“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.”