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Yes—it would be best if it weren’t now, Augustus decided; he was on the spot, and he didn’t feel great about impulsively using sex as a way to get bodily fluids and help divine his past. It wasn’t out of the picture if it came to it, and it wasn’t entirely atrocious if he ended up doing it; every mage knew what a part of one’s body could be used for, and took their chances. He’d be taking the same risk that Soren might do something with his. Still …
“I would like to,” he said, and he meant it, really; Soren was lovely, if too mysteriously connected to him for his comfort. “But I’m afraid I have plans tonight I can’t get out of. I’m calling my husband, and even if I hadn’t already been planning to … I really should make sure he knows about our interest before we go ahead and act on it. He has no issue with that sort of thing, but trust is about communication.”
Soren looked surprised, and an initial defensiveness that had begun to creep in seemed to relax a little at that. “Yes. Yes, it is.”
“So—would you like to come over to my place tomorrow evening?” Augustus leaned forward a little. “Even if we decide not to, well. I think we will want to talk more. Get to know each other better.”
“Tomorrow?” Soren seemed to hesitate, then nodded. His complexion hid much of any blush he might have, but he seemed a little flustered. “Tomorrow evening is fine. I can make it work.”
“Excellent. Wonderful. I’ll look forward to it,” Augustus said, clasping his hands together. And then, impulsively driven to a surprise honesty. “There’s one more thing. I’d like to do some divining into our shared past. Would you give me a lock of your hair?”
He didn’t actually expect Soren to say yes; mages did, in fact, know what these things could be used for. And he wasn’t about to tell Soren that it was a demon who would be doing the divining, so if he asked, Augustus would have to demur.
But Soren just nodded again. “All right. I’ll trust you, Augustus.” He found a small pair of scissors in his bag—a common implement for mages who might need to gather materials when out and about—and snipped a curl off, folding it up in a piece of paper and handing the improvised envelope over.
“Oh! Thank you,” Augustus said. Excellent. Odd, too, that Soren would trust him this much, but then again, perhaps the two of them had a connection that nobody else in this world could understand, given their shared past. “I’ll leave for now, Soren. But I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Awkwardly, Soren rose, holding out a hand to shake. Augustus took it, then turned it over and kissed the knuckles lingeringly, watching that hunger spark in Soren’s eyes again, that sad need. “A gentleman,” Soren managed.
“I certainly try,” Augustus said with a chuckle. “Good afternoon, Soren.”
He headed out at that, heading back home immediately; his office hours were nearly over after all the talking they’d been doing, so there was no point going to them this late.
This was probably the better decision, he decided as he walked. He could see what he and Em could dig up together between the essence left in the hair and on the mug, and take that information forward into tomorrow. He could spend some time tomorrow trying to look into that third person, too. The library might have some records of other school enrollment or graduating classes—though based on what happened with Soren, there was no guarantee that other boy graduated in the same timeframe as either of them, if at all—or other strangenesses that might have occurred. And even if it didn’t, he’d be able to find contact information to feed into a farspeech spell so that he might inquire from the Twent enrollment office more directly.
He got home and locked up, making sure all the curtains were pulled, then headed down into his home workroom in the basement, setting the materials to prepare. Then, he went up and made himself a protein-heavy dinner of steak and sausages with a parsnip and carrot side, of which he only ate a single portion—he’d likely want the rest later tonight, depending on how much the combination of summoning and divining took out of him.
Then, he spent some time preening, tidying his hair, changing into a nice evening suit the color of blood and ash, adding just a touch of kohl under his eyes. He swept his hair back into a loose ponytail—Enmity always enjoyed undoing it—and headed back downstairs to finish the ritual.
Reality tore, darkness pouring out, space warping around him. Enmity stepped through and immediately sank back onto one elbow on the bed Augustus kept down here, tail thumping the bedsheets.
“Good evening, thou lowly beast,” Enmity purred, letting his impossibly black hair pool on the sheets as he leaned on his side. “You look gorgeous, babe. This is a personal visit, right? There’s no way you’ve learned more yet.”
“You know I love to mix business and pleasure,” Augustus replied, sitting next to him, helpless to keep from touching, sliding a hand up his side and feeling the aching non-burn of Enmity’s skin. He leaned down to kiss his husband, feeling flesh split and needle-sharp teeth catch at his mouth.
Surely had time to make out a little, he allowed. He’d been so productive lately! He sank into Enmity’s arms, twining his own uselessly mundane, flesh and bone fingers into Enmity’s voidsilk hair.
But as Enmity slid talons through his hair and pulled the ribbon out, as Enmity slit his cravat open with a teasing, implicit threat of how easily he could do the same to Augustus’s throat, he forced himself to pull back with a gasp. “But probably business first,” he managed. “I have to focus. And you’ll want to hear this.”
“Ughhh, thou art such a fucking tease, thou coquet.”
“Consider it a promise for later, thou lonely sufferer,” Augustus retorted breathlessly. “Have you ever heard of the Beast Beyond?”
Enmity pulled back a little, sitting up more fully and crossing his legs. His interest hadn’t flagged yet, from the look of him, but his iridescent gaze had become clear—and perhaps even concerned. “In rumor and legend.”
“What is it?”
“Well, the name is kind of the fucking description, babe. It’s a beast beyond. The here there be dragons of planar space. There are a few things like that in legend, and with all my experience and study, I could not tell you the differences between them, but one is called a beast, another a wyrm, a third one the lurker. The waiter, the watcher, the woebegone. Perhaps they’re all individual creatures, or are all names for one thing, or for aspects of one thing, or for something that is both multiple things and one at once, like a hive.”
Augustus looked at Enmity thoughtfully, sitting on the edge of the bed, one knee up. “What do I dream of when you block my nightmares of the past?”
“More blood than something should be able to hold, reality falling to pieces, something coming through. More than that I cannot see. You don’t remember, so it’s undefined even in thine own petty mortal dreams.” Enmity ran a sharp fingertip over Augustus’s shoulder, then began to toy with his hair again. “Tell me why you ask.”
Augustus did, start to finish, leaving nothing out: everything he’d done since they’d last talked, everyone he’d talked to, everything they’d said that seemed relevant. He took out his satchel and presented his prizes, the mug and the envelope of hair, putting them on the bed between them, feeling remarkably like a housecat presenting a bird as he did so. “Soren is willing to come by tomorrow evening. I’ve already said it may not be for sex, but the option is theoretically still open.”
Enmity opened his maw to speak.
“Yes, he’s hot.”
Enmity closed it.
“You can be here too, if you want,” Augustus offered. “Though if we don’t want to show too much, we might want to spend the resources on letting you physically come through in mortal disguise for a short time.”
“Thou brilliant, miserable acarid, yes,” Enmity said promptly. “We can decide that after we’ve divined on the things you brought with you. It might help us determine where to go with this and what we want to reveal or what we want to hide. It may not get us everything—these are sparks, parts of essence alone, rather than the other full mind here. But if nothing else, I hope we’ll get direction.”
“I was hoping you’d say that,” Augustus said. “Now?”
“I cannot stay here forever, though if thou art capable of making this world mine, I may yet be able to one day. So yeah, let’s do it now before you gotta burn another four hours and expensive bullshit to get me back with you.”
Augustus nodded. This was … new to him, and he found himself nervous. Whatever was hidden here might be hidden for a reason. And yet … “What do you need to do?”
“Trust me,” Enmity said. He put his knife-capped fingers against Augustus’s cheeks, tilting his face up and gazing into his eyes. “Thou hast put thy heart and thy soul in mine. Close thine eyes, open thy mind. Let me inside thee.”
Demons did not need to cast spells to do magic, and Augustus could feel it swelling around him, the metaphysical wind and pressure making sharp electrical sparks between himself, the mug, the lock of hair. He closed his eyes.
This wasn’t a question. It wasn’t a choice. He had nothing to debate about this. He simply did it immediately. He felt Enmity’s mouth open and open and open, and he knew he was being swallowed whole.
His name was being called in two voices, overlapping.
He opened his eyes.
Augustus was standing in a doorway, a room behind him and a T-intersection in front of him. The hall directly in front of him led away into mists. The hallway ran left and right as well. Down the hall to the right stood Soren, as young as he’d been in the ambrotype, calling for him. Down the hall to the left stood the young man from the ambrotype who Augustus had not been able to identify, calling as well. And behind him, of course, a room, unexplored.
He could only pick one to do right now, with no knowledge of what options would change after he made this choice.
[What should Augustus do? Comment with details.
Whichever gets the most votes will take it.
If it is split, I will pick randomly between the split votes.]