Kenneth took a breath, stabilizing his magical strength as he got close enough to feel it double in power. Thorn was nearby, down the hall and in the small, cramped conference room in the inventor’s college.
The lightbulbs that illuminated the long hallway remained steady. After their week together, Kenneth had long gained control over his magic.
And, it seemed, Thorn had learned to focus on his work and his relationship. The past week, a week after their time together, he had finally finished his new prosthetic. Kenneth didn’t want to distract him, but he wanted to see it, and show his support. And there was something important Thorn needed his help with.
The conference room wasn’t too full, but Thorn’s friend Saul widened his eyes when Kenneth stepped into the room. He took a seat near the back, but the amount of heads turning made Thorn look up too.
He met Kenneth’s eyes, and Kenneth gave a small smile. Thorn sighed, obviously nervous, but smiled back.
Mutters bloomed around the room, but when Kenneth did nothing but sit and wait, they died down. Finally, Thorn cleared his throat after a stabilizing breath, holding up his project.
It looked different than when he had shown Kenneth weeks ago. It was sleeker, more refined, and more silvery than before.
“Greetings, everyone,” he began. As he spoke, he settled into the tone Kenneth was used to hearing from professors and talented students presenting. “And I’d like to thank Inventor Charles for mentoring me. With our work, the ultimate test is if we’d use it ourselves. And, today, I intend to begin doing so, to demonstrate my mastery of prosthetic engineering.”
He placed the new hand on the table. “Of course, I’ll need an assistant’s help. Kenneth?”
More heads turned, more eyes going wide with surprise, as Kenneth got up and crossed the room. He wouldn’t use magic for this.
Thorn had explained the mechanism several times when Kenneth kept having trouble with the locking piece. Now, though, he unhooked it deftly, and the old prosthetic came off.
A brief look flashed over Thorn’s face, something that wasn’t pain but maybe fear. Kenneth knew why, or at least he could guess. But he didn’t care about the stump. Without missing a beat, he picked up the new prosthetic and fitted it, helping attach the small wiry bits that according to Thorn would sense the muscles and transmit those small twitches into hand movements.
One, two, three. Three locks, and it was secure.
“And now,” Thorn said, stepping back. His hand came to life, the fingers waving as though they were real. “I can do anything he can do.” He laughed when one of the people in the room snorted. “Well, almost anything.”
“Thanks,” Thorn said. He sat across the table in the cafeteria of the inventor’s college, holding a cup of water in his new metal hand. Saul sat next to him. “It went perfectly. Although with the way the professor investigated it afterward, I think he thought you had done some magic to it.”
“My magic couldn’t compare,” Kenneth said. “I wouldn’t know the first thing about making something like that.” No mage had ever had to. It was something talentless did—something magi could benefit from, and would benefit from, if one day they worked together.
Once they were Enforcers, they could make that a reality.
Saul sipped his drink. He still sometimes eyed Kenneth as though he expected the mage to suddenly attack, but those times were getting farther and farther apart. “It was a good project. And not everyone who makes prosthetics has the benefit of being able to immediately use it and test for any mistakes.”
Thorn laughed and drummed his metal fingers on the table. “True.”
The doors to the cafeteria swung open, and Kenneth caught sight of a familiar face. George, the man who had destroyed his gift to Thorn and threatened their relationship, strode in. His eyes met Kenneth’s.
Anger flowed through Kenneth, but he forced it away. His magic stayed under control, and he looked to Thorn, who hadn’t noticed George and was still tapping the table. He smiled when he saw Kenneth looking at him, and any residual annoyance flowed away. He ignored George, putting the angry, bitter man out of his mind. There was nothing more he could do.
George had made his point about talentless and magi becoming lovers. And they, by staying together, had made theirs.