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Once again, Aaron was thoroughly shocked by Salem, having a particularly strong urge to grab the man by the ears and shake him out of whatever bout of insanity had clearly gripped him. While his first remark had been foolish enough, he hadn’t said anything that wasn’t at least true; after all, anyone who knew anything about politics knew about the financial border-pushing between the Sinnenodels and Astorios, and the incident Aaron thought he’d been referencing wasn’t exactly a secret. But now he was simply hurling insults, at a Count, and Aaron wasn’t sure what to do about it.

However, Aaron’s fourth heart attack of the evening was interrupted when his head snapped in the direction of a familiar voice, only half-listening to the Princess’ explanation. After a second he composed himself again, bowing his head to the Princess. “How fortunate,” he replied, albeit a little flatly, “It’s been a while since I’ve seen Aunt Dora. Thank you, Your Royal Highness.”

It was not fortunate. Not even a little bit. Any other night he would have been thrilled to see his aunt, but tonight, looking like he did and joining a rival household for good, was not how he wanted to see her next. He had been hoping he would have some time to work out how he’d break the news - which reminded him, he did need to speak to Dora about that later - before he would have to face anyone he knew from home; the clothing and the ridicule were another matter entirely, and one he wasn't quite prepared to explain.

Still, he smiled weakly as they approached; as much as he didn’t want her to see him like this, he couldn’t deny he took some measure of comfort in seeing another familiar face. She was dressed in her usual style, showing very little skin with her hair covered, though everything was a notch above the norm in formality, as was proper. His ears burned as he passed her, comparing himself to her almost as a reflex, and his embarrassment only worsened when he remembered that she could probably vicariously feel everything he was feeling.

He halted when the Princess turned on them, straightening further as he listened. He even briefly made eye contact before nodding, to assure her that he understood. When they continued, he obeyed, both the Princess’ advice and Varis’ warning remembered as he kept carefully within a step or two of Varis. When they paused to wait for the dining room door, he took a long breath, steeling himself for what lay beyond it.

The doors opened and they entered, Aaron staying close to Varis as instructed and throwing Salem a look to do the same before he turned his attention to the dining room. Everything was pristine and elegant, as would be expected, and the familiar architecture - if not a touch updated - did help to put the mage just a little more at ease.

However, as they entered, a sound caught his attention, something like a faint tapping on a window. At first Aaron thought it might have been someone tapping a wine glass, or a musician tapping his foot, but the table was bare and the sound was coming from the wrong direction. He wasn’t sure why it caught his attention, but when he turned his head slightly to follow the sound, it simply faded away.

He gave his head the tiniest shake and took another breath, chiding himself inwardly. Clearly his nerves were getting to him more than he’d thought, turning every little noise into some great mystery. Soon he’d be spooking at his own footsteps. Come on, it wasn’t as if this was his first time meeting Council members. He needed to calm down.

Approaching the table, Aaron let his eyes skip over the Queen briefly, that now-familiar nervous spike shooting through him again when he noticed her scowl. Knowing her that could be directed at anything - at the moment, all clues pointed to the Princess' dress - but he also knew her preferences too well to think his condition might slip under her radar. Back home, when he still served her, he’d have probably been caned for presenting himself so poorly in front of the Queen. What would happen to him tonight?

Somehow, though, the Queen hardly compared to Lady Sinnenodel had to offer; he'd heard dozens of rumours about her, regarding everything from her ever-changing tastes to reckless speculation about the treatment of her mages, but Aaron hadn’t been prepared to see her looking so... edgy. Suddenly Varis' clothing choices made a lot more sense, though the thought didn’t do much to quell the quiver in his gut.

While he’d been looking at Lady Sinnenodel through the corner of his eye, he looked more carefully at her mages, particularly the blindfolded woman sitting at the table in her place. Her attire didn’t seem as extreme as the rest until she twisted in her seat; his stomach turned when he saw the state of the poor woman’s back, two grotesque rows of piercings running up either side of her spine and lashed together with a ribbon like some sick mockery of a corset. Aaron reviled at the sight and had to look away, hardly able to stomach looking at her front-on with the image burned in his mind. Good Lord, was that the sort of thing that awaited him?

Doing his best to banish the thought from his mind, Aaron bowed appropriately when it came time to take his seat, first to the Queen and then to the Lady. He looked pointedly away when the mage woman whispered in Varis’ ear, instead sweeping his gaze over the table. Not a single place setting, not even a glass. He might have smirked had he not been wound so tight. Now there was something familiar. The Queen, like anyone, had her eccentricities, one in particular being her insistence to choose place settings only after guests had been seated. Aaron had seen firsthand her collection of dinnerware back at the castle, an impressive stock of over two-hundred full sets. She even insisted on choosing them personally in her own, careful way. No one was quite sure why - rumour had it among the servants that it was something of an inside joke between her and Lady Sinnenodel - but whatever the reason, it seemed that Princess Ryner was playing along.

Once they were seated, nervous anticipation began to grip him, and Aaron looked across the table to offer Salem a reassuring smile; whether it was for Salem’s benefit or his own, he couldn’t say, but he was willing to try anything to save himself from drowning in his own thoughts.
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Isadora
Clarissa Lilie
Adele
Aaron

Aaron Erica? Lilie


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Dmitri


Mikhail


Irina
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Personal Dossier

Name
Dmitri Adrian Albakov

Age
30

Gender
Male

Classification
Crown Prince/Tsesarvich of Miradele, Acting Prince Regent

Appearance

Personality
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Talents & Affinities

Mundane Abilities

Magical Abilities

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Personal Dossier

Name
Mikhail Vladmir Albakov

Age
26

Gender
Male

Classification
Prince/Tsarevich of Miradele, Advisor to the Crown Prince, Royal Treasurer

Appearance

Personality
Extremely charismatic with a talent for reading people, Mikhail's outward personality can be whatever he needs it to be to get what he wants. He can just as easily play the part of friend or lover as he can tormentor or authority figure, and this two-faced tendency of his has worked more in his favour than against it over the years. While his sister may not believe him, Mikhail is genuinely devoted to his kingdom and his brother as Prince Regent, though his motivations, sincere or otherwise, are unclear.

Mikhail is the type of man who is either a joy to talk to, or absolutely infuriating. A trait that some admire and some despise, he has a way of talking that makes sure whoever he's talking to only knows as much as he wants them to know. There are those who love him, those who hate him, and those who fear him, though they all seem to agree that he has the sort of smile that doesn't quite reach his icy blue eyes.

Talents & Affinities

Mundane Abilities
  • Extremely charismatic
  • Formidable negotiator
  • Good at getting things out of people (idk the word for that, sue me)
  • Special talent for pissing off his sister
  • Not the best in the world at fighting, but who needs to throw a punch when you have the full force of the Royal Guard at your disposal?

Magical Abilities
Rumours abound that Mikhail is a talented empath and uses that skill to better read and manipulate people, but he denies these claims and nothing can be proven.

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Personal Dossier

Name
Irina Alexandra Albakov

Age
26

Gender
Female

Classification
Princess/Tsarevna of Miradele, Captain of the Royal Guard and Commander of the King's Armies

Appearance

Personality
hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Talents & Affinities

Mundane Abilities
  • Talented rider
  • Capable combattant (often with daggers)
  • Capable archer
  • Talented strategist

Magical Abilities
None.

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The moment that followed Salem’s piece was tense, but that familiar embarrassment crept up on Aaron again when Count Varis replied, the mage wishing they could all go back to the silence. His ears burned, but he didn’t know what the Count wanted from the two of them; true, their answers weren’t solutions, but what were they supposed to do, just tell the Queen how to vote?

Taking a breath and another sip of his wine, Aaron supposed he should just let it go and be thankful. After all, it was a rare honor to be invited to offer a view on anything when it came to nobility, especially the Queen, even if whatever he offered was destined to be dismissed. And of course Varis’ comments stung, but they were borne of some semblance of truth. Maybe that's what made Salem's response so odd in Aaron's mind. He was preaching progressivism that could only come from a misunderstanding of how things had to be, taking a principled stance that sounded like he would be happy to see mages have all the same freedoms as vampires. Aaron mused that he might be a fine match for some young Marivaldi if Lucan hadn’t gotten him. At the very least, he knew Lucan well enough to know that Salem was in little danger of repercussions for his views; The Night of the Evening was a bit of an elitist, but he wasn't malicious. Voicing those views so openly, however...

Thankfully, the subject was shifted from the preeminent incompetency of mages to something rather more involved, a breeding deal gone sour. Even Aaron had to agree with Varis to some extent on that one; he’d been honest when he said mages were duty-bound, as Varis reiterated, and Aaron had no qualms with denouncing this mage’s behaviour. Even without considering the flagrant defiance and disregard for his mistress, how much of an idiot would this mage have to be to know the consequences of his actions and still go through it?

Apparently Varis had read his mind, and Aaron nearly shivered at his question, tune changing rather abruptly. Despite disapproving of these mages’ actions, knowing that they were selfish and wrong and that they brought it on themselves, he couldn’t help but remember the sickening feeling he’d gotten as a teenager when he learned what could legally be done to mages who reproduced without permission. It sent a chill up his spine even now. Needless to say, it had been more than sufficient to stop him stealing glances at servant girls.

“Whatever their vampire sees fit, Master,” Aaron replied dutifully, if not a little stiffly. The human deep down within him still bristled at ‘Master,’ but Aaron ignored it. “They know their mages best, they’d know the most effective repercussions for them. I’m sure the Countess will find the legal range of punishments available to be more than adequate for her purposes.” He barely spared a glance to a servant as the courses were changed, not daring to touch the new food until Lady Sinnenodel’s mage started eating. “In this case, whether the Countess resorts to extremes like sterilization would have to depend on how she assesses the risk of her mage repeating this behaviour going forward, though I do think it’s prudent that he was removed from the breeding pool. With that kind of recklessness and rebellious attitude, it sounds like he has some temperament issues. Best to ensure he doesn't pass them down.”

He glanced to Salem when he finished, having caught the rather loaded question the Princess had thrown at him. Not that Varis’ inquiry was any less double-edged, but Aaron was curious to see how loyally Salem would follow the idea he had formed in his head about him. Briefly, Aaron feared that his answer to Varis would only worsen what he was sure was a declining opinion of him on Salem’s end, but he had to push the thought away. He’d enjoyed their time together earlier in the night, but Aaron had no duty to him; he couldn’t fly in the face of his superiors just to save face with a mage he’d only met earlier that day. Even if said mage would, more likely than not, be a frequent feature in his life going forward.
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Are you. Actually stupid.

That was just about all that was going through Aaron’s head as Salem said his piece, having barely taken a breath before telling the Queen that everything about her political system needed to change. Aaron might have gasped if not for the company, torn between recoiling in horror and outright laughing at the suggestion. Okay, now he knew that Salem didn’t know what he was talking about. Or who he was talking to, apparently. Did he not have a shred of respect? Or even a modicum of an instinct for self-preservation?

Silence fell on the room again, and when Aaron looked around the table, he saw Dora falter; she played it off well enough, but she had a harder time keeping her composure than the rest of his family, and Aaron could tell that something was troubling her. She was probably just as disturbed by Salem’s affront to the Queen as he was. And apparently Salem realized his mistake, having gone eerily silent, simply staring at the table. Glancing to Varis as the silence stretched on, Aaron noticed he was smiling at Salem. No doubt sneering at his foolishness. Aaron would have felt bad for the mage had he not been so appalled.

Finally, someone spoke; Varis again, indulging Salem’s idea. Salem was a little more alert now, having jolted for some reason and apparently come to his senses, and Aaron watched him curiously as Varis asked his question before turning his attention to the Count when he was spoken to.

“No, Master, it doesn't,” Aaron stated flatly, not quite as bothered by the title in his sudden irritation. “At the very least, it presents a logistical nightmare. Remember, we mages are short-lived; we get hurt, we get sick, we die within a century. How can we expect consistency from a council whose members change every few decades? Whose members can easily be incapacitated or killed?” While it was addressed to the Count, Aaron’s response was mostly for Salem. “Forgetting for the moment that such an arrangement would fly in the face of the order prescribed by the Treaty, a council of mages would lack accountability. After all, it’s easy to make controversial decisions when you know you probably won’t have to live with the consequences.”
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Aaron watched Salem with something like morbid curiosity as he spoke. Good Lord, it was like watching a trainwreck. He had no idea how to feel, caught between bristling at Salem’s patronizing insult and gaping at his further contempt for the nobles present. Not a single polite term of address for any of them, and he was so bold as to make some vague demand of Lady Sinnenodel? Aaron couldn’t tell what had come over the mage, but as the silence stretched when he finished, his gut only twisted; Aaron had a pretty good idea of what was coming, but he feared that Salem was none the wiser.

Sure enough, the danger Aaron had felt building as they’d discussed came to a head when Lady Sinnenodel’s representative spoke next, ridding herself of her blindfold. Aaron regretted looking as soon as he saw what was underneath; a wave of nausea hit him at the sight of the poor girl’s eyes, and he had to look away, taking a slow breath to soothe his stomach. He had no idea what could have caused such disfigurement, nor did he want to find out; he felt cold, face going a little pale as his former fears came back full-force, and for a moment all he could think about was whether or not he’d suffer the same fate.

Thankfully - or perhaps not, it was getting hard to tell - he was occupied with new concerns when conversation picked up again, Salem being so bold (or was it stupid?) as to stand his ground, claiming that Lady Sinnenodel’s mages had invaded his mind. Given the warning Varis had given him on the way over, Aaron wouldn’t have been surprised if Salem’s accusations were true, but he was no less appalled by the fact that the man actually dared to make them.

Aaron’s anxiety only mounted as the pseudo-interrogation continued; for lack of a ring to spin, he resorted to the next best thing, hands coming up to straighten his collar and tighten his tie. But when he reached his neck, he had to stop himself, only gently touching the pendant at his throat and making a concerted effort not to put anything out of place. It wouldn’t do to alter the outfit Varis had so pointedly arranged for him, even though the disarray only stressed him further. He had no phone screen to clean, couldn’t smooth down his hair, and he couldn’t tug on his ear either, afraid that he’d dislodge the golden cuff. He took a breath, trying to loosen the tightness in his chest as he lowered his hands to his lap, but it did little to calm him. With no other option he reached into his pocket under the table, taking out his ring and turning it in his fingers, though he didn’t dare to put it on.

His heart jumped into his throat when the Queen’s pace quickened; Aaron didn’t hear that tempo from her often, but it was never good. He was well aware that Salem deserved every word and more, but the poor boy was only digging himself deeper and deeper and Aaron couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Clearly he was in over his head, apparently not fully understanding the weight of his actions. Aaron had been hoping he would come to his senses before things came to this, but apparently they weren’t so lucky.

Varis’ mention of the Red Hand, however, pulled Aaron out of his head for a moment. He was less concerned with the Count passing off Salem’s claims as their doing - Aaron had his doubts, but he couldn’t be certain either way - than he was with the idea that one of their members had managed to infiltrate the Academy. As a noble’s mage, no less. Needless to say, the thought of a member of a major rebel faction infiltrating what Aaron thought was one of the most secure locations in the world was more than disconcerting. And if there was even a sliver of a chance that Salem had been affected by them, then he could completely understand the nobles’ urgency.

When Salem’s fate was decided, Aaron’s heart went out to the mage, catching his eye and his look of utter defeat. Realistically, he had gotten off easy, but Aaron could empathize nonetheless. He had no idea about Salem’s relationship with his family, but if it was anything like his own, then cutting off contact must have been devastating. Aaron simply nodded respectfully regarding his assignment, opting finally to eat if for no other reason than to have something to do with his hands. If he was to be Salem’s escort during their breaks, he would readily oblige. Hopefully nothing would come of this investigation.
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Let the Dance Begin.



“We are pleased to hear it. With how soft he is on his household, we were worried he would slip into easier habits.” The mage caressed his cheek caringly. “Stop pouting, it’s unseemly. Ryner provided you with an excellent opportunity to mold the minds of the next generation. You should feel honored.” The mage hummed as Varis murmured his understanding, his eyes lightning a bit. “Perhaps we will attend one of your lectures. We haven’t the opportunity to see you in such a manner yet. With the Princess’s permission of course.” Ryner and the mage locked gazes. “We wouldn’t want to overstep our bounds, now would we?”

“Academy policy requires any guests intending to visit a student give two weeks written notice normally and must be off Academy grounds by six thirty.” Ryner replied without hesitation, sipping at her wine while maintaining eye contact. “As long as your Excellency complies, I see no reason why your visit to my Academy should be denied.” As the pair spoke, the servant’s door cracked open and another servant whispered in Isadora’s ear, who nodded and curtsied next to the Queen. After holding it for a few moments, the Queen acknowledged the mage’s presence and leaned in as the woman whispered into her ear.

“Dinner is over.” The Queen ordered. “Sybil and I. Have business. To attend to. Ryner, we will. Discuss the Spellman. Problem in.The morning.” With little warning, she stood and swept away in one fluid movement with a grace and speed that defied her earlier motions. Her footsteps barely a whisper, she was out of the room with the blink of an eye. The mage huffed under her breath and stood from her chair, directing her sightless gaze at Aaron. Ryner sighed and looked sympathetically at Salem. Under the table, she patted his knee comfortingly as he watched the rest of the group silently.

“We were glad for a meeting, Mr. Starag. We believe we see some potential in you. We merely need to cut out the Noila influence. Right Varis?” She asked as a servant cleared her spot and moved her chair.

“Indeed. Whether he sinks or swims, I will ensure he is an asset to our House.” Varis concurred. “However, my bets are on sinking right now.”

“Varis darling. Play nice with the boy sometimes.” She chuckled. [“We do hope you don’t disappoint us, Mr. Starag. Take care. Varis dear, approach us so we may discuss some business. We have a delightful surprise we know you’ll have fun with.”

Aaron stood as Varis did, paying attention to the two as they spoke and bowing deeply to the mage woman when she finished. Beneath the surface, uncertainty gripped him again; Lady Sinnenodel seemed like she wanted to speak to the Count privately, but Aaron had not forgotten Varis’ warning about staying close. He wasn't sure what to do, but this time, he didn't dare guess.

“Please pardon the interruption, Master,” he said to Varis, bowing his head, “Will you have further need of me, or would you prefer I leave you and Her Excellency to your business?”

“You will attend me.” Varis spoke, not sparing the light mage a glance. He held out his arm for her to take, leading them over to Lady Sinnenodel herself. The vampire watched the door the Queen escaped through but her position shifted at some point from reclining to sitting upright, arm stretched out to her side. The mage girl settled in the next to her and snuggled close to the vampire, letting the vampire’s arm settle around her as she laid her head on Lady Sinnenodel’s shoulder. Varis knelt in front of them, his eyes fixed firmly on the floor in front of them.

“After your little incident with our favorite House,” The mage spoke coldy even as the smile stayed, “We thought it prudent to look into the matter ourselves.” She reached back onto the couch and frowned, looking back at her seat. A white envelope lay across the chair, far too neat to have been accidently dropped. “Goodness. Varis, be a dear and fetch that for me. It's your chance to earn back my trust.” Varis’s jaw clenched. Her attempts to separate them were irritatingly obvious and he wasn't about to let her have her way. His eyes darted to the side, looking for anyone he could send other than the boy, and his spied Isadora helping clear away the dishes.

“Mage,” He said loudly, snapping at her. A few servants looked his way but he focused on Isadora, who looked a little disconcerted to be at the center of the Sinnenodels’ attention. “Fetch.” He pointed where the envelope lay. She put on her court smile and curtsied before hurrying to complete the task. She handed it over to the Count and hurried back to her duties.

“Excellent. Open it quickly. We’re sure you’ll love it.” The mage gushed, clapping her hands. Varis carefully opened the envelope, wary of her last lesson. He could still feel the bite of obsidian from that one. Thankfully, it seemed this was just a plain envelope and he pulled out a few of the papers inside. It was a list of transactions made by Count Illios, the vampire who snatched his business deal out from under his nose. Apparently, the Count indulged in serious underground gambling far too frequently for the Council to willingly overlook.

Kneeling next to Varis with eyes trained pointedly on the floor, Aaron was more than happy to go entirely ignored by the Lady and her mages as they had their rather one-sided exchange. The way the mage woman behaved with her Lady unsettled him, though considering that the images of the girl’s back and eyes would probably find their way into his nightmares later, Aaron wasn’t particularly surprised to find yet more oddities surrounding her. He did, however, bristle at Varis’ tone with his aunt, his brashness toward her incensing Aaron more than anything the vampire had done to him so far. He’d had this problem in the past, getting angry when his mother or aunts were treated poorly; he knew it was irrational, but he could never seem to shake it.

While Varis read, Aaron was thinking. Lady Sinnenodel seemed to be trying to separate him from the Count, and Varis seemed keen on preventing it. Aaron was starting to wonder if Varis’ earlier warning had been for both their benefit; it had seemed strange for Varis to warn him for his own sake when the vampire seemed otherwise content to let him suffer whatever consequences came his way. But why would Varis care if his mind was read? If anything, it would just give him more information on his new mage, would it not? Aaron examined the floor as he searched for an answer, but he kept coming up with none.

“I appreciate the opportunity, my Lady.” Varis smirked. Illios's holdings would be his if it was the last damn thing he did. The mage reached up and wiped gently at Lady Sinnenodel 's brow with a red handkerchief and nodded. “I expect so. You won't get a second chance.”

Glass shattered at the table behind Varis and Aaron. Isadora stood with a platter at her feet and the remains of wine glasses scattered at her feet. Her eyes were wide open and tears ran freely down her face as she watched the Sinnenodels. She clutched at her head and sank to her knees, mouth open as she gasped before a heart wrenching wail escaped. Ryner jumped to her feet and was at the woman's side in a heartbeat, searching for something causing Isadora such agony.

Aaron’s head snapped up and around at the sound of glass breaking, and he was met with the sight of his aunt in apparent agony, in tears and crying out. His heart jumped into his throat and he didn’t even think before he was on his feet, rushing over and nearly sliding as he fell to his knees next to the woman, searching for some cause of her pain.

“Aunt Dora, what’s--” he was cut off when he felt something take hold of him from behind: a hand, hard and smooth as marble, clamped over his mouth. By reflex, he tried to pull away, tried to reach for his sword, but he couldn’t move, and his sword wasn’t there anyway. Princess Ryner was right there, and there were others who could see him, but no one seemed to notice what was happening. Why couldn’t anyone see? Why wouldn’t anyone do something?!

As he tried and failed to struggle he started to panic, but no sooner did he feel it than the hand yanked him back; he felt the horrible jolt of falling backward, but he was powerless to stop it. Then everything went dark.


Salem watched closely as he saw how Aaron and the others behaved around the council members. How could Aaron stand to watch his family treated so poorly? So, low. It wasn’t right. The thought was soon cut off as Isodora seemed to all but collapse on the floor. Salem quickly rushed to her side as soon as he was able to, kicking away any glass before he knelt to meet her gaze. "Aaron make a light! Aaron!” Useless Salem pulled out his phone and turned on the flashlight, checking Isadoras pupils, pulse, anything that could give him a sign as to where her pain was arriving from. Her pulse was fast and anguished, pupils dilated seeming to show her great deal of pain, yet try as he could, Salem couldn't find a cause.

'Someone silence that woman's caterwauling.’ Varis thought irritably as he continued to peruse the papers. The Count's mage won him plenty of money and a nice deed recently it seemed. As the noise continued, Varis finally looked up just as Aaron reached his Aunt. He narrowed his eyes and glanced back at Lady Sinnenodel as a piece of red fabric slipped back behind her. Perfect. Varis waited long enough he knew she would have him before bolting towards Aaron then snatching him up by his neck and tossing him on the table, visibly trembling with rage.

“Shut her up.” Varis hissed at Ryner as he kept his hand around Aaron's throat, waiting for him to wake up from his Lady's grasp. Ryner glared at the Count and rose fully. Her eyes were cold as she stared down the mage who only smiled sweetly at the Princess.

“While I appreciate your presence at my Manor, I believe it is past time you attended your other businesses Lady Sinnenodel. Do have a pleasant morning.” Ryner dismissed the woman, who only laughed. The other mages muttered under their breath and the recliner hovered a few feet off the ground between them, following them as they left the room. Isadora's screaming faded into gasping as the vampire's presence vanished.

The whole scene was only before Aaron for a moment before it faded away, and a new panic gripped him. He felt the hand around his throat before he saw its owner, and by reflex he grasped the arm it was attached to, struggling against its grip. But it wasn't moving, and when Aaron finally saw who was responsible, his hands flew down to his sides, colliding rather painfully with the edge of the table he found himself pinned to and gripping it tightly. His pulse quickened under Varis’ trembling hand, as did his breathing, when he understood what was going on and what had just happened to him. The back of his head throbbed, his knees stung, and the rage clear on Varis’ face was enough to keep Aaron speechless, jaw working wordlessly as his eyes flickered around, searching on instinct for some escape.

“Welcome back, boy.” Varis spat. Seeing the boy terrified was quite amusing but he had a role to play right now. Varis made a mental note to explore this piece of fun more later. “What was my one instruction tonight? Was I not clear enough for you?”

Aaron opened his mouth a few times before any actual sound came out, the hand around his throat distressing him more than it should have given that he wasn’t actually being strangled. “I-I’m sorry Cou--Master!” he managed to stammer out, nervously fidgeting; his positioning was awkward at best, his spine was grating against the edge of the table and Varis offered no room to move. “She-- I--”

“Did I ask for apologies or did I ask for an explanation? Your whimpering and whining sickens me. If you hadn't failed me again, you wouldn't need an apology.” Varis cut him off, pulling the boy to his feet by his neck. “Can't even bother to remember three damn feet? Three feet! Pathetic. No wonder your House threw you away. Maybe I should do the same.” He snarled and let the boy drop from his grip, not caring he was dropping him on broken glass. “And I thought your performance this far was a fluke, nothing more than nerves. It's clear now you are utterly incompetent.” Varis wondered if maybe he was over doing it but… it was fun and the boy was an excellent stress reliever after dealing with the damn Devil herself.

Aaron fell to his knees when the Count dropped him, hands flying up to his throat as he gulped for air he hadn’t even been lacking in the first place. He winced when his knees hit the floor, new shards of glass biting into them alongside the old ones, but it was the sting of Varis’ words that occupied his mind, flooding the mage with horror and shame as all of his fears were openly vocalized.

“That is quite enough.” Ryner demanded and the room went still with her words. It was as if a leash wrapped around every neck in the room, vampire and mage alike, and forced them into compliance. Isadora's whimpers faded away and Varis went stock still, unable to do anything but watch the Princess. “Your behavior is unacceptable, Count Sinnenodel. Retire to my study so we may discuss your actions when I've made sure Isadora is well. You are dismissed.” Varis glared at her and stormed from the room, slamming the door loudly behind him and cracking the door frame. Ryner sighed and the intense aura vanished as she scooped Isadora up and put her in Varis’s empty chair. She did the same with Aaron and Salem, depositing them gently back into their seats.

“I do apologize about this disaster of a night.” Ryner apologized, curtsying to the group. “I will have the main course and desert sent in so take a moment to collect yourselves. I will have a life mage in to take stock of your injuries. Please, stay as long as you'd like but speak to a guard when you two are ready to leave.” She gave them both a look. “Together.” With that, she took her leave.

Aaron visibly flinched at the Princess’ command, breath catching in his throat. He could do little but follow when she moved him to a chair, and simply nodded at her words, waiting until she was gone to drop his face into his hands.

Salem stood from his chair and moved over to Aaron. "Cast me a light will you? I swear...I can't make heads or tails of you Mr. Starag.” Salem’s voice was low, almost as if speaking to himself as he knelt by Aaron and began to pick the glass from his wounds. "This'll hurt a bit, but luckily I come prepared for such events, not much but...well you can all afford life mages so it’ll do.”
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Aftermath

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Aaron lifted his head from his hands with a shaky breath when Salem got to him, looking down at the other man with a mix of confusion and irritation plain on his face. “Good lord, who cares about me? he asked bitterly, nudging Salem aside so he could crouch on the floor by his aunt.

His expression immediately softened towards her and he took her hand urgently. “Aunt Dora, are you alright?” He asked her, concern clear in his voice, “What happened to you?”

Dora, who had just barely been holding it together while the Princess was around, simply let out a little wine as fresh tears began to flow, covering her mouth with her hand and squeezing her eyes shut.

“No!” Aaron scrambled to his aunt’s level, perching himself on the corner of her seat and pulling her into his arms. “No, hey, don't do that!” He pleaded with her, gently rocking. She buried her face in his shoulder, grasping weakly at his clothes as a few sobs shook her.

Salem shook his head slightly as Aaron rushed off without having his wounds tended to. "There's nothing I can do for her...tell me, what is her affinity?” He slowly stood up and walked over to the pair, wondering what could cause a sudden spike in pain and the just as quickly leave.

Aaron followed Salem with his eyes as he circled around, though he continued to do his best to comfort his aunt. But Salem’s question reminded him of something, and he mentally kicked himself for not having thought of it sooner. He reached under Dora’s veil, careful not to dislodge it, and after a brief search through her hair pulled out a gold ornamental hairpin, a round pink crystal faintly glowing in the setting. When he placed it on the table, the glow faded and Dora seemed to relax slightly.

“Emotion,” he stated simply, jerking his head toward the pin on the table, “She can sense and influence emotion. That’s her casting medium, without it she should calm down a little.”

As if on cue, Dora pulled herself away from Aaron, producing a handkerchief from somewhere and dabbing at her eyes. “It was that devil, she spat when she’d recovered, more wickedly than one might expect from such an otherwise matronly woman. Even without her magic, her emotions had always changed like the wind. “Heavens help those poor souls…”

Aaron’s brow furrowed with concern, but he could tell that he shouldn’t press the issue. “You’re alright now though, right?” He asked her.

“Yes dear, I’m fine,” Dora insisted, though Aaron wasn’t entirely convinced. Dora tucked away her handkerchief and shifted in her seat to look at him. Her expression was overcome with something like worry, and she cupped his face in her hands with motherly concern. “But sweetheart, you…”

“Hey now, none of that,” Aaron gently scolded, taking one of her hands from his face and kissing it to comfort her. “I’m fine, don’t you start worrying about me.”

“Aaron, you’re not fine!” Dora insisted, concern turning to indignation, “Look at you, you’ve been nothing but a bundle of nerves since you came here. You’re all cut up, and that snake--”

“Hey,” Aaron was a little firmer this time, though there was no malice to it. “Come on, we can’t be talking like that, you know that.”

"She has a point however. More importantly, Isadora...never mind. This isn’t the place to ask, nor is it my place to involve you in the mess I've created for myself. Aaron, leave her be, the last thing an empath needs after her ordeal is to also deal with your emotions, let alone mine.” Salem moved away from the pair and back towards where Aaron had sat before. "Now, let's get that glass out of you. Honestly I'm not sure what you were thinking.”

Aaron leveled a look on Salem. Who the hell did he think he was, telling him how to deal with his own family? “I was thinking that my aunt was in pain,” he shot back, with a little more acid than was probably needed. However, Dora seemed to understand, and she worked her way out of Aaron’s grasp, standing.

“I really am fine, dear,” she assured Aaron, touching his cheek again. “I’ll leave you boys be, see what's taking that doctor so long.” She leveled her own look on her nephew. “Let him help you.”

Aaron stood as well, reluctantly accepting things and giving his aunt a quick kiss on the cheek. “Okay,” he conceded, handing her her hairpin. Glancing back to Salem for a second, he moved so he was blocking Dora from his view and lowered his voice.

“Aunt Dora, you can not tell Mom about any of this,” he insisted, a touch of urgency to his voice.

Dora furrowed her brow. “Aaron, I can't just lie to her!”

Aaron gave her a pleading look. “Please, Dora, you know how she can get. I don't think she could handle another lapse.”

Dora looked conflicted, but ultimately conceded. “...Very well. But you’re going to have to figure out a way to tell her, because you know she’ll find out eventually.”

Aaron nodded, and he pulled his aunt once more into a hug. Who knew when he would see her again? Trying not to dwell on it, he cleared his throat. “Take care,” he told her, letting her go.

Dora nodded and offered him a little smile. “You too, Sunshine.” She leaned around him, looking to Salem. “Be wise, Mr. Spellman,” she called to him, before offering a habitual curtsy and leaving the room.

Aaron waited until the servant’s door had firmly closed before he took his seat again, taking a deep breath before looking to Salem. “What were you going to ask her?”

Salem pulled out his phone once more and began to compose a message. It read “There are prying ears all around, best not to speak this allowed. I needed to know what she knew of the Sinnenodel’s, their business here, and why Varis kept repeating the same word over and over again.” "Your number.” he said as he was typing, giving Aaron a cheeky wink as he turned his phone over for him to read.

Aaron looked between Salem and his phone suspiciously as he typed, quirking a brow when he winked. Goodness, this one’s mood changed quick. He took the phone cautiously, though his expression turned to one of confusion as he read. Salem was smart to hide his message, but it still confused him.

“Right, would have come in handy earlier,” Aaron replied, tapping out his own message as he spoke. “She’s not normally the Queen’s attendant, she wouldn’t know. We don’t know any more about the Sinnenodels than anyone else, just gossip. And what are you talking about? What word?”

“I’m sorry we left you at the arena, by the way,” he added, handing the phone back. “I asked Sir Bordeleaux to relay my apology. Lilie was taken somewhere by an administrator after our match, and I had to go get ready for this joyous occasion.”

"Riiiight, Well, I actually have seen him since the Arena either. Just waited around for a while for you two until some school...kids? Showed up and thought I was being harrassed by a mage. It's been one hell of a first day for me.” Salem took his phone back and read the message before typing up “Noon, Something is up, I can just tell. And this Red Hand nonsense? I've never known Varis to try to help anyone but himself...no, there’s definitely more to all this.”

Aaron bristled a bit at the tone, but decided to let it go. He’d been wondering where Lucan was himself. He ran a hand along his throat as he took the phone back, taking a deep breath to quell the anxiety in his chest. “Likewise,” he replied bitterly, typing. “It’s nobility. There’s always more to it. You’ll have to get used to it.”

He paused for a second before handing the phone back, thinking back to what Salem had said to get himself into all of this. “I don’t think it was a Red Hand agent that got you. When I went to Dora, I think the same thing happened to me. Count Varis warned me earlier about Lady Sinnenodel and her mages. ‘Skilled in the art of telepathy’.” “I’m sorry you had to wait. Hopefully tomorrow will go more smoothly for everyone.” He stated, handing the phone back. If I even live to see it.

Salem read the messages displayed on his screen before putting his phone away. He stopped tending to Aaron's knee for a moment, his head held low, speaking in a low voice "You should’ve said something...maybe not…” Salem reached into his waistcoat and pulled out a Spellman Spray Anti-bacterial Disinfectant and spritzed it onto Aaron's knee before taking his pocket square and bandaging the wound with it. "There. Sorry, I don’t have any Loli's with me.”

Aaron quirked a brow. He hadn’t the foggiest idea what that meant. “Thank you,” he murmured, fixing his pants and shifting in his seat before leveling a glare on the plant mage. “And said what? To whom?” he hissed, voice low. “Salem, I serve the Sinnenodels now. I am entirely under their… my Lady’s jurisdiction. I can’t just go speaking against her! What were you thinking?!” A hint of anger snuck its way into his voice, though perhaps it was ill-placed.

"I was thinking that I am my own person, I have my own morals, and that I will speak out against those who treat others like less than. That is what I was thinking.” Salem stood up and moved over to the chair next to Aaron, sitting down with one leg crossed over the other. "Maybe I should've brought cricket along with me.”

Aaron was once again confused, but his confusion was curtailed by a sudden wave of sympathy. “Salem, I’m sorry, but you’re not your own person anymore,” he informed him, taking a deep breath. “You’re an attendant now. You’re a representative of Sir Bordeleaux, and an extension of his family. A family which answers directly to the Queen.” His voice darkened a touch with warning. “You can’t just fly in the face of everything she stands for! Good lord, you should be glad your head isn’t on a spike!” A touch of anger borne of concern snuck into his voice again, and he sighed, leaning his head in his hand.

“I truly am sorry about what happened to you,” he said sincerely, “I wish I could have warned you. But you brought it on yourself.”

"Only because mages, like you, are unwilling to even attempt for change. It may not be a popular opinion, but it is a good one. So long as mages remain complacent, the world can never truly progress, and things like tonight” Salem gestured around the room and towards the empty spot where Lady Sinnenodel previously sat “will continue to occur, and more mages will lose freedom, assets, what have you, all because someone felt the need to stay subjugated.”

“I quite like my head where it is, thank you,” Aaron replied bitterly, wringing his neck once again. His fingers found the Sinnenodel pendant laying there, turning it for a moment before he irritably let it drop. “And yes, things like this will continue to occur. Mages will continue to lose their freedom and assets, you’re right. Because this is how things have to be.”

He leveled an indignant glare on Salem. “Do you think I’m an idiot? That I don’t know mages are practically enslaved? I’m quite familiar. But I’m proud of where I stand. My whole family is. Because we understand that without mages to take the arrow, the vampires will set their sights on everyone, and things will go back to the way they were before the Treaty. Vampires will hunt humans like game and mankind will cower in fear, just like they did before.” He sat back in his seat.

"So because they have no morals, we must sit back and allow the world to be run by fear? It’s clear that some of these vampires have decency and morals much like we do, well I do. If we allow them, along with magekind, to have equal say, then we could keep the more radical of both groups cornered so that no one should live in fear.”

Salem confused Aaron to no end. Was he truly so insulated to the reality of what he was suggesting? “Did you see what happened here tonight? Vampires as a whole will never accept equality. They will accept nothing short of total subjugation. You should be thankful for what rights we do have; we only have them by the grace of the Council. Because if they wanted to, the vampires could snatch everything away, and that is a fight that humanity will lose.” Aaron crossed his arms. “Be glad that Queen Anastasia is the one on the throne. Believe it or not, she and her family are exceptionally kind. We might not be afforded the same luxuries otherwise.” He regretting having to be so harsh with Salem. Honestly, he had been beginning to like him. But he would not stand for him smearing the Treaty and the Noilas, even if it meant losing the possibility of any sort of friendship.

The life mage that was called for entered the room silently. Salem fell silent as she walked across the room, a mix of both not knowing what to say as well as not wanting to speak before her. She glided over towards Aaron, healing his minor injuries before leaving once again. Salem opened his mouth to speak and the stopped short before actually saying anything. He turned away from Aaron and waved his hand at him ”Believe what you will. It's gotten you this far, let's hope it doesn’t get you killed for the sake of duty.”

Aaron quietly thanked the life mage before she took her leave, staying silent as Salem said his piece. As infuriating as the plant mage’s disregard for reality was, he couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy. This was a man who was thrust into a world he was probably unfamiliar with, and he’d just been cut off completely from everyone and everything he loved. Aaron supposed, in a strange way, that he could empathize. But he’d never been good at this sort of thing, and he didn’t know what to say.

Another servant came in bearing the food that Princess Ryner had promised, but Aaron stood and stopped the man before he could set out the plates. “Please relay our thanks and apologies to Her Royal Highness, but if Mr. Spellman is ready, I think it’s time we were going.” He looked over to Salem expectantly.

Salem eyed the Osso and then Aaron, with almost puppy dog like eyes, ”We could have...one bite. It’d be a shame to waste the food honestly, besides I've had nothing to eat today really.”

Aaron nodded and the servant continued his work, sitting down again. He certainly couldn’t eat, his stomach was far too jumpy, but he was content to stick around as Salem did. Of course, he also didn’t have much of a choice. But as the silence between them stretched on, the pit in Aaron’s stomach only grew deeper as the shame and fear from the night’s events crept up on him again, twisting his gut in knots. He had never been so humiliated; he had thoughtlessly disobeyed his master, he’d had his memories sifted through, been manhandled and berated in front of everyone, and good lord, he’d needed the Princess to come to his rescue. He wasn’t sure he’d ever been so ashamed of himself in his life, and considering his existing punishment, he had a sneaking suspicion that everything Varis had done to him so far was only a gentle prelude to what awaited him when he got home.

Drawing a shaky breath, he leaned his face on his hand again, staring at the table. “...I’m sorry you had to see all that,” he muttered, rubbing his neck.

Salem finished polishing off his plate, after eating ravenously with no one else around. Aaron muttered something to himself that Salem wasn’t quite sure who it was directed towards. He looked about the room until his eyes fell back on Aaron. "See what? You be human? It's a shame no one else could honestly. Funny...who knew a light mage would harbor so much darkness within. Then again...given your partner, master, I don’t blame you. Shall we?”

Aaron looked up at Salem quizzically. It was as if the man only spoke in riddles. But Aaron supposed his intentions were kind, and he nodded and stood, crossing over to the dining room door and speaking with the guard he knew would be there. Almost immediately, he was informed that a car was waiting for them, and he turned back to Salem, gesturing towards the door. “Let’s go, then.”
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No wonder your House threw you away. Maybe I should do the same.

What was my one instruction tonight? Was I not clear enough for you?

He trained Vanessa here for us quite nicely...

Unable to even brush my expectations, apparently.

Can't even bother to remember three damn feet? Three feet! Pathetic.
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The ride to the noble dorms from the general ones wasn’t too long, but it gave Aaron more than enough time to start worrying. He wasn’t drowsy like Salem had been; drained, maybe, but he wasn’t sure he’d ever sleep again. All he could think about once Salem was gone was Varis’ hand around his throat, the Count’s words echoing through his head.

No wonder your House threw you away. Maybe I should do the same.

He tried to push them out of his mind, them and all the fears they dredged up, with a few deep breaths as the car came to a stop at the Sinnenodel gate. Through the window, Aaron noticed someone waiting by the door, though to his considerable relief, it wasn’t Varis. Just a woman in an Academy uniform, patiently waiting as he stepped out of the car and thanked the driver.

Aaron was grateful for the cool night air as he walked up the path, focusing on the chill on his skin to tear his mind away from what Varis had said. He looked around, too, finding the cul-de-sac mercifully deserted. The lights at the Eve dorm next door were on, but the next house over, the Marivaldi house, was dark; upon closer inspection, Aaron found that not only were the lights off, but the doors and windows were actually boarded up. Varis’ mention of the Marivaldi Countess and the Red Hand sprang to mind, and a chill snuck up Aaron’s spine. The thought that he’d spent the day before sleeping two doors down from a rebel infiltrator was a disturbing one, and though he took comfort in the speed at which it was dealt with, the fact that a rebel agent had managed to get into the Academy at all was more than enough to keep Aaron on his toes.

When he reached the door, the woman waiting for him gave him a sort of sympathetic smile and pulled a ring of keys from her belt, flipping through to one in particular. She used it to unlock the front door just as Aaron noticed the label of ‘groundskeeper’ on her uniform. Right. He didn’t have a key, and apparently Princess Ryner knew that.

He frowned slightly, remembering her familiar manner with Varis. Apparently she knew lots of things.

He smiled and thanked the groundskeeper once the door was open, turning to give the driver a wave as he stepped inside. When he closed the door behind him, he was plunged once more into silence.

What was my one instruction tonight? Was I not clear enough for you?

Taking a deep breath, he set his shoes aside neatly and continued inside, stopping when he glanced into the study. Stepping in, he was reminded of the night’s earlier events by the paper shreds littering his desk. He picked up a handful of them, examining the torn snippets of his handwriting.

Unable to even brush my expectations, apparently.

Aaron shook his head, gathering the shreds and disposing of them, making sure the desk and floor were clean. He put the pen and pad back in the drawer, clearing everything away. Pristine. Like nothing ever happened.

He moved to tug his ear, fingers once more finding the gold cuff that had been fastened there. Varis’ cuff. Right. Aaron figured he’d be wanting that back, especially after the night’s events. That and everything else the Count had leant him. He pulled it off gingerly and wiped any fingerprints away with the hem of his shirt, placing it on Varis’ desk before doing the same with the necklace. The tie he also removed, smoothing it flat with his fingers before rolling it neatly and placing it with the rest. Everything else belonged to him, and though he was tempted to straighten it all up now that he was alone, he didn’t want to push his luck any further than he already had.

He slid his ring onto his finger, spinning it gratefully as he made his way to his room. He collected the towel from where he’d left it and hung it up neatly in the bathroom to dry, eyeing the empty door frames as he passed them. He hoped he’d get a chance to ask what that was about, but after his performance tonight, he wasn’t sure he would. Not for at least a little while, anyway.

As he looked around the bathroom for something more to clean, he caught his reflection above the sink, once more taken aback by how different his face looked. Running his fingers through his hair, he almost shivered at the texture, the product Varis had added making it feel entirely different to his natural hair. And apparently it was stubborn, too, because try as he might to move it into its usual place, his hair kept on trying to fall back into the style Varis had given him. He was tempted to get into the shower and wash it out, but he had no idea when Varis would be returning, and he was loath to be caught in the shower when he got there.

Leaning forward on the bathroom counter, Aaron looked more closely at his eyes, examining the line Varis had drawn around them. He still couldn’t get over how big an effect it had. Absently he rubbed at one eye, frowning when the colour didn’t move. Hopefully it would wash off. As he stared at his eyes in the mirror, his mind flashed back to that poor mage girl’s eyes, sunken and burned and hellish and painful-looking.

He trained Vanessa here for us quite nicely...

Aaron felt his pulse quicken as a spike of fear shot through him. Good lord, what had happened to that girl? Had Varis done that to her? The Count had told him that he disapproved of physical punishment, that he used it only as a last resort, but he seemed content to drag Aaron around by the neck and slam him onto tables just for breaking rank. And that had just been what he was willing to do in public, in front of the Princess no less. What awaited him when Varis came home? He wouldn’t forget the bite in the Count’s voice, his grip around his throat, the enraged trembling of his hand… what more of his ire had Aaron drawn?

Can't even bother to remember three damn feet? Three feet! Pathetic.

Drawing a shaky breath, Aaron forced himself to turn away from the mirror, moving back into his room. He couldn’t think like that. He’d drive himself crazy. But the image kept working its way into his mind, as well as a million other awful possibilities. Repeatedly, he cursed himself for being so stupid. He hadn’t just screwed up, he hadn’t just broken rank, he had actually disobeyed his master. He had a clear instruction, and he ignored it, rushing to his aunt without thinking. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d done something so foolish. But Dora’s wailing had troubled him so fiercely, and he’d been so worried and scared, in that moment he felt as if there was nothing else he could have done.

But that was no excuse, now, was it?

Try as he might to calm down and think of other things, all Aaron’s mind kept returning to were the endless possibilities of what would happen to him when the Count walked through that door. What should he do when Varis got back? Stand at attention and weather whatever was coming for him? Throw himself on his knees at the Count’s mercy? No, no what he would do was exactly what he was told, and hope against hope that there was some chance for redemption. Not that he deserved it. Good lord, Aaron was just as disgusted with himself as Varis probably was. Night two with a new master and he had already made a mess of it.

Pacing the floor, Aaron made himself leave his room, going through the rest of the house in search of something, anything, to occupy himself with. But everything was spotless, nothing out of place. He spun his ring like a madman, trying and failing to direct his thoughts elsewhere. But the anticipation was killing him; growing up he’d never been made to wait for a punishment, everything was swift and painful and over with immediately. Now, he didn’t even know how much time he had left to wait, imagination running wild, uncertainty driving him mad, jumping at every little sound thinking it was Varis home to finish what he’d started. Aaron’s heart thundered in his chest, waves of nausea washing over him, and he hadn’t even noticed how shallow his breathing had become until he started to get dizzy.

Forcing a few deep breaths, Aaron rushed back to the bathroom as another wave of nausea hit him, catching himself on the edge of the counter as he clenched his jaw, waiting for it to subside. When he looked back into the mirror he saw that he had gone pale, and spikes of golden light glowed under his skin along the branches of his veins, pulsing frantically with the urgent clip of his heart. Grimacing at his reflection, Aaron practically tore off his ring, and the bizarre light show under his skin subsided, leaving only a mess of a mundane man in the mirror.

Grasping at a moment of clarity, he glared at his reflection. This had to stop. If he kept up like this, he would pass out. He needed a distraction. Marching back into his room, Aaron sat on his bed, waiting a moment for the room to stop swimming before searching through his pillows for his phone. When the screen came to life, he saw he had a new message from Lilie, received sometime while he’d been out.

> Hey, um, your instructor is here? There's a lot of guards here outside as well. If I find out more I'll let you know, but I have no idea what's going on.

Aaron furrowed his brow at the message. Was that where Lucan had went?

> Hey, sorry, I just got home. Also, weird. Where is ‘here’?

Aaron didn’t have to wait long for a reply, phone buzzing in his hand as he laid back against his pillows, breathing beginning to slow now that he had something to figure out.

> In the cul-de-sac, but they're all gone now. Someone got arrested, the princess was here, too! I thought I was going to pass out Dx

Aaron’s eyebrows shot up, re-reading the message a few times. Lucan, guards and presumably Princess Nox in a cul-de-sac? With the Marivaldi dorm boarded up and talk of a rebel infiltrator? Lilie must have seen them taking care of the situation, and now the house was probably being investigated. But Lilie seemed none the wiser, and he didn’t want to scare her. The royal family probably wanted to keep the whole situation quiet anyway, lest people start to panic. The message did, however, give Aaron an idea.

> Oh, wow. Must have been a big deal. Freaky!
> Wait, what cul-de-sac? Where the noble dorms are?



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Aftermath

The two mages got into the car quietly, silence stretching between them as the car rumbled down the drive and into the darkness. Aaron wasn’t sure what to do with himself, struggling not to put his clothes and hair in order and settling for staring at the window, glaring at his own, foreign reflection. His leg jumped a feverish rhythm, but otherwise, he was still.

Salem sat in silence, staring out the opposite window of Aaron. Every once in a while he would steal some glances of him out of the corner of his eye, a knot began to build in his stomach. Is this how all the students would be? Lilie? Lucan? The silence of the ride was broken by Salem as a long sigh made it's way through his lips. He adjusted his posture to now face Aaron and gently tapped above his knee. "Look, can we talk?” his voice was calm, almost sad, and quiet.

Aaron glanced toward Salem when he spoke, quirking an eyebrow. He hadn't really been expecting much more out of him. “Sure,” he replied, sounding more exhausted than anything.

Ok. Here it goes. Salem straightened a bit before speaking. "I know tonight was...less than ideal, and I hope that it doesn't affect us moving forward. I would like to be able to stay friendly with you and Lilie, and maybe…” his voice trailed off as he looked out Aaron's window and back at him, shaking his head softly.

Aaron listened, and was quiet, looking down at his knees. Quite a first impression he must have left, to be making amends with his first friend mere hours after meeting him.

After a moment, he nodded. “I’d like that,” he concurred, looking over to Salem more properly. He smirked a little despite himself. “This is all rather new to me,” he chuckled.

"I can see that” he mused back "But I must admit...being a guest at any party tends to bring out the worst in me. Why do you think I purposely missed the opening ceremonies?”

Aaron tipped his head in agreement, shaking his head. “Yeah,” he agreed, still smirking, “I’m a little more used to carrying trays and fading into the background myself.”

An awkward silence fell onto the car once more as Salem searched for the words to say. "Dont, take this, the wrong way, but, I hope maybe sometime...you could see me half of the story.” Salem looked down, unsure if what he said was ok or not, but he hoped he wouldn't be pushing a possible prospect away.

Aaron drummed his fingers on the car door for a moment, staring ahead. “Salem, I’m wearing eye… pencil, or something, and all-" he gestured to himself, "-this. I suppose I could be open to one more bizarre thing.” He laughed a little to himself, but grew somewhat more serious when he looked back to Salem. “But all the same, maybe at some point you’ll understand my point of view.” He shrugged tiredly, letting his head fall back onto the headrest. “I guess we’ll see.”

Salem chuckled at as he Aaron struggling for the word ‘eye liner’, his amusement went someone silent as Aaron changed the tables on him. Seeing his side? What is there to see? Fair is fair however… an exhausted sigh and groan left him as he allowed his body to collapse and schlump onto Aaron, resting his head on his shoulder and closing his eyes. "We will see sunspot. We will see. For now, I need a damn nap. Too much excitement for one day”

Aaron couldn't help but laugh, shoulders shaking as he dropped his head. “I see Lucan has his work cut out for him,” he managed to chuckle out, heaving a big sigh and closing his own eyes as he collapsed back onto the headrest. “Good lord…”

The ride stretched on in a somewhat more comfortable silence for a few more minutes before the car pulled up in front of the regular dorms, pulling to a stop at Salem’s door. The driver stepped out, opening Salem’s door and beckoning him to exit.

Salem opened his eyes groggily as he wiped away the sleep from his eyes. He waved at Aaron goodbye as he left and headed towards his dormitory. He stopped for a moment, turned around and went back to the car pulling out his phone ”Hey, can I have your number? For real this time?”

“Oh,” Aaron patted his pockets, only to remember that his phone was sunk somewhere in the pillows on his bed at his dorm. “Yeah, sure,” he replied, taking Salem's phone and adding his number to the bottom of their former conversation. He paused for a second, frowning at the messages, before handing the phone back to Salem.

“Hey, tell Lucan to check his phone, would you?” He asked as Salem left, only half-joking.

"Sure thing, if I ever see him. Mans more aloof than Carmen Sandiego.” Salem proceeded to walk into his new room, taking comfort to see his good friend cricket waiting for him.

Aaron waved lazily as Salem left, watching him as he made his way into his dorm. Only once Salem had closed his door behind him did the driver pull away, turning in the direction of the noble dorms.
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Aaron Mr. Martin
Adele
Varis



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Aaron let out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding as soon as he slid the door shut behind him, only realizing how tense he’d been when his muscles started to relax, shoulders complaining painfully as he stretched out his neck. He paused only to make sure all the curtains were securely drawn before making a beeline to his room, moving to shut his door behind him. But when he reached for it, his hand found only air.

Right. Hopefully he’d have the chance to ask about that tomorrow.

He put his shoe shining kit away and began his morning routine on autopilot, avoiding the line of sight to the living room as he changed even though he knew the Count was still outside. Briefly he examined his pants, the knees of which were hopelessly tattered and bloody from the glass. He frowned at them. Normally he would have fixed them, but they were too torn up in too small a space to repair without butchering them further. A shame.

Varis’ words echoed on loop through Aaron’s head as he showered for the third time that night, eager to wash away the blood on his legs and the product in his hair and the feeling of the Count’s hand around his throat. Although, all things considered, Aaron thought he’d gotten off pretty easy. His punishment, humiliating as he was sure it would be, was nothing compared to the horror stories he’d been imagining as he waited. Varis wasn’t going to put his eyes out, he wasn’t getting caned, or otherwise mutilated, and despite his earlier comment, it looked like Varis was keeping him around. He counted himself lucky. He wasn’t looking forward to his punishment by any metric, but considering he had been directly disobedient, he supposed he should be grateful that the Count had been so merciful.

Still, he couldn’t quite shake the things that Varis had said about their Lady - ugh, he was never going to get used to that - from his mind. Would she really take an interest in the people in his memories? He couldn’t imagine why any of them would be worth her notice, or at least her efforts, and he hoped he wouldn’t have to find out. Was there even anything he could do at this point to protect them, or had the damage been done?

It was only after several minutes of scrubbing at his eyes to get the last of that pencil off that Aaron finally made himself get out, going through the rest of his routine on autopilot as he fell deeper and deeper into thought. He was about to get into bed, in pajama pants and shirtless as always, when another wary look at the empty door frame and the house beyond made him throw on a t-shirt as well. He was deliberating filling out his journals when a ding from his phone caught his attention, a notification from an unknown number popping up on screen.

> Hey, You still up?

Oh, that must have been Salem. Aaron read the message a few times, turning the lights off and climbing into bed before replying. He cast a weary look at the door, and the light coming in from the rest of the house. That was going to be annoying, he could already tell. He rolled away from it, focusing on his phone.


That conversation was over, and Aaron took a moment to enter Salem’s number into his contacts. Spellman was his last name, right? He also made a contact for Varis’ number, entering it simply as “Master.” He wasn’t a huge fan, but it was best to play it safe in case the vampire looked through his phone again. Whatever, he’d get used to it. Realistically, he chided himself, it wasn’t as big a deal as he was making it.

While he was taking care of things, Aaron opened up his alarms, doing some quick math in his head. Breakfast would be delivered at eight, and he was meant to write lines for an hour before that; but he couldn’t just roll out of bed and start writing, so he needed an alarm for… he’d say 6:30, just to be safe. Maybe he’d get the mail before writing his lines, and catch a bit of the evening sun. Good thing he was going to bed so early; he realized only then how the night’s events had exhausted him, and it looked like he’d be having an early evening tomorrow. Hell, with 1,000 lines to get through, he’d probably be having quite a series of early evenings. He nearly groaned at the thought.

His messenger app told him he still had one unread message, from Lilie. When he opened their conversation, he was surprised to see not just one, but three messages he hadn’t read. Upon closer inspection, it looked like the first two had come in while Varis still had his phone.

> sounds complicated
> but the good part is that its over! And then tomorrow is going to be a good day!

> If you ever wanna talk or anything just let me know, okay? I have to keep my first friend close! :D


Despite the somber conversation with Salem and the night’s events still weighing heavily on him, not to mention the thought that Varis had seen every message between them except the last one, Aaron couldn’t help but smile. He wasn’t sure if he’d take advantage of her offer - he had never been much for that sort of thing - but it was just so kind, he had to accept. Not to mention the thought that she already considered him a friend lifted his spirits immensely. She was his first friend too, he supposed, though he was pretty sure she didn’t mean it the same way he did. He thought on his response for probably longer than he should have, a million different options circling his mind until he settled on a simple one.

> I will! See you tomorrow :)
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