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No, Augustus decided. Forget telling Soren ‘anything’—it was time to tell Soren everything. At this point, the information Soren didn’t have was hampering them both, and Soren’s own memory gaps were something he must be struggling desperately to fill. It would be nice to have someone in the same situation on his side when they dealt with this, and maybe, if he had enough information, he’d have better insights. So everything it was.
Well, except maybe telling him about Augustus’s husband being a demon lord. That one wasn’t really Augustus’s to disclose anyway, when he thought about it. If he were a demon lord, and his husband went around telling people without permission, he’d be pretty offended.
The ritual to summon Enmity through physically was significantly simpler and faster than their regular calls, simply because Augustus didn’t need to set up a buffer of voidspace and define it as separate and overlapping to the real world. The issue was the planar definitions, as he’d long believed. If there was this plane and the other planes, then by forcing something of another plane into this world, this plane would protest. By building adjacent space, it avoided conflicting with this plane’s definitions-of-self.
A physical summoning was somewhat different. He set the candles, built the magic circle, and summoned Enmity of the Dark Phlogiston through.
For a moment, his husband was standing in front of him in his true glory but also bodied, real and physical and present. Augustus ached to step across the lines of the circle and touch him—but doing it too quickly would cross the line of traditional summoning ritual and would make the planar definitions put up their guard too fast.
Instead, Enmity transformed, wrapping his essence in human flesh, his human disguise. He was still a little uncanny, too-pale: Tall, white-haired, wearing a white suit, his flesh icy pale, his eyes so light a blue they appeared to be gray. White was all visible colours at once, and thus bore some secret similarity to the iridescence of his actual form in a way that he couldn’t otherwise express through a normal human body.
Once that was in place, Augustus scuffed out the protective circle, letting Emmet Darkfire step across the line and dip him to kiss him.
Reality protested briefly, and then fell into line, fooled by the human disguise—for now, anyway. It would only be a matter of time, a few days at most, before the planes caught wise again and would force Emmet out. It would then reinforce its boundaries against him, leaving him inaccessible for a time. And so it would be until the nature of the planes changed.
But for now, he was all Augustus’s.
Augustus broke the kiss reluctantly, with a sigh. “Ah, darling, I have so much to tell you,” he said and summarized the last day: the research in the library, the almost-certain connection to Olivia Spiders, the multiple blackmails, his tenuous alliance with Fitzfleming. “And now Soren’s coming over, and I think I should simply be transparent with him. Tell him everything we’ve learned. We know that Olivia befriended him; he might have information we need.”
“Mmm.” Emmet slid a possessive arm around Augustus, guiding him up the stairs to his townhouse proper, shutting the door to his basement workroom behind them. “I agree, we might as well.” Emmet always talked so normally when he was Emmet instead of Enmity, Augustus thought a little crankily. He had to; every part of him was a disguise right now. But it was no good at all. “Keep in mind that it’s risky, though. Soren doesn’t know that he previously lost someone, or whatever part he had to play in it. We can’t account for human emotions.”
“We can’t, but I think it’s better that we help him be the one to find out about it than be people withholding it from him at the time he does find out,” Augustus pointed out.
“I’m not arguing, sweets,” Emmet said. He went into the kitchen and turned on the gas so he could get some tea on. “Get some food started for me, I want to taste things while I’m here. Anyway, beside that, you might want to withhold—well, me, especially if you hope that I can do a proper divination on you both. You can tell him what I am if you decide you want or need to, but keep in mind that you and I are in a precarious position here, and we will have to kill him if he’s going to end up panicking over it. Can’t afford to have him telling people before we’re ready.”
Augustus nodded. That was reasonable. “Yes, let’s withhold it for now. If we need to explain your powers, we can use the usual excuse.”
As Emmet had asked him to, and since he needed to eat anyway, he got dinner on, and fed Emmet occasional spoonfuls from the pot as he finished up the chicken and basil pasta. Emmet spiked his tea and sat contentedly at Augustus’s kitchen table, hands wrapped around the mug as he watched Augustus work.
When the knock at the door came, dinner was about ready. Well, they might as well eat while they talk, Augustus decided.
He thankfully beat Emmet to the door, answering it with a smile. Soren had clearly dressed up, wearing a marbled suit that seemed to glisten as if it were made of stone itself, and he was carrying a small bottle of wine with the anxious attitude of someone who had picked between that and flowers and was hoping he hadn’t made the wrong decision. “Good evening,” Soren said, shyly. “I’ve been looking forward to this.”
“Me too,” Augustus lied; he’d been far too busy to look forward to it one way or another. “Please come in. I have someone I’d like to introduce you to.”
He let Soren in and shut the door behind him, then turned to see Emmet lounging insouciant against the wall in the entryway. Soren was staring at him, both a little jealous and absolutely gobsmacked, which was a fair reaction to Emmet even in his less-impressive human form. “Or perhaps he’d like to introduce himself,” Augustus said dryly.
“No, no, go ahead, darling,” Emmet drawled.
“Soren, please meet my husband, Emmet Darkfire.”
“Oh—I knew you were going to talk to him, but I hadn’t realized …” Soren put the bottle of wine on the side table and stepped forward, offering his hand.
Emmet took it as if to shake, then turned it over and kissed the back of it. “Charmed, I’m sure.”
Soren’s complexion didn’t show blushes well, but if his expression were anything to go by, his heart must be pounding and his face warm. “Ah, the feeling’s mutual.”
Oh a threesome was absolutely on the table, Augustus thought absently. Probably not now, and it’d be improper to do if he didn’t give more accurate information about Emmet, but in terms of possibilities? Yes, absolutely. And Soren must be thinking the same thing, given the last thing they talked about.
Augustus cleared his throat. “Soren, I’ve made dinner, and if you’re hungry you’re welcome to have a plate. I’d wanted to get the time to know you properly here, but—with what’s been happening, I’m not sure I have the time.”
A series of complicated expressions crossed Soren’s face. “What do you mean?”
“Come and eat,” Augustus invited. He served plates to all three of them, then sat, and as he ate he began to explain.
As he’d planned to do, he told Soren everything that mattered. He told Soren about coming back with the lock of hair and having Emmet help him divine into their pasts; he described the scenes he encountered in as much detail as his memory would allow him to summon. Soren went pale about halfway through and put his fork down, and Emmet interjected a quiet, “You should probably eat, if you can. You’ll need the strength for the time to come.”
Augustus didn’t let that interruption stop his flow of words, however. He finished the description of the divination, though he left out his suspicions that one or the other of them had sabotaged the ritual; even if Soren had, it had happened so long ago, and besides, Soren couldn’t remember it—things had changed since then, no matter what, and it wasn’t fair to bring up a theory simply to hurt Soren with it.
He moved on from there to the morning after: his investigations in the library, his discovery of Vii being Violin Spiders. Soren put up a quick protest then, a, “There’s no way that Liv is related to this,” that Augustus cut off with a wave of his hand as he pushed on. He described his own suspicions of Olivia and watched Soren sit there with thin lips, just listening. And then the blackmailing—the multiple blackmailings, though he left out what either of them were being blackmailed for out of deference to their own deeply personal situations.
“And so,” he concluded, “someone has been stealing from me, someone is targeting me specifically for my research at the least, and that someone has been blackmailing people around me to try to do this. And Olivia Spiders is most likely associated with Violin Spiders. Olivia Spiders has been working on a paper that I’ve heard is somewhat similar to mine, even though that’s not their usual field. I’d like to know more about your relationship with Olivia and what you’ve told them.”
Soren had managed to finish most of his plate, at least, though not all of it. He sat pushing what was left around with a fork absently. “I don’t … remember Vii at all,” he admitted. “I knew there was another person, and your description matches the little I recall, but you telling me didn’t make me remember more of him. I feel kind of… upset by that, honestly. I feel like I should know him.”
“You may yet still, if we divine again,” Emmet murmured.
“It didn’t jog my memory either,” Augustus said. “I remember only what I saw in the divination itself. It seemed as if we’d been together a while, but it’s all gone now.”
Soren nodded once, jerkily. “As for Olivia … I don’t want to think the worst of her, you know. I don’t want to think that our friendship was a lie. They welcomed me when I first came here, and we spend time together after work quite a bit. But they do know about my memory loss. From what I could tell, we talked about this and that until it simply came up naturally. And if they’d looked me up after the … incident … then they’d have known I had that problem and could have steered the conversation around to making me be the one to bring it up.”
“Indeed,” Augustus murmured. He hadn’t had similar conversations with Olivia, but then, he had been left out of the article he’d found. Olivia might not have initially known that Augustus been involved. Not until Soren had told her about his vague scraps of memory and his own sense of knowing Augustus.
But had Vii really never written to his family about his relationship with Augustus …? Not impossible, of course, but these were the questions he had to ask himself.
“It does make her paper more suspicious, given your stolen research,” Soren admitted reluctantly.
“Can you tell me more about the paper?”
“I haven’t yet read it,” Soren said. “Olivia said that however close we were, they couldn’t have a peer read her work, it was too risky if someone else published something similar. Ironic, if they were stealing your work. The paper’s title, though, I got. It’s ‘Outside the Planar Influence: Why Spiritual Definitions Need Redefining.'”
“Oh, she’s absolutely stealing my work, then,” Augustus said, trying to rein in his sudden fury. “Absolutely, Olivia’s the one blackmailing people and having them steal my shit. That’s exactly what I’ve been working on. Specifically.”
“They told me they knew something was out there, and as researchers, they needed to find out more so that contracts could be redrawn appropriately to cover these ‘edge cases’,” Soren said helplessly. “She never implied she had a personal stake in it.”
“Outrageous,” Augustus declared. He looked to Emmet and found Emmet grinning at him with his pearly-white, flat, human teeth showing. “It is!”
“Darling, I know. But at least you can ride coattails, even if you can’t lead the way.”
“No, it’s mine.”
“I know, darling.”
“They never blackmailed me,” Soren interrupted. “Or haven’t yet. I suppose there’s no need to, since I’m new, but—I have to agree. What you’ve said seems to be more than simply wanting to publish first, if they’re related to Vii. And if they were just stealing your research for the academic credit, why blackmail someone for your ambrotype as well?”
Emmet said, “Sounds like maybe she wants to do divination too. It’d be harder for them to do than for me, of course, so a picture of you might do a good job to give something to build off of. That or she has suspicions of our relationship, darling.”
“But why not steal one of my pictures, then?” Soren asked.
“She’s needed you on her side, right?” Augustus suggested. “Maybe that’s it. If they found out from you I was somehow involved in the incident, then targeting me keeps their relationship with you ‘clean’. And they were targeting me for my research anyway, so why not steal more while they were at it?”
Soren nodded slowly, reluctantly. “Speaking of divination. Emmet, you said that you did the last one? And that it’s easy for you? Because I think we should use my physical presence here for a more powerful divination. But is it really so simple? I know divination is unreliable at best …”
Emmet draped an arm behind Augustus’s chair. “Don’t go around telling anyone this, as it could certainly hurt Augustus’s flawless reputation, but I’m a diabolist. So I get some magical perks others don’t.”
Augustus was a conjurer; he could summon any number of spirits from the other planes, including demons—from other locations in planar space, he reminded himself, if he were to redefine planar reality he’d have to start with himself first. He was also a diabolist, because he’d made a contract with a demon. A diabolist was simply someone who was in some way involved with demons in a way that gave them some access to that demonic power. Augustus kept his magic as straight spellcasting with all its terms and agreements, generally, but he certainly had access to powerful demonic magic if he needed it.
A diabolist may not be as formally trained as a magician was, but conjurers and diabolists obviously often moved in similar circles. Many knew each other, so it was a half-lie with plenty of things that could back it up. And Emmet, well, wasn’t a human who had made a contract, but was certainly involved with demons. As it were.
“I see,” Soren said. He gave Augustus a curious expression, but if he’d put things together yet, there was no sign of it. “Will it be harmful?”
“Not at all. There’s some demonic edge to it that you might pick up if you feel me there, but don’t fight it if you do,” Emmet said. “I swear to you, I can make it so this demon will not harm you in the course of the divination. But I’ll need to be present and watching along as I do the divination, because some of the things in there mess with your ability to process your memories. Probably why you can’t actually remember it. I’ll need to split myself and watch you both, especially since your memories might diverge—not all the scenes I see will necessarily have you both together.”
Soren was silent for a long moment. “I see. I’ll give you my trust in this. I don’t see what else I can do.”
“Come with me,” Augustus said, offering Soren a hand. “We should get comfortable. We’re essentially going to be unconscious, so we’ll need to lay down.”
Soren’s hand slipped into his, faintly clammy; he was nervous. Augustus, impulsively, gave that hand a reassuring squeeze as he led Soren to his bedroom—his actual bedroom, not the bed downstairs in his workroom, since that still had all the setup of demon summoning in it.
They lay down together on the bed, and Soren shifted uneasily, staring up at the ceiling. “This wasn’t exactly how I imagined being in bed with you,” he said.
Emmet barked a laugh. The metaphysical wind began to swell around them. “Well, it’s not going to be as fun, but we’ll see what happens later.”
Augustus opened his mouth to scold Emmet, and then he realized he was somewhere else.
It was the school dorm room that he remembered from before—Vii’s room. There was a warm lump of blankets next to him, and he sat up slowly, turning over and tugging the blankets back to look.
Vii was sleeping deeply, looking content, smiling and curled up, lashes heavy on his cheek, the nape of his neck bare. Augustus felt the sudden absurd urge to kiss that exposed part of his neck, but didn’t do it.
He could wake Vii, he knew. But it would be harder to look around the area if he did, since Vii would be up and interacting with him. He felt like he perhaps had more freedom to explore than he’d had in the last divination. Perhaps due to the better materials provided, he was more able to interact as his current self, instead of just being along for the ride. He couldn’t change the past, one way or another—he was in his own head, rather than back in the past—but it might give him the freedom to see things from angles he hadn’t let himself notice in the past, or ask questions and see if his own suppressed memory could tease out the answer for him.
Soren wasn’t here, he noticed. It was just him and Vii in Vii’s room.
[What should Augustus do?
Comment with details.]