making. But Blaze hadn’t decided.

“A thousand years ago, or maybe more, before people left the planet, there were holidays around this time of year.” Blaze swept out an arm, indicating the trees that dwarfed them. “It would get so cold, it would snow. And people celebrated the shortest day of the year, putting up lights and giving each other gifts.”

“Why?” Herman asked. The lights were pretty, he had to admit, sending a soft yellow radiance into the evening gloom, but he didn’t understand.

“Lots of reasons,” Blaze said, putting a hand on Herman’s shoulder. The skin on his neck prickled at his lover’s touch. “To bring hope on the darkest day of the year. To celebrate the birth of a religious icon. And there was one ceremony to celebrate a miracle after a war.” Herman sighed. He wondered if their war would ever end. “But all of it was about togetherness and bringing hope. Nowadays, the King’s armies do it to honor those lost and left behind, and to light the way for human’s life on earth again.”

Herman took put his hand on top of Blaze’s, watching the lights. A bird chittered in the trees above them, impossibly high. They had walked far from the castle, and from here he could see where half of it had fallen to the fast growing trees from Overgrowth. He wondered how long the castle had been here. Long before Overgrowth was used, surely.

Above the castle, the first star came into view. The station. His old home. His old army, the one he had betrayed for life on Earth. But because of what they had done to him—what they had turned him into—he didn’t know if he should be sad or not.

“It’s based on old traditions,” Blaze said. Soft green eyes met his, Blaze’s smile sad. “Those on the stations don’t have any?”

Herman sighed. “Not that I remember.” He shifted his weight, wishing he could feel the soft tickle of grass that Blaze liked to talk about. He stroked his lover’s face, with artificial hands built for strength and killing. He had no past, no traditions.

“Perhaps we can make our own, then,” Blaze said. He leaned up, his lips meeting Herman’s. Heat swept up Herman’s body, and he pulled Blaze closer, careful not to use too much force as he molded the other man’s body against his own.

Herman loved this, the touch, the closeness, and of course the lust that flared deep in his core when Blaze deepened the kiss, his tongue entering Herman’s mouth and winding around the other man’s. Herman gave himself into the sensations. He had been without this for so long, years, during the war.

Or maybe he hadn’t, and simply could not remember past lovers. But either way, the effect was the same.

When Blaze pulled away, their heated breaths mingled in the air between them, puffs of condensation in the frigid air. “It’s cold,” Blaze said, pushing himself against Herman, his hands winding around and stroking Herman’s back. “We should go somewhere warm, but first I want to show you something.” Herman nodded, mind fuzzy with the familiar rush of blood to his cock. He wanted Blaze. He always wanted Blaze, the man who had introduced him to the concept of making his own choices, and leaving the war behind him.

Blaze took his hand, leading him down the path that cut through the hills toward the castle where they both lived. Herman lived as a guest, watched carefully considering his background, and Blaze as a spy, who would be sent away when he was next needed.

Herman sighed, the thought chasing away lust. Blaze paused.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Herman said. He couldn’t voice his worries. Blaze was a treasure, and all Herman wanted was to stay together with him, far from the war and the Distant Rule. But Blaze had his duties. Herman knew that well enough.

“C’mon,” Blaze said. “Whatever it is, what I’m going to show you will make you feel better.”

His lover took his hand, Herman wishing, not for the first time, that his metal hands could feel more. They wound their way around the castle, until lights began to glow through the trees.

Not through the trees. In the trees. Herman paused, his heart lifting, as a tree wrapped in lights came into view, piercing through the quickening darkness.

“A Christmas tree,” Blaze said. “One of the most wonderful old traditions.”

“It’s beautiful,” Herman said, and then closed his mouth, face reddening. He didn’t like to sound too shocked by what he saw on Earth. But after a life in space, everything was shocking.

“People used to give each other gifts under trees like this,” Blaze said. His eyes glowed in the light, his hair illuminated like flame. “I’ve been studying histories. Old videos, left by the people who were left behind. People would make promises for the new year, too.”

Herman tilted his head, placing a hand on Blaze’s slight shoulder.

“So, I figured it would be a good place to tell you. I’m leaving the King’s army. Well, not leaving,” Herman’s heart began to pound, “But quitting as a spy. I want to work as an explorer, finding places for people to live and re-discovering the planet.”

Herman swallowed, the scent of pine all around him. The world, the Earth, stretched before him. “What about me?”

“You’d come with me,” Blaze said, turning so that his green eyes bore into Herman’s. “If you want to, of course. It’d be a new adventure, for both of us.”

A smile broke over Herman’s features, worries about the war fading into the light of the tree and Blaze’s eyes. Those were the words he had wanted to hear from Blaze ever since he had woken up in the castle after leaving his old platoon, and the war, behind him. He leaned down, kissing his lover.

“Yes,” Herman said. “Yes.”