Bonus Story

The Honeymoon suite 7 – Twisted Conclusions


Month 3, Day 20, Saturday 12:45am

The adrenaline of Titus’s confrontation with Lord Dryden had passed, and it had been long enough since Titus’s last meal that he no longer felt hungry, only tired and weak. He inserted his finger between his tie and his neck, pulling side to side to loosen the elaborate knot a little. But no matter how tired he was, his thoughts continued rolling along with the wheels of the carriage below him.

Titus had caught Oliver at the perfect moment, in almost the perfect circumstances. He had learned a lot from the normally smooth man’s reactions. Oliver had asked him what he could really learn by speaking only to those who knew Mr. Siverling. But Titus knew you could tell quite a lot about someone from the relationships they had with others.

He pulled out the drawer next to his feet, took out a glass, and opened the small ice box artifact within, from which he pulled a bottle of his favorite juice. Taking a sip, he sighed gratefully and relaxed back into the carriage seat, savoring the sweetness mixed with just a hint of tartness, all riding on the magical velvet serenity of the golden apple. As little bubbles of compressed air popped on his tongue, he considered what he had learned.

Sebastien Siverling had a worrying number of admirers. It was even more concerning how far Lord Dryden was willing to go for him. This Siverling had Oliver wrapped around his finger like a piece of thread, gaining benefits, loyalty, and protection while in return providing nothing more than the seeds for Oliver to cultivate a one-sided longing. How much practice had Siverling had at this?

Titus could imagine that even if Damien was not romantically interested in other men, he could still be emotionally vulnerable to a skilled manipulator. Childhood scars lingered for life, and Titus hadn’t been able to protect his little brother like he wished. He had failed their mother’s memory, in that. But he would not let his inability keep him from trying his best.

No matter how serious Oliver could get when those he cared about were threatened, in the end he was naive. Though he spent an unreasonable amount of resources trying to help the poor, never quite grasping that no matter how much he invested of his time, care, and energy, he couldn’t change the base nature of this world. He would never meaningfully, or permanently, improve the lives of more than a few thousand people, at best. Most would slide right back into the poverty, addiction, and filth that had plagued them before Oliver came along with his misguided righteousness.

Just as Oliver invested into his philanthropic projects for a future that would never come, he was lavishing both coin and care on Sebastien Siverling, hoping to sate a longing that would only grow. Perhaps Oliver even realized how hopeless it was, but couldn’t stop himself. Oliver wasn’t normally the type to need to purchase a prostitute, after all.

Unlike Oliver’s other beneficiaries, Siverling would use everything he was given to its best effect. Coin, clothes, influence. Opportunity. Siverling may have come from poverty and struggle, but he was the type to make sure he never slid back. His ambition was obvious.

As Titus’s carriage stopped in front of Westbay Manor, he looked up at its dark windows and sighed. The rain was coming harder now, and the umbrella he usually kept in his carriage had been left behind at Harrow Hill the week before. If he had half the skill of their mother, he would be able to free-cast a shield against the rain. But, alas, Titus was forced to run up to the house with his jacket held up to half cover him, waving off the carriage driver’s attempt to help.

Inside, he took off the wet outer layer of clothing, padded in his socked feet to the kitchen, and turned on the ceiling lamp to peek into the ice box. Being careful so as to not make enough noise to wake the servants, several of whom had quarters near the kitchen, he pulled out the small metal pan of simple soup he required always be stored within, using the stove to heat it. While he couldn’t cook, he had learned to do at least this much competently.

He used a cloth towel to pick up the small pan by its handles, moving to the dining room table to eat. When he had gone too long without food, anything more would leave his stomach cramping horribly.

As he ate, chewing each bite methodically and allowing time for the food to settle before taking another bite, Titus continued to consider Damien’s situation.

Siverling’s vague connection to King Krell had concerned Titus more than he let on. Oh, he wasn’t worried that the young man had any sort of legitimate claim to nobility. What raised his guard was the thought of what might come from someone being told their whole life that the throne was stolen from their ancestors. That they were unjustly forced to live in poverty, in hiding, despite being worthy of better. He was worried about the kind of mental state that would have someone, upon becoming an adult, choose to take up the name of those ancestors once more.

Titus respected ambition, but when it grew to be the single most driving force of one’s life, it could pull one thin and taut like a razor wire.

Most importantly, Titus worried that Damien would get tangled up in that wire, and then sliced apart by its uncaring, sharp edges.

No, Titus thought, staring at the dregs in the bottom of his soup pan. Oliver was naive, and someone with the right insight and leverage could take advantage of his loyalty, how deeply he cared. The man had tried to hide some things, such as his attraction to someone so inappropriate, but Titus believed he had been generally honest, with his emotions if not with his words. But there were things Oliver didn’t know.

And Sebastien Siverling had made a mistake. Perhaps the young man didn’t realize how close Titus and Damien were. Because Titus distinctly remembered Damien complaining about how arrogantly Sebastien had bragged that he, too, had a history of free-casters in his family.

And how could that be the case, if he was truly an orphan with no knowledge of his heritage?

Oliver had been right about one thing, at least. Titus had accomplished all he could, circling around from the edges. It was time to speak to those involved directly.

Children’s Rhyme – Harry Harold Had no Hands

Verse 1:
Harry Harold had no hands,
But he still had lots of magical plans.
He wore shoes of shimmering gold,
So he could cast his magic bold.

He tapped his toes and twirled around.
The magic filled the air around.
His shoes would sparkle and shine,
Making the world look divine.

He’d make a wish and close his eyes,
To conjure wonders in the skies.
With his magic shoes of gold,
Harry Harold was never cold.

Verse 2:
Harry Harold had no hands,
But he still had magical plans.
His shoes of gleaming silver,
Would help him make things better.

He’d hop and skip and swirl around,
Creating magic all around.
His shoes could sparkle and glow,
Making the air around him flow.

He’d make a wish and jump around,
Creating wonders that astound.
With his magical shoes of silver,
Harry Harold was ever so clever.

Verse 3:
Harry Harold had no hands,
But he still had magical plans.
He wore shoes of glittering gems,
Where his magic could never end.

He’d kick his feet and then take flight,
To explore the world day and night.
His shoes would shine like the sun,
Till his magic had come undone.

He’d make a wish and raise his toes,
To create the world he chose.
With his shoes of jewels and gold,
Harry Harold could never grow old.

Verse 4:
Harry Harold had no hands,
But he still had magical plans.
His shoes of diamond and sapphire,
Would help him find what he desired.

He’d dance his feet and bow with grace,
His magic filled the place.
His shoes could shimmer and glow,
Making the air around him flow.

He’d make a wish and stamp his toes,
To bring back what he chose.
With his sapphire shoes of blue,
His dreams would always come true.

Verse 5:
Harry Harold had no hands,
But he still had magical plans.
His shoes of amethyst and quartz,
Would help him do whatever he thought.

He’d stomp and jump and spin around,
His magic would always astound.
His shoes would twinkle and gleam,
Bringing life to all his dreams.

He’d make a wish and take a bow,
To make his magic start to flow.
With his magical shoes aglow,
Harry Harold was never alone.

Verse 6:
Harry Harold had no hands,
But he still had his selfish plans.
His shoes of ebony and shadow black,
Would help him make things crack.

He’d stomp and stomp and swirl around,
While the wicked things abound.
His shoes could shimmer and gleam,
Singing misery and sorrow’s theme.

He stomped his feet and cursed the ground,
The darkness filled the air around.
His shoes of ebony and black,
Would help him take things back.

Verse 7:
Harry Harold had no hands,
But he still had his wicked plans.
His shoes of midnight and blood,
Would help him do whatever he would.

He tapped his toes and twirled around,
The darkness filled the air around.
His shoes would bleed and weep,
Making everyone go to sleep.

He’d make a wish and close his eyes,
But the darkness would never die.
With his magic shoes of blood,
Harry Harold was no longer good.

He’d make a wish and close his eyes,
To conjure evil in the skies.
But his magic went astray,
And instead brought wings of death his way.

His shoes were too powerful to control,
And twisted his wish into a soul.
The magic shoes of midnight black,
Had taken Harry Harold back.

As his shoes of midnight bled,
Harry Harold lay still, dead.

The Honeymoon Suite 1 – Blackmail [Chapter 140 Concurrent]


Month 3, Day 16, Tuesday 6:00am

Titus woke before the sun, only a few minutes before the alarm spell he had set the evening before was set to go off. There wasn’t enough time for him to go back to sleep, and yet he wasn’t early enough to get a real head start on any of his tasks. In the end, he had just barely started to doze off again when the buzzing startled him back to full wakefulness, and then his bedside lamp came on automatically, mocking him with its offending brightness.

Scowling blearily, Titus stumbled around his bedchambers, washing up and getting dressed. His manservant knocked on the door precisely five minutes after the alarm, bearing two steaming mugs. One, of coffee infused with wakefulness magic, and the other of a greenish-brown sludge that looked like nothing so much as a portion of fresh cow pie—straight from anus to cup.

As the head of Gilbratha’s coppers as well as the one in charge of much of their Family’s affairs, Titus had little time for leisurely mornings. The pressure to make progress and bring in actionable results had been mounting lately. After the attack by these mysterious Architects of Khronos stretching all his people thin and haggard with overtime, he could only hope that their plan to draw out the Raven Queen was successful, or he suspected the High Crown’s limited patience would run out.

He gulped down the thick sludge first, thankful that it didn’t taste quite as bad as it looked. It had all the nutrients and calories he needed to get through the first half of his day, and could be downed in under sixty seconds. Thankfully, he could still justify eating real food for the other two meals of his day, as he often held mealtime meetings or used those times to network. Still, he missed breakfast foods.

Sometimes he wished that he had an older sibling to take on the responsibility of being heir. As a child, straining under the pressure of the perfection his father required in all areas, exhausted from the never-ending training, he used to fantasize about it. If only there were someone else, more competent, stronger, smarter than him, who could take the burden in his stead, as he had done for Damien. But that was a child’s fantasy, something he only allowed himself to imagine when he was too exhausted and anxious to fall asleep as quickly as he needed.

Sipping slowly at his coffee, Titus cast a simple spell to style and hold his hair in place, another to cover the ever-present bags under his eyes, and made sure the enchantments embroidered into his clothing were still active. Then he headed to his study. A small stack of letters waited for him, and he read them quickly as he finished his coffee, setting them into piles based on the necessary responses. His manservant could draft replies to most, only requiring Titus’s signature at the bottom, but one letter was not so simple.

It had been sent by a man whose name he didn’t recognize, using the stationary from a local hotel…and it was an attempt at blackmail.

In simple terms, it stated that Titus’s younger brother Damien had entered that hotel with the same person involved in taking down Malcolm Gervin when the man attacked Damien and his best friend Ana in an attempt to avoid arrest for various crimes. Sebastien Siverling, recently in the newspapers and on the tip of every gossiping tongue.

Damien had asked for a single room for the both of them, and then when questioned, became visibly flustered and amended his request to two rooms. However, when the maids cleaned the rooms later, they found that only one had been used. There were signs of cosmetics use in that single room, despite their being no hint of a third—female—guest.

The sender wanted fifty gold in exchange for his silence on this somewhat scandalous matter, and threatened to take his witness statement to the newspapers if ignored.

With a deep sigh, Titus dropped the letter to the desk and rubbed his forehead. He suspected the contact had been prompted by the sender—one of the hotel employees—recognizing Sebastien Siverling in one of those same newspapers. Same sex relationships weren’t forbidden, but still remained somewhat frowned upon due to the inability to produce children. Among the nobles, those who preferred that type of thing were generally required to get married and produce an heir and a spare before setting aside their spouse. Occasionally, if one were powerful enough, they could get away with one member of a same sex couple procreating with a surrogate instead.

If Sebastien Siverling hadn’t been so recently interesting, perhaps the hotel employee wouldn’t have thought it worth it to try to blackmail the Westbay Family. But it was true. The newspapers, especially gossip rags like the Daily Sun, would be interested in this kind of story.

Fifty gold was nothing. Perhaps a bit more than the newspapers would give, but not an outrageous sum for someone bold enough to try to blackmail one of the Crown Families. Titus could pay it…but giving in to threats was a bad precedent to set. Giving in to blackmail, or even acknowledging its legitimacy, could have long term repercussions.

Instead, he would wait a few days to show how unbothered he was, then have one of his subordinates go collect the man who had sent this letter. Legally, they could detain someone at Harrow Hill for up to three days without officially arresting them for a crime.

It wasn’t the first blackmail attempt Titus had fielded, and though it certainly wouldn’t be the last, this one was relatively tame. Still, it did make him wonder. Damien hadn’t been subtle about his enthusiasm for his new friend. When given the opportunity, he had gushed about Sebastien’s prowess, insisting that the other young man was a genius, and potentially a valuable ally. Beyond that, though, Damien was obviously fond of this Siverling, complaining happily about how grumpy and rude he was, how he’d refused to even remember Damien’s name until the young man was able to prove himself, and how he completely ignored all the other students who were curious or infatuated.

Damien obviously took great pride in being one of the few that Siverling had accepted as a friend.

The letter’s mention of cosmetics use drew Titus’s memory to a detail he had thought strange at the time. When Siverling had gotten involved with the Moore Aberrant incident, he had admitted that he was coming from a high-class brothel, and he had a dress stuffed hastily into his bag. If they had measured, would they have found the garment fit Siverling?

As Titus left Westbay Manor and entered the carriage waiting for him outside the front door, he kept mulling the matter over in his mind. Had there been signs that Damien was interested in men? Titus hadn’t thought so, but he had to admit that in hindsight Damien was, perhaps, a little too attached to this Siverling person. Titus wasn’t sure where dressing up as a woman might come into it, but he had heard that Siverling had long, pale hair and was handsome enough to draw attention from the other students. Perhaps he was the beautiful type of man that could fit into a lot of different people’s preferred aesthetic, regardless of gender.

Titus leaned back in the carriage seat with a groan, rubbing his forehead again. Did he need to have a talk with his younger brother about how to properly manage his…safety? Titus desperately wished their mother were still here. She would have known how to handle this.

So that short story I promised might technically end up being classified as a novelette. This is always what happens to me, guys.
It happens in several scenes, so I decided to break them up to make things a little easier on myself, as well as maintain the same structure that the main story has. I’ll post one every day until it’s finished.

Oliver Interlude – Preventative Measures [before chapter 98]

This is a deleted chapter that is set directly before Chapter 98 - "Excessive Force." /*! elementor - v3.8.1 - 13-11-2022 */ .elementor-column .elementor-spacer-inner{height:var(--spacer-size)}.e-con{--container-widget-width:100%}.e-con-inner>.elementor-widget-spacer,.e-con>.elementor-widget-spacer{width:var(--container-widget-width,var(--spacer-size));-ms-flex-item-align:stretch;align-self:stretch;-ms-flex-negative:0;flex-shrink:0}.e-con-inner>.elementor-widget-spacer>.elementor-widget-container,.e-con-inner>.elementor-widget-spacer>.elementor-widget-container>.elementor-spacer,.e-con>.elementor-widget-spacer>.elementor-widget-container,.e-con>.elementor-widget-spacer>.elementor-widget-container>.elementor-spacer{height:100%}.e-con-inner>.elementor-widget-spacer>.elementor-widget-container>.elementor-spacer>.elementor-spacer-inner,.e-con>.elementor-widget-spacer>.elementor-widget-container>.elementor-spacer>.elementor-spacer-inner{height:var(--container-widget-height,var(--spacer-size))} Oliver Month 1, Day 30, Saturday 11:00 a.m. Standing at the...
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