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.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Aesthetics of Invention: Part 17

Part 17

Kenneth had traveled often with his parents as a child, staring out of carriage windows at rich rolling countrysides or at the glowing, ivy-festooned homes and mansions of mage cities. But every time they had traveled through a talentless town, his mother had bade him away from the carriage windows, the curtains tightly shut.

At the collegium, the talentless portions of the city were rightly referred to as slums. The talentless living there had little wealth other than what they made from selling either wares or unsavory services to magi. Kenneth had long avoided it, only venturing in once to get steel for his class.

And then he had met Thorn, and his life, and opinions, had changed.

Now the twisty, dusty roads he rode Jade down no longer seemed dreadful and filthy. The buildings, made of wood or cement and in some odd places iron and steel that skewed the building if it reached past three stories, told tales not of poverty, but of resilience and invention. Children darted past Jade, but she just flicked an ear, as placid as her owner.

Of course, there were still the stares. But with Thorn there, they were less fierce.

“I should have lent you some clothes,” Thorn said from his place on his horse, walking steadily next to Jade. “If you played the role of a talentless, you could truly blend in and see what’s it like.”

Kenneth watched as a woman carrying an enormous sack walked past, and she darted away faster when she caught sight of him. “I’m not sure I could pull that off.”

“Me neither,” Thorn said with a snort. Kenneth frowned, but figured Thorn was probably right.

“This way,” Thorn said, turning his horse. “Down to the square. You’ll see how we make our money, and trade ideas.”

Kenneth nodded, following Thorn down a winding alley and finally out to where a set of buildings had been built in a semicircle, forming a courtyard. People bustled to and fro, shouting voices reaching his ears from his place in the shade of the largest building.

“Heaters! Never fail!”

“Electric lights, and an easy to use generator!”

“Automata! Please the little ones!”

Kenneth stopped Jade as the sun streamed over his shoulders, pausing on the edge of the bedlam. Men and women in ragged clothes like Thorns stood at tables and displays filled with inventions. Other individuals, perhaps talentless but with one or two magi clear in their woolen robes, strode back and forth. At one display, where small clockwork mice crawled back and forth, money changed hands.

Kenneth stared. “This is where magi buy talentless wares?”

“Not just magi,” Thorn said, clucking his tongue at his horse to rein him in beside Kenneth. “Anyone who needs it. Not every talentless has the skill or training to make things, you know, so they buy it from those who do.” He nodded at the displays. “Every collegium student has to put up a sale their first year. If they can’t sell any of their items, they can’t move on in their training.”

Kenneth watched as a small metallic object trundled around the perimeter of the courtyard, followed by a man who was gesturing at it, getting the attention of a woman with a child by her side. Nearby, someone else sold another contraption that moved on its own, steam hissing from the top. It reminded him of Thorn’s contraption, that one that had made Jade nearly throw him and had led to their meeting. “What was your first sale?”

“A heater,” Thorn said. “Very basic. Easier to sell than prosthetics, though I’ve sold those too.”

“You have?”

“Of course. With something like that, though, its made to order. Clients come see me, and I design what they need. Or, designed. As I’ve come close to graduating, I’ve focused on my final project, and then of course there’s you.” A heavy weight formed in Kenneth’s stomach, but Thorn was smiling. “If I’m going to be an Enforcer, I won’t necessarily have the same line of work, will I?”

Kenneth stared again at the crowd, at the small child who was tugging on her mother’s sleeve, pointing at the toy. More money shone in the sun as it changed hands, a woman having just sold some contraption with whirring blades. It looked like a weapon, but the client held it in front of their face, air blowing their hair back. A fan.

This was what Thorn would be leaving, to follow Kenneth as an Enforcer. This had been his life. He could do a lot of good selling prosthetics.

“Are you glad to leave it behind?” Kenneth asked, twisting the reins in his hand.

Thorn raised an eyebrow. “Everyone leaves it behind, no matter what they do. If I had become a specialist, I would have opened my own shop. That girl there?” he pointed at the woman selling the fans. “Her work is grand. She’ll make her own shop, or her own line, of those fans and make a name for herself. No one wants to be here, selling their work with inventor’s college students, once they graduate. Things here sell cheaply, too, for the clients who can’t afford better things. But its where I got my start, and something I thought it would be neat to show you.” He sighed, a small sound. “But in a way you’re right. I suppose I’ll miss some part of it. The memories, maybe.”

“Oh.” Kenneth’s shoulders loosened. “So…” he swallowed. “Let’s get something.”

Thorn glanced at him. “Noble magi don’t need that sort of stuff. I know that much.”

“Not for me,” Kenneth said. His nerves fizzed. “For you. To remember it by.”

Thorn blinked, then broke into a smile. “Remembering the inventor’s college by buying something from the journeyman fair…” he laughed. “Whatever we get might break in less than a year’s time. But sure. Yeah, let’s get something.” His eyes gleamed with amusement. “Why don’t you surprise me?”

Kenneth nodded, urging Jade toward the displays. He knew exactly what he would get.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 16

Part 16 

Thorn didn’t want to think about the war.

He had indulged Kenneth, of course. Hearing about the past was important for Kenneth. He had to understand, as a mage, what talentless had gone through.

But Thorn had gone through it, and didn’t want to dwell on it. He had lost his parents, and he had lost his hand. It was over and done with. He wanted to look to the future, and enjoy his time with his new mage lover without worrying about what had come before.

“Come here, Kenneth,” Thorn said as he closed the door to his dorm room behind them. His blond lover had moved toward the bed and paused at Thorn’s words, his blue eyes wide at the tone in Thorn’s voice. Thorn wondered how many people, if any, had ever used such a commanding tone with him.

But Kenneth didn’t fight it. He moved obediently toward Thorn, a pleasant surprise.

“I don’t want you breaking any more of my things,” Thorn said with a laugh, craning his head up to place kisses on the underside of Kenneth’s jaw. Kenneth moaned, tilting his head first up to give Thorn access to his neck, and then down to connect their mouths. “I want you calm and focused so I can take you out today,” Thorn said, his voice breathy after the kiss.

He had all sorts of plans. He could take Kenneth outside the collegium, to lunch and then to the nearby park where many students tested new inventions. He could take him by the fountain, or the metal gardens, where people created art out of shaped metal.

He was proud of what talentless could do, and he wanted to show it all to Kenneth. He wanted Kenneth to understand it, and know that Kenneth loved him for more than just the magic he gave him. And to know that what Kenneth felt, what they both felt, was more than just lust brought on by the strange aether only mages could see. He wanted to prove that despite the war, mages and talentless could truly love one another.

Kenneth squirmed at Thorn’s touch when Thorn grabbed his ass, kneading the muscles and pulling Kenneth closer, feeling the thick, stiff bulge of his erection through his robes. Thorn was sick of those robes, and he began unlacing them near Kenneth’s neck, pausing when the knots became too complex.

“Take these off,” he said instead, and Kenneth obliged with words that must be magic, the laces undoing themselves beneath Thorn’s hands and the robes falling open. Either they were magic through and through or whoever had sewn them was some sort of weaving master, because how exactly they came undone was beyond Thorn.

But they revealed his prize—Kenneth’s toned torso and his jutting, weeping erection. All for Thorn.

Thorn licked his lips, his own erection tight and confined in his trousers. He unlaced them, his metal fingers clumsy. He needed to finish his new hand, the new design that would be twice as efficient. But he managed to undo it quickly, stepping out of his trousers and removing his coat and shirt. He wanted Kenneth, and he wanted him now.

They both paused for a moment, taking in the sight of the other. Thorn smirked at the look of intense, glazed concentration on Kenneth’s face as his lover stared at Thorn’s cock. Behind him, the electric lights flickered.

Thorn smirked. He had taken Kenneth twice before. Maybe what Kenneth needed to stabilize his magic was to give Thorn the same in return.

“I want you this time,” Thorn said. Kenneth’s gaze snapped up. “Can you handle that?”

Kenneth nodded, holding out a hand to stroke Thorn. Thorn took it in his metal one, entwining their fingers slowly, his hand not responding as fast as it once had. Kenneth didn’t notice, or care. Exactly the way Thorn wanted.

“C’mon,” Thorn said, pulling Kenneth toward the bed. He turned and sat down, Kenneth standing above him, and Thorn looked up, licking his lips. “I want you, Kenneth. Now. It’s your move.”

Kenneth breathed in deep whooshes, his cockhead red and dripping. Thorn grinned. “So hard you could chisel stone,” he said, quoting something one of his old lovers had said, running his hand down Kenneth’s pulsing erection. His lover moaned.

“The oil,” Kenneth said. “Where is it?”

“The drawer,” Thorn said with a point, and in a few sentences of gibberish the vial had floated out of the shattered drawer and into Kenneth’s hand. He stared at the chips of wood on the floor.

“Don’t worry about it right now,” Thorn said, his mouth twitching with an urge to laugh. “Just take me, the way I want.” He spread his legs, a clear invitation.

Kenneth slicked his erection, and when he moved to prepare Thorn, Thorn waved his hand away. “I’m ready,” he said. “I’m not some tender noble. Just take me.”

Kenneth smiled, some of the glazed lust leaving his gaze at the challenge, and moved over Thorn, the bed creaking under their weight as Thorn lay back. “Let’s see if you can control yourself inside me,” Thorn said with a grin.

Then Kenneth filled him, all at once, and Thorn gasped, shuddering, biting back a moan. Kenneth had hit the perfect spot, at the perfect angle, and fires was it good. He wouldn’t last long.

“Move, damnit,” Thorn said, and Kenneth did, thrusting, his body tensing over and over above Thorn. Thorn watched Kenneth’s abs tighten with his thrusts, and then met his lover’s blue eyes, staring into his face.

This was his mage, his lover, Kenneth. They were together, a noble mage and a talentless, regardless of the wars that had once been fought and the hate that still existed between their people.

He loved Kenneth. The words danced on his tongue, but they were swallowed by a moan when his climax took him by surprise, Kenneth’s soft hands on his erection drawing it out of him. He gasped instead, quietly, shuddering cum out onto his stomach. Kenneth followed almost immediately, hot wetness filling Thorn.

Thorn fought to get his breath, emotion and pleasure swirling through him all at once. He loved Kenneth. He wanted Kenneth to see more of his world.

He just needed to make sure Kenneth felt the same, and it wasn’t the magic causing all this.

“Good,” he said, pulling Kenneth down for another kiss and pushing away his doubts. He grinned. “Now I can take you out in public.”

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 15

“Time for the hard truths. Estimates are two hundred thousand dead,” Varlen said, Kenneth swallowing hard. He had heard that number before. “Mostly talentless.” He hadn’t heard that.

Kenneth had suspected that talentless had their own side to the story of the war. He knew his mother’s disdain for those men and women without magic was foolish, or at least short-sighted. Her words echoed in his mind. “Good servants, good inventors, but how could anyone who cannot see the power of our world be trusted with making important decisions? Put them in their place.”

His father had, of course, along with other war mages. Everyone knew the name Victeni. He was grateful to Thorn for defending him, but he couldn’t blame people for their reactions to the name. He wished he could learn more of the truth about what his father had done, but hearing about the battles, about mages burning down cities for transgressions and controlling what talentless could and couldn’t build, was hard enough.

 “We get past restrictions here at the college, of course,” Varlen said. “The governor here is easy on us, or maybe just too concerned with the magi collegium to pay attention. But if its for research, we’re allowed to build mostly whatever we like.” Kenneth didn’t fully believe him, but he believed the governor probably didn’t care. “And here the wards aren’t as sensitive as they are in other places. You have a lot of freedom here, Thorn. Other places, that won’t be true.”

Thorn nodded. Kenneth wondered what sort of hardships his lover had already experienced. He would ask—but the last thing he wanted to do was upset him.

Kenneth sighed. He hated being ignorant. But he had a feeling he always would be.

“So,” Thorn said as they left Varlen’s office, with promises to come back and ask more questions later. “Did that help you at all?”

“A bit,” Kenneth said. “I…I understand, on one level, what you talentless face. I see the inequality. But I don’t fully experience it.” He paused, glancing up at the electric lights that flickered as he passed by. “As a child I always thought talentless lived the way they did—in slums and such—because they didn’t have magic. They chose it.” Thorn gave him a smirk. “Later on I just ignored it. It didn’t affect me.” It hurt to even say. “And now, all I can know is that I will never know what its like.” He looked at his lover, at Thorn’s metal hand. “Does the thought of the future scare you?”

Thorn tilted his head. “What do you mean?”

Kenneth’s face reddened. “I mean…imagine it. No magic, controlled by mages. If you hadn’t met me…what would you do?”

Thorn raised an eyebrow. “I’m trained as an inventor. Sure, Varlen said the world outside the collegium is hard. Of course it is. But I’d have choices. I could travel as a merchant. I could stay here and sell my inventions to weak mages. I could work with talentless who require prosthetics. I’d never get rich, or live in crystal mansions or whatever you nobles do, but there’s an important difference between you nobles and everyone else--I don’t need it.” He pointed to another flickering bulb as they walked past. “Sure, we talentless are frightened of you mages. But the world must be frightening for you too, to have so much to lose. That’s why you fought so hard in the war, and did so many terrible things.”

Kenneth fell silent, pondering Thorn’s words. He had never thought of it that way. He examined the aether as they walked, peering at the shimmering lights and loops of the force that allowed his magic to work. The aether was the stuff of creation, controlled with magic. Once it had made sense that those who could control that would control society.

But not anymore.

As he watched it, his magic roiled, sending shocks throughout the aether and sending the lights flickering again. He sighed. He was spending a lot of time with Thorn, but his magic was still unstable. It would clearly take more time.

But he didn’t mind. The more time he spent with him, the more he learned. And the more he appreciated Thorn’s intelligence and his way of viewing the world.

He hoped more people would be like Thorn. But he had a feeling that not all talentless would be so forgiving after the war, especially if half of what Varlen said was true.

He was lucky to have found Thorn. To have found a man to be his lifemate, and one who was so intelligent, and gorgeous on top of it all. Thorn’s hips were taut and tantalizing as he walked down the hall.

A bulb shattered next to Kenneth’s head, and he jumped. Thorn shook his head with a quiet laugh.

“Perhaps we should see more than just the collegium,” he said. “If you want to see what the world of talentless is like, I’ll take you out. That way you won’t destroy anyone’s project, either.”

He took Kenneth’s hand in his metal one, his grip cool and strong.  “It’s fine, Kenneth. I don’t blame you for the war.”

His parents were gone. Kenneth had lost nothing, and never had. Thorn’s life had been changed forever, and would be again, if he became an Enforcer with Kenneth. The whims of mages always controlled talentless. Guilt constricted Kenneth’s throat. Thorn was too good for him.

“I’ll go with you,” he said. “Wherever you want. You choose.”

Thorn smiled, his gaze piercing as though he was trying to read Kenneth’s mind. “Alright then,” he said. “First, to my room.” His smile turned back into a smirk as he stroked down Kenneth’s shoulders and hips with his good hand, sending trails of pleasure in a shudder through Kenneth’s body. “I don’t want you upset, Kenneth. Just trust me. The war’s over, and things will be fine.”

Kenneth nodded, leaning into his lover’s touch, not caring when another bulb shattered overhead. “I trust you.”

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Checking in and NaNo 2014

I’m not a huge fan of National Novel Writing Month, but this year I decided to give it a try to pound out a good portion of Enforcer’s Book 6. The good news—I got much of the book done!

I didn’t make 50k, but that’s fine. I’ll keep working on it, and of course I will revise Enforcer’s Book 5 and submit it to my publisher soon. Keep an eye out for it!

NaNo has kept me busy, but also stay alert for more Wednesday Briefs. I’m going to try and get back in the swing of things this week!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention Part 14

“I wish to hear about the talentless’ take on the war,” Kenneth said. “What the war was like for you—and why it started.”

Thorn leaned against the wall, thinking over the memories of his first few years at the inventor’s college. He had always had a knack for working with his hands—well, hand, he thought with a rueful smile. Maybe it was because of his injury that he had wanted to go into engineering.

He could still remember the first prosthetic he had received, from a woman he had met when he moved from the orphanage in Allentown to one in Tiribek. The war had been over for four years. He had been 11.

“This will help you,” she had said. “It will take some getting used to, though.”

“Thorn?” Kenneth’s voice broke through his thoughts. “Do you want to hear too? If not that’s okay. I just thought…”

“Yes, that’s fine.” He had long thought about his childhood, how the war had affected his own life. But as to how it had begun…while he didn’t trust that anyone knew the full truth, it would be good to hear from Varlen.

If he started getting bad memories, he could always leave. He hated dwelling on the past. His life was tough. One of his deepest fears is that he would learn something related to his parents, something that would reveal that they had fought and brought the war to their home, and that was why they had died. He didn’t know what he would do if that were true.

But he couldn’t share those fears with Kenneth. Not yet.

“Before Jaquin, we were like the non-nobles are now. We could never really govern, and we had little say in the capital. But we were allowed to do our own things. Before the discovery of gunpowder, of electricity and technology, the mages ignored us. We didn’t have their capabilities.” Varlen gave Kenneth a nod that held no small amount of sarcasm. If Kennet noticed, he gave no sign.

“But is when we began to advance that the magi took notice. No longer did we have to live in lightless slums. We began living well, advancing with steam power. There were dreams then of achieving flight, of doing everything magi could do.”

Thorn liked to think those dreams were still alive.

“That was when the magi began passing laws. Certain inventions were forbidden—“no weapons of war.” Varlen made quotes in the air. “That meant no firearms. They forced us to hunt with bows and arrows if we wanted meat and had no access to a nearby farm. We would improve access, but inventions related to transportation were also forbidden. As soon as we began to show our true potential, the magi took notice of us and wanted to keep us down, where they thought we belonged.”

“But why?” Kenneth said. “Couldn’t the inventions have helped magi too?”

“Of course they could have,” Varlen snapped. “But when have humans ever been rational? The magi saw a threat to the status quo. We were there serfs, their peasants and servants. They wanted to keep it that way.”

“So that was when  Jaquin began to talk of revolution,” Kenneth said.

“No, he talked of revolution after a group of magi destroyed the center of talentless learning at the time,” Varlen said. “The college of Lisandra would make this college, and even your collegium, look like a schoolhouse. It was where we learned how to harness the power of steam and generate electricity. It was a monument, and its destruction the ultimate insult. That was ten years before the war began—Jaquin was just a boy then. And now, talentless never even hear of it. So much knowledge was lost, because magi can’t tolerate their power being challenged.”

Kenneth was frowning, but he didn’t rise to Varlen’s bait. “So why did it take ten years?”

“You’re a fool like every mage,” Varlen said with a roll of his eyes. “To rebuild. To construct, in secret, the weapons for war that were forbidden, and to raise the funds, by selling you magi your heaters and lamps and steel, to pay the armies.”

Thorn shifted his weight from foot to foot. He understood, on one level, why Varlen insulted Kenneth. The waste and pain magi had put them through couldn’t be denied. But… “Kenneth wasn’t responsible for any of that,” he broke in. “So don’t insult him.”

Both Varlen and Kenneth looked to him in shock. Thorn lifted his chin. “Kenneth is my partner, and if you insult him you insult me.” Privately, he wondered why some talentless saw fit to insult magi so brazenly when magi could kill them without fear of repercussion.

Then again, perhaps the embers of war still simmered hot, especially here. And while the talentless didn’t want war, maybe the magi didn’t either. Both sides were wary of just such an occasion, when the wrong talentless would be killed and the memory of Jaquin would spring up again.

The realization sent a shiver through him.

“Thorn, it’s alright,” Kenneth said. “I’m used to it.”

“You don’t have to be,” Thorn said. “Magi may have started the war. Maybe they are ignorant.” He turned to Varlen. “But continuing to insult them and refuse to learn from them is just as ignorant in its own way. Now how about you continue educating us without insulting my partner?”

Varlen stared for a moment, the only sound in the room the clock ticking on the wall. “You know,” he said finally, breaking the silence. “If anyone is going to date a noble mage, Thorn, I’m glad its you.” He snorted a laugh and turned to Kenneth. “By the end of this, he’ll probably have you in a leash and collar.”

Kenneth’s face reddened, and Thorn tried to put the alluring image out of his mind. “So then,” he said with a cough. “What was the impetus for the first battle of the war?”

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.”


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.”