Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Halloween Special!

Since Halloween is coming up, we're taking a little break from Aesthetics of Invention for a special, extra long, Wednesday Briefs! This is a sneak peek at an upcoming project. I hope you all enjoy!








The pain of hunger, of bloodlust, woke me first. 

            “Get up.” Johann’s voice was second.

            My master’s command fired through my veins, mingling with my desperate hunger. I lunged toward his voice, my fangs snapping on air as iron shackles clanged against a stone wall and bit into my wrists. Light and heat from the torch in his hand made my eyes water and my skin prickle. Shadows danced around us in the dark stone room, bouncing off the wooden door behind him. 

            “Listen to me,” Johann spoke, and I lunged once more, his heartbeat loud in my ears. His scent was maddening, and I snapped my teeth again, my fangs cutting my bottom lip and the thoroughly disappointing taste of my own blood tinging my tongue. 

            “Kaiden!” Johann shouted, and I froze. 

            Kaiden, what are you doing here?” My mother’s voice was weak, breathy. She looked like a doll from her place on the bed. A broken doll with graying hair among tattered bedclothes. A roach scuttled on the wall behind her, and the scent of sickness and rot filled the room. “You should go. There’s nothing left here.” 

            There had always been nothing. 

            “That’s your name. Kaiden.” Johann’s voice snapped me back to reality, to the crumbling wall I was chained to. Johann sat across the room, his gun across his lap. “Are you understanding me, Kaiden?” 

            Kaiden. Not servant, not vampire. That was my name. 

            “How?” I asked, my throat dry from hunger and thirst. How had he known my name? I had no idea how long I had been here, and no moonlight penetrated the stone walls, but the lack of complete exhaustion told me it was still night. My weakness and hunger, however, told me it had been hours. I had never gone this long without some kind of blood before. 

            “There are some in the village who remember you.” Johann’s words hammered in my skull. “A young man with white hair and red eyes. A useless drunk who’s mother was a whore. They say you were a demon, and that she fathered you with the vampire.” 

            “That’s not true!” I growled, then stopped, the anger fading as fast as it had come. Why should I care? That was another life. I—no, Kaiden—was long dead, killed in an alley by a vampire. My master.

            I was dead. It didn’t matter anymore. My master’s orders were all that mattered. And he had said to kill—

            “Kaiden!” Johann shouted, and I blinked. “Listen to me. I can help you.”

            Saliva filled my mouth, and I swallowed. My fangs still pricked my lower lip. I could not find the words I needed, and growled instead, the scent of blood filling my nose. His heart beat loud in my head, a steady, calm drumming that inflamed my hunger with every pulse. 

            “Listen!” His voice cracked in the flatness of the stone room. “Do you want to survive as a man, or die as the demon everyone claimed you were?”

            My growling stopped. I looked up, meeting his dark eyes. 

            “Tell me, Kaiden.” The sound of my name chased away the biting, curdling edge of hunger. “Tell me what you think you are.” 

            “I…” Saliva and hunger thickened my words. “I am a servant.” My master’s orders boomed once more. Kill him!

            “You are not just a servant,” Johann said, his voice the only thing keeping me from snapping my fangs at him. “You are a thrall. A man turned by a vampire lord, bound by his blood, to serve him forever until you die.”

            I fell silent. I knew that. I hadn’t known the name, the term thrall, but I knew what my existence was. 

            “But,” and now Johann stepped closer, his scent overwhelming. His heart beat steady. “If you truly didn’t care about anything but blood, were truly the mindless thrall that the others were, you would have died with them last night. But you didn’t. Why?” 

            I blinked, focusing on his gaze. He stared at me, his torch burning in his hand. The light hurt, and I looked away. 

            “Why, Kaiden?” Johann said again. The torch in his hand hissed as the wood and pitch burned.

            “Why do you even ask?” I said. “I didn’t want to…” I trailed off. I was already dead. Saying that I hadn’t wanted to die would sound foolish. 

            But it was true. “I don’t want to die,” I said, a growl entering my voice again. “So if you’re going to kill me, I won’t let you.” 

            He stood, fast for a human but still slow to one like me. He left, the wooden door slamming shut behind him, leaving me in darkness so thick not even my keen senses let me see through it. I closed my eyes.

            His light footsteps echoed on stone for at least a hundred paces before fading. A large building then, but clearly not one in the village. I would have heard familiar sounds, and there was also the fact that no sane vampire hunter would imprison a vampire in a human town. 

            I leaned back against the wall. His scent still lingered in the room, along with the stench of mold and droppings from small animals. One of the other servants had always complained about her sense of smell—“The whole castle smells like rat crap,” she had growled at us, “except for master’s room.” 

            Master. Without Johann here, the order had faded, but it was still there. Kill the hunter. 

            I lunged once more against the cuffs, pain flaring down my wrist for a split second. Any harder and my wrist would break. 

            If I got my fangs in Johann, the break, and any other injuries I had, would heal. I could get out of the cuffs and hunt him if I tried hard enough. That would be what my master would want of me. 

            I prepared to lunge again when his footsteps returned. And this time his scent was mixed with something else—fresh blood. 

            My nostrils flared, hunger cramping my stomach. Deer, just like I had last night.
            It wasn’t human, but it was better than nothing. 

            “Here,” Johann said as soon as the door swung open. The carcass of a fawn was slung over his shoulders, and it hit the ground in front of me with a dull thud. “Have your fill.” 

            I was on it before he finished speaking, my fangs in the animal’s neck through the tough, fibrous skin. The blood was cool, not the fresh heart-pumped blood I wanted, but it still filled my stomach, filled my body with strength and took the edge from my bloodlust. 

            When I lifted my head, Johann was staring down at me, his expression flat. “Animal blood is all a thrall needs to survive, yes?” he said. “You have never had human blood before.” 

            I nodded, licking my lips. The puncture wound from my fangs was gone. 

            “Why did you attack me tonight?” Johann asked. “Tell me.” 

            “I don’t serve you,” I answered back. “

            “I could kill you, you know,” Johann responded, his heart still infuriatingly steady. “You are a vampire, and not a particularly powerful one. A thrall. The lowest of the low. Most do not have an ounce of intelligence. They are no more in control of themselves than that animal who’s blood you just consumed. So let me guess. Your master ordered you to kill me?” 

            I stayed silent. 

            “I thought so.” He nodded. “But you, Kaiden,” and when he used my name I paid closer attention, “are different. Slightly, anyway. You ran when you suspected your life was in danger. You planned. You are not mindless.” He leaned closer, and if I had not just eaten I would have snapped at him again. “And if you listen to me, and believe what I have to say, I think I can help you.” 

            I narrowed my eyes. “What could you possibly have that I want, that you’d be willing to give?” 

            He smiled. “Pretty words for a thrall.” 

            “You’re the one who said I was different.” 

            “Yes.” He nodded, pausing, the smile fading from his face before he took a breath. “What if I told you that you could become a vampire lord in your own right?”

            I fell silent, awash in the small sounds of vermin scuttling in the stones I was chained to and the steady beat and breathing of the human next to me. A vampire lord. Like my master. The beauty, power and grace of my master, would be mine. I felt no excitement at the prospect. 

            “You think I want power?” I finally said. Johann frowned. 

            “Do you want to die instead?” he asked. “Because your only option is death or moving on as you are—a vampire. Become a lord, and you won’t be such a slave to your own bloodlust.” 

            I stared at the human, his scent filling my nostrils. With my stomach full, he smelled different, a combination of spice and pine that I found pleasing for a different reason. 

            I wondered if becoming a vampire lord meant I could bed others the way my master did. 

            “How would I do this?” I asked. 

            He shifted his weight, tensing muscles the way I would if I anticipated an attack. “By killing your master,” he answered.

            Something in me thudded hard. Not my heart. It was deeper, an instinct I didn’t know I had that made me bare my teeth and narrow my eyes. 

            “I knew you would react that way.” Johann spoke louder, and I realized I was growling, my teeth clenched. “You’re a creature of instinct, a dog defending his master. But think, Kaiden!” 

            My name again. The room grew silent. 

            Johann moved, putting his back to me and turning back, a thoughtful pace. A very human thing. “If you kill your master, you will feel again. I mean really feel,” he leaned closer, sending his scent over me. I don’t think he realized it. “Feel emotion, feel pleasure beyond slaking your hunger. You will feel ambition. Your life will have meaning!” He met my eyes, his a startling gleam. “Don’t you want that?” 

            I dropped my gaze. In my mind, I saw the same image, of a woman dying on a bed. I tasted a hint of alcohol, a bitter tinge on my tongue. 

            I had never wanted anything. I had never thought my life had meaning. The realization made me feel deader than I already was. 

            “I had no life before,” I said, clinging to those memories. It was strange to do it. I had been so ready to forget, but now it seemed important that Johann understand. “You know. You spoke to the villagers.” I met his eyes this time. “They called me a demon. I had nothing. Why would you think I—”

            “You chose it, didn’t you?” Johann snapped. “You let him bite you.” 

            I didn’t blink. “Yes.”

            Johann rocked back on his heels, his gaze fixed on a point above my head.  I craned my head up. There was nothing there. 

            “Did you know what would happen to you?” he asked finally. 

            The emptiness I expected didn’t come. It was simple nothingness, not sadness the way it had once been, what had made me seek out my master. The vampire.

 “I thought I would die.”

“Perhaps that’s why,” Johann said, and his tone made me tilt my head. “Most who become thralls desperately want to live, and the vampire violates their wishes by giving them complete absence of life. But you…you wanted to die, didn’t you? So your master’s commands aren’t as strong as they should be. You chose it, Kaiden.” I swallowed. “For all the pathetic life you may have lived, you made a choice.” He sighed. “Was it really what you wanted? Because I could kill you, right now. It would be quick.” 

I leaned my head back, the stone scraping against my hair. He would give me what I wanted. 

No. What I had wanted. Before I had run from a hunter who I knew would kill me, disobeying my master’s orders. 

Regret almost climbed my throat. Regret for the life I once had, thrown away. 

“No,” I said. “I don’t want to die.” 

“Good,” Johann said. “Then you will come with me, Kaiden. And you will kill your master.”



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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 13


Part 13

Kenneth leaned against the door, smiling at Thorn’s words. He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but the walls and doors of the talentless’ college were thin.

Underneath the smile, he wondered about Thorn’s reasoning. And about his own. He loved Thorn. That knowledge was growing in his heart and head, and becoming more certain every day.

Thorn was talentless. He was part of the group his father had fought against, and his mother had either hired to do servant’s work or preferred to entirely ignore.

But Kenneth, noble he might be, wanted nothing to do with war. He wanted nothing to do with any of what some magi said and did, with killing or being the upper class. He just wanted Thorn, and he wished others could see that.

Maybe as Enforcers, they could change things. But it was so far away, and they had so much to overcome, even here.

And it was time he learned the other side of things.

***
“I was wondering,” Kenneth said after Saul had left, the man not sparing him a glance. “Perhaps…I want to learn a little bit about the war.” Thorn raised an eyebrow. “About the talentless side of things, I mean.”

He knew more than enough about how the magi saw it. Useless, ungrateful talentless had begun the war to murder the most powerful magi and try to take power for themselves so they could construct destructive weapons of war. They had been put in their place, and monitored with wards.

But Kenneth wasn’t naïve enough to take his mother’s words at face value. There had to be more than just that.
Thorn tilted his head, giving Kenneth a small smile. “Well,” he said. “We have two options then. We could explore the library. Or we could talk to Professor Varlen.”

“Varlen?”

Thorn sighed and nodded. “He was my mentor my first year, and teaches the basics of electrical engineering. He also fought with Jaquin’s forces—or at least, as close as he could have without getting put to death during the trials.”

Kenneth swallowed hard, his stomach tight. “Right. Well, if you don’t mind…”

“I never talked with him about this. I,” Thorn looked up at the ceiling, then back down, his eyes distant for a moment. “I’ve heard enough anger, and enough…” he took a breath. “I like to look ahead, to fixing things we can. I prefer not to think about the war as much, and about what we lost, I suppose.”

Kenneth moved closer, putting his hand on Thorn’s shoulder. He heard Thorn’s pain clear as day. “I’m sorry. We don’t have to go. I don’t want to make you remember things you’d rather not.” Thorn had told him about how he lost his hand, and had never mentioned it since. Kenneth could kick himself. Of course there was a reason for that. The last thing he wanted was to upset his lover.

“No,” Thorn said, taking Kenneth’s hand off his shoulder and holding it with both his good hand and his metal one. “You’re right, Kenneth. We should learn as much as we can about what happened back then, from someone who will tell us accurately. Especially if we’re going to be Enforcers.”

“So we can fix it,” Kenneth said. Thorn just nodded.

***
Professor Varlen’s office was impossibly confusing to find to Kenneth, and he quickly lost track of where he was in the disorganized halls of the inventor’s college. He missed the easy to navigate series of rotundas that made up the collegium.

Thorn finally stopped outside a dingy wooden door. The hallway they had walked down had no windows, lit only by humming electric lights. Thankfully, for now, Kenneth’s magic was behaving, or at least enough that he wasn’t harming the generators or lightbulbs or whatever else the talentless used. They had gone down more than a few flights of stairs, and Kenneth realized that they were probably underground. No wonder the inventor’s college always looked so small.

“Alright,” Thorn said, the lights giving the hallway a reddish tint. “I hope he’s here.”

Before he could knock, the door swung open, to reveal a short, white haired man with bushy white eyebrows. He gave Thorn a once over, and his eyebrows rose into a single fuzzy caterpillar when he saw Kenneth.
“Hello Professor Varlen,” Thorn said. “I…well, we, were curious about some things. Mostly…”

“History,” Kenneth said. Varlen’s brows drew down.

“From a mage, I’m not surprised.” Varlen turned, motioning them inside with a wave of his hand.

Electric lights ringed the room, looping through the ceiling and over bookshelves. On an enormous wooden desk sat a collection of gears and wires, in no intelligible order. The desk itself had a pipe that snaked up the side, with a valve sticking off the edge, and if Kenneth hadn’t known better he would have guessed it was a water pipe.

“I’m also not surprised to see you here—George told me a mage was on the loose.” He chuckled.

“George did?” Thorn asked. It took Kenneth a moment to remember, and when he did his stomach sank. George. The duelist he had embarrassed.

“Yep. I advise him. A great weaponsmith, he would have been. Fan of the classic arts of dueling, and a competitive streak a mile wide.” Varlen leaned against his desk. “So, tell me, mage. What’s your surname?”

“Victeni,” Kenneth answered, hoping he sounded respectful. “Kenneth Victeni.”

Varlen whistled, the sound low. “And you want to hear about the war from me? Why not ask your war mage father?”

Thorn frowned, his brown eyes soft. But he stayed quiet. This was Kenneth’s task. He wanted to know.

He wanted to learn from people like Thorn, so he could do better in the future.





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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 12



Heavy knocking broke through Thorn’s dreams, and it took him a moment in pitch darkness to remember the events of last night. The sensation of his lover’s warm arms around him made him smile, and he almost closed his eyes and succumbed to sleep again when the knock came back.

“Kenneth?” Thorn mumbled, and he rolled over, fumbling in the dark. Kenneth muttered something Thorn didn’t understand, and a steady glow filled the room, making Thorn wince.

“I didn’t mean…never mind.” Thorn blinked hard, his eyes watering at the sudden light. Outside the heavy curtains that blocked the windows, the sun barely peeked over the horizon. “One moment!” he called. “Who’s there?” 

“It’s me, Saul,” his friend called. “Sorry to bother you, but I…I need a bit of help with my leg. Can I come in?”

Fires. “Sure, I’ll be ready in a few. Just wait.” Thorn blinked again, the pain dulling as he got used to the light. “Kenneth…” he trailed off.

His blond lover sighed. “Saul is afraid of mages, right?”

Thorn frowned. “I’m sorry. I…I’m not sure what to do. I don’t think he knows you’re here.”

Kenneth sat up in bed, swinging his legs out of the covers and standing. He was so beautiful. He muttered to the aether again, his hair suddenly less mussed. “Not a shower, but at least I look well enough to be seen,” he said. “I do wish you had a mirror.” Thorn had to roll his eyes, but he smiled anyway. Leave it to a mage to be fussy. “Let me put on some clothes, and I can give him some privacy while you work.”

Thorn nodded. He wished Kenneth could see him work. He was proud of the talents he had, of his knowledge of clockwork and anatomy that allowed him to construct replacement limbs. He knew so much about engineering, but repairing was so much more satisfying than anything else.

And he wanted to know that what he did didn’t disturb Kenneth. Kenneth had said he didn’t mind, so many times. But that first time he had seen his hand, and called it monstrous…pain at the memory still twinged.

But he wasn’t about to ask Saul, a man terrified of mages like Kenneth, to have a mage watch while Thorn fixed his leg. He was already vulnerable enough. That wasn’t fair.

“Alright, Saul,” Thorn called once both he and Kenneth were presentable. “Come in. Kenneth’s here too, but he’ll be leaving.”

The door swung open, revealing a wide-eyed Saul. “I…hello,” he said. Of course he stared straight at Kenneth. “I didn’t expect…you.”

“Don’t fret,” Thorn said. “Kenneth will give us some privacy. Is it the kneecap again? I told you we should just get rid of that piece.” He met Kenneth’s eyes while he spoke, and Kenneth nodded to Saul before leaving the room. Disappointment at Kenneth’s absence wound in Thorn’s stomach. He liked having Kenneth near, and the whole goal of this week was to help Kenneth get over his strange magical issue by staying nearby.

“Can Kenneth wait outside?” Thorn blurted. Maybe if he didn’t go far, that magical issue wouldn’t come up again. “He’s not exactly ready to go wandering the college by himself.”

“Um…sure,” Saul said, taking a careful step inside the room. “I guess so.”

Kenneth smiled as he shut the door quietly behind him. That was one problem averted.

“Alright then,” Thorn said. “So what happened?”

“I was jogging this morning and now…” Saul stepped further into the room, Thorn noting immediately how stiffly he moved. “It’s not the kneecap, but something is locking up.” He sat down on the floor, the sound of metal grinding against metal meeting Thorn’s ears as he bent his leg. “I think the problem is behind the knee.”

“Fair enough. Roll up the pant leg.” Saul’s clockwork leg was a wonderful piece of engineering, but it could use so many improvements. Once Thorn mastered his own project on his hand, he hoped Saul would let him work on his leg further, or make a new one.

Of course, if he was going to be an Enforcer, he might not have the time.

“So,” Saul said, his voice quiet as Thorn peered at his leg. “Um. Kenneth. He’s a noble mage?”

“That’s right.” Thorn spotted a piece of bent metal, mentally comparing it to his memory of the other times he had fixed Saul’s leg. There was something bent out of place. An easy fix, for a man with a metal hand like him.

“And you’re…dating him?”

“Yes.” Thorn met Saul’s eyes, the memory of the comments of his classmates fresh.

“Is he…paying you?”

Something twisted in Thorn’s chest, and he shoved down his anger before he could snap at his friend. “No.” 

“I didn’t mean like that!” Saul put up a hand. “I just meant…like a patron, or…”

“Noble magi are never patrons,” Thorn said, his teeth clenched. “They have powerful magic. They don’t need us that way.” He had never, even after years of working at the inventor’s college and making money selling his inventions, sold anything to a noble. Only weaker non-noble mages made use of talentless’ work. Not every mage could do the things Kenneth was capable of.

“They’re so different,” Saul said. He let out a breath as Thorn twisted the gear in his leg. Saul stretched out the prosthetic, flexing the toes.

“There,” Thorn said. “Fixed, for now."

Saul didn’t get up. “Do you truly care about him?”

“You know me, Saul,” Thorn said through clenched teeth. “Would I be with him if I didn’t?”

“But how can you?” Saul blurted. “How can you love a mage?”

The words hung in the air between them, and it took Thorn a moment to realize the only light in the room was still Kenneth’s glowing orb. In his mind, in seconds, Thorn thought over the sparse few memories he had of his parents, of the fire that had killed them, and of his life, fighting to develop the intelligence and skills to survive.

He used to think mages never needed any of that. Spoiled, rich, ignorant. But maybe mages thought equally bad things about him when they didn’t know him. Like reacting to a prosthetic hand without truly knowing about how it was made or why it was needed. 

Both sides needed time.

“I guess I can love him the same way he can love someone like me,” Thorn answered. “Maybe that’s not the best answer, but it’s all I can really say.”

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 11


Even though the wound was healed, his cheek still itched. Kenneth ran his thumb over it, thinking but not saying the words to the aether that would alleviate discomfort. Healing was a basic skill, but in the confusion of being struck he wasn’t sure he had done it correctly. It might still bruise.

“Are you alright?” Thorn asked. The halls they walked through were dim, the electric lights giving off a droning hum that Kenneth was beginning to think only he could hear. The quiet, though, was appreciated after the throng of people at the duel. The one he had ruined with his ignorance.

“I’m fine,” he said with a sigh. “Only my pride still hurts.”

Thorn shook his head as he stopped outside his door, turning a metal key in the lock. “And why is that?” he asked when the door popped open. “Because you lost the duel?” He raised an eyebrow.

“No!” Kenneth said, sitting down in the chair by Thorn’s bed with a groan. “Fires, I’m really mucking this up.” Thorn closed the door and leaned against the wall across the room, the dim light playing off his dark hair and shining on his metal hand. “It’s because I know nothing,” Kenneth continued. “We made a deal, Thorn, remember? We become Enforcers to help gain equality. But I learned tonight…It’s hard to help when no one trusts you. And they don’t trust me for good reason.”

“That’s not true,” Thorn said. He moved across the room, taking Kenneth’s face in his strong metal hand and tilting up his chin so Kenneth had to look up into his dark eyes. Kenneth loosened his jaw, his skin tingling at the touch and power in Thorn’s hand. “You’re a good man, Kenneth. They can’t see that because they have their own fears, their own experiences. It’s unfortunate, but no one is at fault. Not even a noble mage like you.” He let Kenneth go, his clockwork hand giving the tiniest of whirrs.  “It’s just something we have to work at. And over the next week, we can. Tonight was a good start.”

Some of the dragging weight unbound itself from Kenneth’s shoulders. “You think so?”

“I do.” Thorn grinned, moving closer again and tilting Kenneth’s chin up more gently. “And I think that watching you, a pretty little noble mage, flail around with a sword was very cute.”

Kenneth’s face heated, even as he felt himself begin to stiffen at the unmistakable gleam of lust in Thorn’s eyes. “Cute?”

“Yes. Very cute.” Thorn leaned down and connected their mouths, shoving his tongue between Kenneth’s lips so hard and fast that Kenneth almost choked. He nearly melted in the chair, overwhelmed with desire for the man currently kissing him.

The aether around him fizzed, his magic flaring as he moaned into Thorn’s mouth. Then the lights vanished with a pop and the sound of shattering glass in the corner.

“Fires!” Thorn jumped back in the pitch darkness. “Kenneth…” he growled.

“I’m sorry, I-“

“That’s enough. On the bed.” Thorn’s voice snapped like a whip, sending a lash of pleasure down Kenneth’s spine. “I’ll just take you in the dark then.”

Kenneth didn’t need to be told twice. In two steps after standing, he had crossed the tiny room and let himself fall onto the bed on all fours. Thorn was there immediately, his hands exploring, ripping at the fabric of his robes.

 “You put on a good show for the others, Kenneth,” Thorn said. “But now I want you to put one on for me. You’re my mage, after all.”

The possession in Thorn’s voice sent precum dribbling from Kenneth’s cock, his hardness tight and uncomfortable, aching, between his legs. “Yes,” he moaned. “Take me, Thorn.”

He closed his eyes, then opened them, the darkness complete in the room save for the aether that swirled in his vision, something only he could see that cast no light. It wound around him and Thorn, resonating power with every beat of his heart and throb in his cock. His heart pounded, magic bursting in his body. Fires, he needed Thorn.

“You’re warm, Kenneth,” Thorn said, his hand moving between his legs, stroking his ass, and finally entering him, fingers scissoring inside. Kenneth cried out, arching his back, and moaned.

“Are you ready?” Thorn asked. His fingers left, and then he leaned over, not entering yet, and Kenneth turned his head to meet the kiss. Heat exploded, Kenneth gasping into the kiss, and sparks from his hands lit the bedspread as the aether whirled.

“Kenneth…” Thorn said, his voice wavering, the kiss broken. “What was that?”

Damnit, he was losing control of his magic again. And he wanted, needed, Thorn so badly! “I need you,” he said. “Please, please Thorn. I need you. I can’t control it.”

Thorn paused, the silence torture. “Then let me control it,” Thorn finally said. “Don’t think. Just let me give you what you need.”

Kenneth closed his eyes, letting the darkness swallow him, ignoring even the aether and the magic that burned in his blood. Instead, he focused on Thorn—on his touch as he put his hands over his shoulders, on the weight of him, and then on the hot thrust when he went inside.

“Pay attention to me, Kenneth,” Thorn gasped. “No magic. I just want to hear you.”

Kenneth moaned, his body on fire, and he screamed as Thorn thrust, just as Thorn had told him to do. “Yes, Thorn, take me!” The bed creaked, and Kenneth lost focus of everything, even the magic. He was Thorn’s, and he could control it because Thorn controlled him. “Take me, take me, yes!”

Heat exploded, the tightness overwhelming, and Kenneth’s muscles clenched, his breath leaving him as his cum splattered the bedspread. At the same moment heat entered him in hot spurts, Thorn gasping in his ears.

Kenneth’s body shook, and he let himself sink onto his stomach on the bed, his own stickiness below him. He didn’t care. The magic settled, his body spent. Thorn lay down next to him, stroking his cheek in the dark.

“You kept it under control, Kenneth,” he said with a laugh. “I’m glad.”

Kenneth took a deep breath and smiled, his body heavy. It was only because of Thorn.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 10




“Forget it, Kenneth,” Thorn whispered. “He’s just angry at…” he almost said “magi,” but didn’t. Kenneth knew anyway. It had been a mistake to come here. He should have had Kenneth at least wear talentless clothes.

“C’mon,” George taunted. “Why would a mage come here other than to show us talentless how dueling is done?” George’s opponent unclipped the wire that connected him to the battery. They were truly preparing.

“Kenneth, don’t—“

“I’d be glad to try,” Kenneth said, taking a step forward. “I’m curious as to what these duels are like.”

“Have you lost your mind?” Thorn hissed, moving forward to intercept his lover. He pitched his voice low. “This isn’t a game to him, it’s a challenge. George clearly hates mages, Kenneth. He’ll try and hurt you.” He had heard it often enough from other talentless growing up. Some, like him, just wanted to move on. But there were others, even others his age, who still wanted revenge. “Those blades may not be sharpened, but they can still cut if he hits you hard enough!”

“Thorn, please,” Kenneth said. “I know this is a challenge. I know nothing about talentless dueling, but I know when I see anger. And sometimes you just have to face it.” He squared his shoulders. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes already. I want to learn, even if I get a little beat up.” He quirked a smile.

“Are you two done flirting, or are we going to do this?” George said. “You bring a mage here, Thorn, you let him make his own decisions.”

Thorn swallowed down nerves. At least this reaction meant none of the people here had been the one who worked with Alder. “Fine then,” he said. “Kenneth, please be careful.” Kenneth nodded.

“You’re not seriously dating him, are you?” Saul blurted. Thorn met his friend’s wide eyes as a buzz of whispers broke out around them, words flitting back and forth like bats.

“Dating a mage?”

“Didn’t his parents die in the war?”

“How disrespectful.”

“Prostitute.”

Thorn’s ears burned, and he lowered his head. They didn’t understand. They couldn’t. The lifemate thing, and his chance to help people…they just didn’t get it. If they knew, they wouldn’t say that. If they knew Kenneth, they wouldn’t talk like that.

But fires, it still hurt.

“Thorn,” Kenneth said. His lover tapped him on the shoulder, pulling him away from the shock of the whispers. “I’ll only do this if its okay with you. I didn’t mean to...”

 “Its alright, Kenneth,” Thorn said. “I…” He trailed off.

“Are we going to do this or not, mage?” George said. “You wanted to prove you’re better than us at a talentless art, right? Step up here and do it. Or try, at least.” He twirled the rapier in his hand, an obvious display of prowess. The chatter around them increased, and the hair on the back of Thorn’s neck rose. This was bad. This was a mistake, and he didn’t know how to fix it.

Kenneth met his gaze, his blue eyes wide. Thorn’s mind whirred like one of his machines. Every other time he had come here, it had been for fun, a chance to watch attractive men practice an ancient art of dueling with swords. Thorn was no historian, but it was fascinating. And apparently also a point of pride.

“I’ve never held a sword,” Kenneth said, raising his voice to address George. “I apologize if I’ve done something to offend anyone. If you’ll let me, I will try. If not, I will leave.” He spoke with poise and elegance, a diplomatic mage. Thorn was impressed, and hoped it was enough.

“You challenged me, you finish it,” George said. He took the sword from his previous opponent and held it out to Kenneth. “C’mon, mage. Or are you a coward, too scared to fight a talentless fairly?”

“Who says he’ll fight fair?” someone muttered.

“Very well,” Kenneth said. The curiosity and eagerness that had sparked in his eyes when he had first arrived was gone, and it hurt Thorn to see that as much as it hurt to hear what the others said about him. “I’m happy to try.”

“Hook yourself up then,” George said, pointing with his blade. “And take this.”

Kenneth hefted the sword, studied George’s grip, and then adjusted his own. Thorn hurried to his side, ignoring the whispers as he hooked up the metal clip to Kenneth’s robes.

“This will carry the current when the sword hits you,” he said. “It’s how we know when someone has made contact.”

“It’s ingenious,” Kenneth said. “Like everything you do.” Thorn’s face heated. “I’m just sorry I can’t enjoy it.”

Thorn backed away with a nod. He was sorry too.

“Ready, mage?” George said. He lifted his blade, the hilt to his forehead. Thorn wondered about the origins of talentless dueling. He had seen magi duel, the spectacular battle between Alder and Kenneth fresh in his mind. Dueling with swords was cleaner, faster.

But like most things that were part of the history of people with no magic, it had all but died out. Magi were the rulers now.

“Fight!” someone shouted, and George lunged forward, his sword faster than a blink. Everyone around them hushed quiet, suddenly aware of the mistake they had made. Thorn's stomach flipped. 

“Idiot,” Saul said. His eyes were wide.

Blood dripped from the cut George had slashed open on Kenneth’s cheek.

George backed away, flicking specks of blood onto the ground from the tip of his sword. They weren’t sharpened, but with someone of George’s prowess, it wasn’t impossible.

Kenneth’s shoulders loosened, and he dropped his sword. “I suppose I lose,” he said. He lifted a thumb, wiping away the blood on his face, and the cut with it as he muttered some gibberish. George took a step back.

“Magi duel also,” Kenneth said. “And I know the procedure for that, at least. I grant you victory.” He unhooked the clip from his robes. “Enjoy the honor you have won.”

George frowned, and whispers buzzed as Kenneth headed back toward the crowd—back toward Thorn.  

“He’s not going to take revenge?” Saul whispered, his voice shaking. “He could kill us for that. He’s a mage.”

“Not Kenneth,” Thorn said, pride and tenderness blooming in his chest as he moved toward his lover. “He’s not that kind of mage. Or that kind of person.”

***

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Thoughts on being a doctor


Despite spending a large portion of my free time writing, guess what?

I’m a doctor! 

Back in July, I got through my dissertation defense, and now I’m officially a Ph.D! 6 years of grad school are over with! 



Of course, research itself is never over. I’ve got a post doc position now!
 
I figured I’d chat a bit about the graduate school experience, since I’ve noticed more than a few people find this blog through searches about grad school.

My program was in cognitive neuroscience. This is a field dedicated to figuring out how the brain works, and many researchers also focus on the underpinnings of certain mental illnesses. My lab had a focus on autism, schizophrenia, and addiction, and while I dabbled in the former two, my dissertation was on addiction.

I went into grad school directly out of undergrad, and my first year was spent realizing just how little I knew about anything. My program was heavy in coursework, and the level of detail this coursework went into blew anything in undergrad out of the water. Exams were basically freeform essays where you had to prove that you knew everything about a particular subject, whether it be brain development, the visual system, or the basics of motor control. I didn’t always do well on these tests, but many others didn’t do well either, so I didn’t let it upset me.

While taking classes, I also did research. In cognitive neuroscience, this usually means running human participants through experimental tasks. These can be IQ tests, neuropsychological tests, functional magnetic resonance imaging, or many more. I learned a lot about interacting with people by doing this. It’s strange to have realized how much of a bubble undergrad is!

Speaking of the undergrad bubble, going through grad school was also a great chance for me to learn how to function as an adult. It is not at all like being an undergraduate. You don’t live in a dorm, so get used to apartment hunting. You do get paid, but its not much, so managing a budget is crucial.  There’s no dining hall, hence all the jokes in the grad school world about getting free food at conferences because its tough to afford food. On top of research and classes of your own, you may also have to teach, so free time is precious. And your circle of friends also tends to become people who are also in their first year—and in grad school, not everyone is the same age. Making friends with people much older than you is something that may happen for the first time.

Grad school may have “school” in the name, but its closer to having a job and taking classes part time than actually being in school. The only thing that makes it feel like school are the exams, with the two major ones being quals (the first test to make sure you know what you’re doing, which is usually either a comprehensive exam or an exam that proves you know how to design an experiment) and of course, the final defense. I will say, though, that by the time you do your final defense, it feels like a formality, not an exam. It’s not a test anymore of whether you’re qualified, it’s a performance of all you’ve accomplished. In the U.S., very, very few people outright fail the defense.

The one thing grad students in fields like these worry about is how useful what they’ve learned is. Is grad school worth it? As a post doc, yes, my skills are useful. But what about outside of academia?

In grad school, I learned the basics of a lot of things—programming, science writing, administering tests. But the soft skills, harder to quantify, are just as important. Having a Ph.D is proof that you’re dedicated, a hard worker, and self-motivated. (The same set of skills people use to finish writing novels, I’d imagine).

After 6 years, I don’t regret grad school. But if you’re going into it, I would make sure you like what you do. Yes, there were days in grad school where I was miserable. But you have to figure out where that misery comes from. Is it a short term thing (my experiment failed, my advisor ignored me today) or a long term thing (consistently wondering if you will ever graduate, hating every second of being in lab). If its long term, that’s when to consider if grad school is right for you. If you hate the nitty gritty, though, and like the overall thrust of research, I would stick with it. After all, you’re not likely to be the one running participants or counting cells once you’re a professor.

Of course, the world of academia is pretty tough on its own, even after getting the Ph.D. I’ll see how I do. The track to becoming a professor is its own journey!