Lord Kenneth Victeni has every opportunity and every privilege. As the noble son of a powerful mage, he puts little thought into the lives of the talentless, the second class citizens who cannot use magic in a world ruled by mages.
That changes when he meets Thorn, a talentless who is studying at the inventor’s college, where those without magic develop steam-powered technology. The two men share a mutual attraction, and what’s more, Thorn just might be Kenneth’s lifemate—the man who, with just his presence, can double Kenneth’s magical power.
Kenneth’s ignorance of the lives of the talentless puts an obstacle in their budding relationship, however, and his life grows even worse when another mage at the collegium attacks and nearly kills him. Now Thorn and Kenneth must put aside their argument and find a way to put a stop to a mage who poses a threat to others—and along the way, Kenneth might even learn the sensitivity he needs to win over Thorn.
Kenneth led his horse by its halter, stonily glaring at anyone who dared get in his way. No one did.
Thorn led him down narrow alleys, finally stopping outside of a shop where black smoke steamed out of the chimney. The creaking steel sign proclaimed it to be a deli, and a cartoonish image of a smiling baker was painted in the window.
“Come on in. Just tie him up to the pole there.” Thorn pointed.
“He’s not a dog,” Kenneth snapped, but followed Thorn’s advice. There were few horses in this area. He supposed most talentless couldn’t afford them.
Inside, the deli smelled of grease, meat, and woodsmoke. It was radically different from the clean scent of the collegium cafeteria Kenneth was used to. Kenneth began to regret taking up Thorn’s offer as he sat down at a wooden table, a mechanical sign on the table spinning as he did.
“Never mind those, they’re for letting the waiters know someone’s taken the table.” Thorn grinned as Kenneth looked up. “Kind of like my machine, they’re useful. One day they’ll be everywhere.”
“Useful for scaring horses.” Kenneth regretted it when Thorn’s face fell.
“I said I was sorry about that. Look, I’ll get you whatever you want—the steaks here are excellent. Always have been. You like meat?”
“Well enough,” Kenneth replied.
“Great, that’s what I’ll get you.” As he said it, a waitress came over with two glasses of water, and Thorn quickly gave their order—a steak for Kenneth and a salad for himself. “Not particularly hungry,” he shrugged as the waitress left.
“Hm.” Kenneth looked around the room, the few other tables full of people dressed similarly to Thorn. One of them was tinkering with the sign at her table, not letting the contraption spin the way it should.
“So what are you doing here?” Thorn asked, dragging Kenneth’s attention back to him. “We rarely see magi here, and if we do they usually…well, they aren’t dressed like you.” Thorn motioned to his velvet cloak. “You don’t seem like the poor student type we sometimes see.”
“I came here to get a sample of steel. I respect your…” he eyed the woman poking at the sign at the next table over. “I respect some of what you inventors do. Creating metal alloys, at least.”
“Steel? That’s rare in shops around here. Where’d you get it?” Thorn raised an eyebrow as he reached for his water glass.
Kenneth shrugged. “Some store on the same road you saw me on.”
Thorn frowned. “Can I see it?”
“Why?” Kenneth’s eyes narrowed.
“Well…that street isn’t known for having shops that carry particularly expensive things. Good things, sure, but not…rare ones.”
An ugly feeling forming in the pit of his stomach, Kenneth took out the steel bar the man had given him. “I paid a lot for this.”
Thorn took it, tapping it on the table. Then with one hand he snapped it in half between two gloved fingers.
“What are you doing!” Kenneth stood and grabbed for it, Thorn relinquishing the pieces. The other patrons of the deli stared at Kenneth’s outburst with wide eyes, but he paid no mind to them.
The steel bar was a dusky brown on the inside.
“There’s getting ripped off, and then there’s getting ripped off.” Thorn said with a shake of his head. “What did you do, insult the guy?”
“No.” Kenneth ground his teeth, muttering an aether oath. Electricity and heat had always been his skill, part of the reason he wanted to do so well in alchemy, and his magic came to the fore then, the useless item melting into a puddle on the table as electricity arced through his fingers.