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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