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.”


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.”


Don't forget to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 9

The lecture was boring, and it was even harder to concentrate when Thorn’s gaze kept getting drawn to Kenneth. Kenneth somehow made it look good to sit in a lecture hall, his legs spread and his arms draped over the backs of the chairs next to him. He looked like an arrogant, lazy mage that the talentless always made fun of, but he was Thorn’s to discipline.

When the lecture ended, Thorn shook off his distraction. He had work to do on his project, and he couldn’t let Kenneth take up all his time. Kenneth was supposed to be the one focusing on self control, after all.

“So, what was the duel you mentioned to Saul?” Kenneth asked as he stood up, smoothing his robes. Another student who passed by widened her eyes when she saw Kenneth, and hurried up the steps. Thorn sighed.

“Duel? What…oh. The duels we were going to watch.” Thorn laughed when Kenneth frowned. “It’s not what you think. Not like what you and Alder did.” A chill went through Thorn at the thought of the powers the two men had commanded, and how it had resulted in his fake hand getting crushed when he had shot Alder. He flexed the metal of the replacement, testing it unconsciously. “It’s fencing. With rapiers, for fun, and with plenty of safety measures. It’s just something we talentless do when we’re not working. No one gets hurt, not with the electrical system we set up.”

Kenneth tilted his head, a grin stealing over his face as they left the lecture hall and headed into the narrow hallways that led to Thorn’s workroom. The electric lights they passed began to hum. “Do you duel too? What about with pistols?”

“I don’t duel, no,” Thorn said, holding up his fake hand. “Those of us with prosthetics usually don’t. People think we’re either too handicapped or cheating. And no one duels with pistols unless it’s a real duel, not a practice bout.” He chuckled. “I suppose you mages can find ways to throw lightning at each other safely, but not with our weapons.”

“Makes sense,” Kenneth said. “I’m interested to see what its like.”

“Well, give me a few hours,” Thorn said. “I have some work to do, and we can grab dinner. Then we can check out the duels.”

He hoped Kenneth enjoyed watching them. It was always a good way to relax after a long day of work.

He also hoped no one minded Kenneth being there. Putting away the nerve-wracking thought, Thorn set to work, the presence of his lover heavy in his mind.

Thorn hadn’t been able to get much work done. Between catching the sight of Kenneth out of the corner of his eye, the mage gorgeous no matter what he did, and the intermittent distractions of something mechanical failing when Kenneth’s magic flared, it wasn’t the best environment.

But dinner went well, even if it probably wasn’t up to Kenneth’s standards, and now the two men headed out into the courtyard, the sound of cicadas growing deafening as they left the college doors. The usual crowd had already gathered, and two men stretched in the center of the crowd, their blunted rapiers shining in the electric lights that were strung on the trees. A generator hummed on one side, and wires connected to two boxes lay strewn on the ground.

“What’s all this?” Kenneth whispered.

“You’ll see,” Thorn said. He nodded to Saul. His friend’s gaze hit the ground after he saw Kenneth, but he still made room for them in the crowd. Thankfully, in the dim lighting and with all the milling people, Kenneth didn’t stand out as much as Thorn had feared.

“Take your bets!” a woman shouted. Henrietta, as usual. “Who will win the first bout of the night, Frederickson or my good brother George!”

“Don’t bet,” Thorn said. He never did because he didn’t have the money, but part of him was worried Kenneth would bet far too much. Besides, the last thing they needed was for Kenneth to annoy anyone, even by the small act of favoring one duelist over another.

The people around them shouted out their bets, anywhere from 1 to 2 coppers, most on George. He was a fine duelist, with quick fingers and fine, muscular legs. Before Kenneth, Thorn had thought him quite fetching, which is why he came to the duels at all.

“Alright,” Henrietta said. “No striking the head. When the lights go off, I’ll say so.” Thorn wondered how hard it would be to construct metal masks so the apparatus would work with them, but he thought that every time and never spoke up. “Begin!”

Kenneth leaned forward, clearly curious. Before he could even blink, the long rapiers struck, one two three with the sound of clashing metal, and the light on the right went off.

“Point for George!” Henrietta crowed. The crowd hummed with exclamations of victory or groans of defeat, and more money began to change hands.

“Amazing!” Kenneth said, too loud. “What makes the light go off?”

Titters of laughter bled into the sound of the crowd. “Is he a first year?” someone said.

Kenneth frowned. “I’m just curious.”

Too many people turned, and so did George, stepping away from the duelist’s strip, the wire still attached to his clothing. “So who’s asking…”

Then he saw Kenneth, and Thorn groaned inwardly.

“Mage!” he said, his mouth dropping open. People immediately backed away from them, the anonymity of the crowd dropping away. Thorn’s stomach flipped.

George stared at Kenneth, his gaze fixed. “What are you doing here?” he asked, his voice tremulous. Thorn wished he knew more about George. So many here had bad experiences with the magi, and he didn’t know if that was fear or anger on George’s face.

“I’m…just here to learn,” Kenneth said carefully. “I’m curious about this dueling game.” Thorn winced.

“Learn the game, huh?” George said. His eyes narrowed. “Why not step up and play, then?” He motioned with his rapier to the duel’s strip. “C’mon mage,” George taunted, his eyes wide but jaw set. “You can’t win if you don’t play the game.”

Thorn’s stomach fell. The expression there was definitely anger.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 8

Thorn woke before his lover did, and he extricated himself from the too-small bed, careful not to wake up the sleeping mage.

The absurdity of it all hit him again as he took in the sight of the sleeping blond. His lover was a noble mage. Never in a thousand years did Thorn think such a thing would ever happen. Sure, he had fantasized about it. Plenty of talentless fooled around with non-noble mages. But a noble? And to have him here, spending an entire week with him?

It was crazy. And incredibly exciting.

Now was his chance to show Kenneth what talentless were like.

As he stood there, his clockwork alarm began banging out the hour. Thorn jumped, leaping across the room to turn it off.

“Urgh…” He turned the metal key too late, the room going silent, but Kenneth shifted under the covers. “What…” Kenneth blinked, and Thorn had to smile as his lover slowly realized where he was.

“What was that?” Kenneth said with a yawn. The covers revealed his toned chest and slim hips as he sat up. “It sounded like two bars banging against each other.”

“You’ve never stayed over on days I have seminar before,” Thorn said. “This is my alarm.” He held out the contraption, a clock outfitted with a piece of metal that would hold tension until the clock hit the correct hour. “And I—or more accurately, we—have to get ready for class. And then I have to work afterward. It’s going to be a long day.”

“Class?” Kenneth said, perking up.  “What sort of class?” He hurried out of bed, grabbing his bags and pulling out a silk set of robes. He also put on his noble’s armlet with a click, the gold shimmering. A twinge of anxiety went through Thorn.

“You’ll see,” Thorn said, swallowing down nerves.  He had wanted to show Kenneth what talentless were like.

But all his peers were going to meet Kenneth too.

Thorn was very grateful that he had met Kenneth when he was so close to graduating. Being in a small workroom full of dozens of other students with a well dressed, noble mage at his side would have been awkward. The unease that had hit him this morning didn’t fully abate, though.

It was strange enough walking down the hall to his seminar with Professor Flint. Some of his fellow students and professors had seen Kenneth, or had at least heard the rumors that Thorn was dating a mage. But more than a few people they passed stared at Kenneth with wide eyes, or muttered darkly to themselves.

Thorn kept his head high. He loved Kenneth. This wasn’t a betrayal of his people. Kenneth wasn’t like other mages.

He kept telling himself that when they entered the lecture hall. Kenneth had stayed quiet during the walk there, trailing along after Thorn like a puppy. Thorn wanted to be more open, to hold his hand or joke and talk with him like they always did when they were alone. But he couldn’t quite bring himself to do it, not when they were out in the open, among his peers.

Guilt twisted in his stomach, and it alleviated only a little when they chose seats in the back of the hall, thankfully early. In the privacy of the dim electric lights, he reached over and squeezed Kenneth’s hand.

“This is a lecture on mechanics,” he said. “Let me know if you have any questions.” Ahead of them, a woman took a seat, either not noticing Kenneth’s gold noble’s armlet or not caring. Thank goodness for that.

“Thorn!” Thorn looked up, grinning when he saw his friend Saul. His grin faded when he saw Saul’s wide, frightened eyes.

“Saul, you…you met Kenneth,” Thorn said, wishing he sounded more confident. “In the library. He’s my, uh…”

“So it’s true,” Saul said. “You really are dating a mage.”

Thorn froze. He knew exactly how afraid of mages Saul was. His artificial leg, hidden beneath his pants, was there because of the war. And he was an orphan, like Thorn.

Magi had killed so many.

“Would you like to sit with us?” Kenneth broke in. “I won’t understand much, but it’s nice to meet you.” He looked to Thorn, his gaze piercing.

Right. Fires, he was being rude. “Kenneth, this is Saul. He’s a friend of mine, who also studies prosthetics.”

Saul lingered, looking down the rows and then to Thorn and Kenneth. Mostly at Kenneth. “I think I’ll sit closer today,” he said with a shake of his head. Thorn nodded, throat tight.

“Will you be around later? We can watch the duels tonight,” Thorn said. Saul just nodded, already walking away.

“He’s afraid of me,” Kenneth said. “And you’re…ashamed? You’ve been so quiet.”

Fires. “It’s…it’s not like that,” Thorn said, keeping his voice low. “I’m not ashamed of you. I just…” He threw up his hands. “To some talentless, a mage like you is a guaranteed ticking time bomb.”

 “It’s more than that,” Kenneth said. “This is the first time I’ve been around when classes are in session, when you interact with your friends,” Kenneth said. “You worry what others will think, of both me and you for being with me.”

Thorn’s stomach sank. “I’m excited to have you here.” That was true, and he desperately hoped Kenneth believed it. “I want you to see what we do.” But he couldn’t lie. “And yes, I’m a little…overwhelmed.”

“It’s alright, Thorn,” Kenneth said. “I understand.”

“You do?”

Kenneth sighed, settling back into the uncomfortable wooden lecture chair. “I do. I just wish we magi hadn’t done so much that so many are resentful of us to the point they would judge another for being with one.”

Thorn frowned, and reached out to hold Kenneth’s hand again. “It will get better,” he said.

“It will,” Kenneth said, whispering when the lecturer entered the room, heading toward the podium. “It will start today. I’ll be on my best behavior.” He met Thorn’s eyes and smiled. “I’ll show people they have no reason to fear us, and no reason to be angry.”

Thorn smiled back, some of the weight lifting off his shoulders. “Every little step counts.”

Sunday, September 7, 2014

More neat news!

Freshmen Blues passed the first round in the contest! I'm now moving on to the second round!


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Wednesday Briefs: Aesthetics of Invention part 7

Kenneth ached to return the favor Thorn had given him in the forest outside the inventor’s college. He could barely focus as he walked past the familiar talentless man who watched the entrance at night, thought of nothing but Thorn as he stabled Jade and took his bags, and wasn’t bothered at all by the dusty scent of the dingy hallways as they walked down to Thorn’s room.

“Home sweet home for the next week,” Thorn said, swinging his door open. The hinges creaked, and Thorn winced. “I’ll have to oil that.”

The interior was just as Kenneth remembered from his many visits, save for the faint scent of lemon. The bed was immaculately made, the sheets pin straight, and the books that usually lay askew on his desk had been stacked into neat piles. A drawing of something that looked like a human hand rested on the desk, a quill and inkpot next to it.

Kenneth broke into a grin. “You cleaned,” he said.

“Of course I did. It’s not every day I have a mage staying with me for a week.” Thorn motioned with a toss of his head to the corner. “I wouldn’t want to get your belongings all dusty.”

Kenneth muttered a command word, and his bags floated to the corner. “Thorn, there’s no need to worry on my account. I’m glad to be here.” His stomach fluttered with anxiety. “This is fine with you, isn’t it?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t have agreed if it wasn’t.” Thorn sat down on the bed, and Kenneth waited for Thorn’s look before he sat next to him. The wood creaked beneath their combined weight. “I’m trying to impress you here, is all.”

“You don’t need to impress me,” Kenneth said. He leaned closer and kissed Thorn’s shoulder, moving up to his neck and finally his lips when Thorn gave a shuddering sigh. Thorn’s lips, as always, were soft and warm, by now a familiar feeling, and their tongues twined together. Thorn pulled at Kenneth’s robes, breaking the kiss and staring at the buttons.

“These always look like they should slip right off,” he said.

Kenneth chuckled, and with another word to the aether popped the buttons on the front and at the neck where the robes were clasped. “Now try.”

“Ah.” Cold air rushed in over Kenneth’s chest, and then Thorn’s good hand brushed his nipples. “There we go. Much easier.”

“Mmm,” Kenneth said. Thorn’s callused fingers sent goosebumps trailing up his chest and neck. “Thorn, don’t you…ah…want me to please you? You’ve already given me—”

“I want to go inside you,” Thorn said, his words hotter than alchemical fire. “There’s no better way to get you used to staying here for a week. So I want you ready for me.”

Kenneth moaned as Thorn bent down and ran his tongue over Kenneth’s chest, and he let it happen when Thorn’s strong metal hand pushed him onto his back. “You’re not always the only one who gets “amorous”, you know,” Thorn said with a grin. He leaned down and picked up something from under the bed—a vial of oil, which he poured on his fingers. Some of dripped onto Kenneth’s stomach, slick and cold. “I just don’t have your magic excuse.”

“It’s not an excuse, it’s…ooh.” Thorn interrupted his sentence with a thrust of his fingers, and Kenneth spread his legs wide. Heat tightened in his cock, and he gasped when Thorn touched the head with his metal hand, smearing precum. The vial hit the floor with a thud, forgotten.

“I’ve been waiting for this,” Thorn said. “Are you ready?”

“Yes,” Kenneth gasped, and Thorn didn’t wait any longer. His hot length filled Kenneth, sending a rush of heat pulsing throughout his body, and with it, a deep desire to cum. Thorn moved inside him, Kenneth sensing every inch of his lover, and the friction was like sliding on hot ice.

“Yes,” he moaned. “Thorn, yes!”

“So good, Kenneth,” Thorn said, his hands fisting in the sheets next to Kenneth’s face. The bed creaked, banging against the wall. “I’ve wanted you all day, Kenneth.”

He loved it when Thorn talked like that, and Kenneth closed his eyes, relishing the sensation of his lover inside him, of the pressure and friction, the explosion that threatened every time Thorn moved against his prostate. He spread his legs wider, putting his hands on Thorn’s thighs and moving with him, driving him in deeper. “Yes, Thorn, yes, yes, yes!”

“Come for me, Kenneth,” Thorn gasped, his body shuddering and his voice low. “Ngh…” He put his good hand on Kenneth’s erection, rubbing it and grabbing his head while he thrust his hips. His body shuddered again, and he gasped, nearly breathless. “Fires, Kenneth, you’re so hot!”

Thorn was close, and the knowledge sent Kenneth over the edge first, his cock pulsing and releasing the blissful pressure in hot spurts across his chest. He clenched down on Thorn deep inside him, who moaned through gritted teeth, and Kenneth felt the deep throbs inside him.

The bed stopped creaking as they both panted, Kenneth’s heart beating so hard he felt it in his neck. “Thorn, you’re so good,” Kenneth said.

Cum dripped when Thorn pulled out, and he lay down next to Kenneth, a smug grin on his face. “I’m sure everyone else in the dorm knows that too now,” he said.

Kenneth’s face heated, but there was no shame. “I’ll be staying here for a week,” he said. “They’ll get used to it.”

“They’d better,” Thorn said. “I don’t claim to understand if it will help your little magic malady, but I’m glad you’re here, Kenneth.”

“I am too,” he said. “It will be nice to be with you more.”

“And you can learn a lot from us,” Thorn said. “I’ll be an Enforcer with you one day.” He snuggled closer. “But for now, you can see what our lives are like, at least a little."