Slavery, 102

Different People Do Different Things to Make Sure Everything Around them Goes Smoothly

Ao3 Link

“Cannot believe you made me go to the wedding,” Daniel grumbled, as he and Theodore filed into the First Church of the Blessed.

“Now, Daniel,” said Theodore, patting Daniel’s shoulder. “There is no need to be frustrated. The guards were only doing their jobs. They were trained to be thorough.”

“I’m not mad about the guards,” Daniel insisted. There had been people patting everyone down before they could come into the church.

Theodore made a vague noise, which made Daniel scowl. “Shut up.”

“I said nothing.”

“You never say nothing. It’s your biggest character flaw.”

“If you insist. You needn’t take them finding your knife as a personal insult.”

Daniel did not take it as a personal insult. That had only been like his third favourite knife anyway. “They’d better give it back after the wedding.”

“I expect they will not.”

Theodore was smiling behind his stupid façade of public disinterest, so Daniel accidentally stepped on his foot. “Shut up. I know you told me so.”

“I didn’t say that,” Theodore said. But now he smiled. “I did, however, tell you not to bring a knife.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t fucking listen.” It hadn’t been like Daniel had been planning to use it on anyone. He just hadn’t thought anyone would find it. He guessed it was a lesson to be better at hiding his weapons or something. “We’re not sitting this close to the front, are we?” Theodore was walking up between the pews, which were full. All the important nobles were here, and the less important normal rich people like them were seated further back. Daniel was pretty sure everyone was supposed to sit in a super specific place, and there was no way Theodore was important enough to be up here.

“I’m going to greet the prince. You may sit if you want,” Theodore said.

Daniel sighed. “You’re supposed to be working for the prince in secret,” he said, taking Theodore’s hand as they moved forward. “You don’t do that by going and saying hello to him in public.”

“He invited me here, it seems only polite to go and let him know I appreciate his invitation.”

“Right, of course,” said Daniel. “Because out of the two of us, you’re the one who knows about subtlety and deception.”

“Given that you are the expert on all other things, it seems only fair that I be permitted knowledge in this one subject,” Theodore teased. “Would you like to meet the prince?”

“No,” Daniel said, because even a prince dumb enough to hire Theodore would fucking know that Daniel wasn’t Theodore’s son. He let go of Theodore’s hand. “I’ll wait over here. Please don’t get arrested or killed.”

“I shall endeavour to remain intact for you, son,” Theodore said, sliding between some people who were in a circle around a pretty blonde guy who could only be Gavin ven Sancte.

Daniel shook his head and moved to the side, bumping into someone. “Sorry,” he said.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought I was out of the…” The boy trailed off as Daniel looked over at him.

Daniel froze and Greg took half a step back. “Hi,” said Daniel, feeling empty in the part of his shirt where his knife was supposed to be. Greg was with the prince’s retinue, Theodore had said before. The thugs outside probably hadn’t searched him for weapons. He wouldn’t be stupid enough to stab Daniel in front of a million people at a wedding in the biggest church in the world.

“Hello,” Greg said, swallowing. He was looking around a lot. He looked taller and less skinny and less pale than he had last time Daniel had seen him, though he also had a black scar on his left ear, and he was dressed in purple and red and green clothes that looked expensive. His hand was near his belt. “Gavin told me that Theodore was coming today. I didn’t…realize he was bringing you with him.”

“Neither did I,” Daniel muttered, trying not to be so obvious about how still he was. “You look good.”

“Thank you. I’m much better than I was. You do too.” Every one of Greg’s words felt weighed and careful.

Daniel nodded, though he was pretty sure he looked the same as he had before. “I heard you’re working for the prince now.”

Greg nodded, then looked down and to the left. “Well, um. Not really. He adopted me, actually.”

Adopted? Daniel laughed, only realizing it wasn’t a joke when Greg flinched. “He adopted you? Why?” He should probably feel bad about making Greg make that face. But all he felt was a weird, temporary tightness in his stomach.

“I…I don’t know,” Greg admitted. “But he did. He, um…”

“Hey, Greg.”

Daniel slid to the side when another boy their age came over, making Greg tense more. He was thick and missing part of his ear, dressed in a shirt with a neckline so low it showed his bellybutton and all the body paint he was wearing underneath it. Daniel recognized him, he thought.

Greg swallowed again. “Hello, Denver.”

Denver. Daniel froze even more than he had been. That was where he’d seen him before. Denver, the prettiest of the six remaining boys. The one Daniel had made fall out of the cart.

The one who would have been in his position if Daniel hadn’t taken the position for himself.

Denver smiled. He looked genuinely happy. “Sorry to bother you, I just wanted to see if you were okay.” He glanced at Daniel.

Greg nodded. Daniel could hear someone’s heart hammering. “I’m fine. I was just talking to…to Daniel.”

Denver’s eyes got sharp for a second, and recognition lit them. “Daniel,” he said quietly. “I didn’t even recognize you.”

“It’s been…a long time,” Daniel muttered, acutely feeling the lack of a collar on his neck. “I didn’t recognize you either.”

Denver smiled. “I came over because I thought you were some creep bothering Greg. It’s good to see you.”

“You too,” Daniel lied, wondering how long Greg and Denver had been friends. “I’m glad you’re okay. You’re okay, right?”

“Yeah, I’m great. I’m here with my husbands; they’re royalty or whatever so we had to come.” Denver sighed. “Are you here with your…”

“Yeah,” Daniel said, not letting him trail off. Greg had gone a bit tense. “He’s over there talking to the prince.”

What a dumb thing to say, he realized. It sounded like he was trying to compete with them. So what if they’d both been adopted into royal families? Of course they had been. Rich people collected interesting people and they were all highly trained and skilled. Everyone who wanted to stay rich wanted a trained assassin they didn’t have to pay. That was all it was. At least Theodore kept Daniel around because he had skills aside from murder. And that was saying something, since Daniel had always been a better fighter than either of them anyway. Maybe even both of them together. He could take them. At the same time.

Both of them were watching him now, and shit. They’d noticed him sizing them up. Crap. Theodore was going to be so fucking mad at him for getting in a fight at the wedding.

But in Daniel’s defence, he hadn’t started it. They had.

Greg had been so freaked out when Daniel had appeared out of nowhere, and Denver coming over really hadn’t helped. He’d known Denver was going to be here and he’d known Theodore was going to be here. He hadn’t known Daniel would come with Theodore. He hadn’t known he’d have to see Daniel and Denver, especially not at the same time.

But the wedding was very important to Gabrielle and Franz and everyone else, and so it was very important to Gavin that it go well, and so it was very important to Greg that he not make a scene, so he was trying to stay calm. They weren’t going to do anything to him. Neither of them had any reason to do anything to him.

Greg didn’t think Daniel needed a reason to do something violent. Especially not when he was as scared as he looked right now. Was that how he looked when he was scared? Tense and tight and like he was ready to fight? He was standing there watching both of them like he was cornered even though the church was so huge it had seven exits, like he was looking for where he should hit them first. Greg didn’t think that was how Daniel had looked when they’d fought before, but he couldn’t remember. It wasn’t how he looked in Greg’s nightmares about it.

Greg didn’t remember Daniel ever looking so afraid.

He tried to smile. “They might be talking for a while. Gavin likes to talk, it’s his biggest character strength. Would you like to sit down?”

Daniel’s eyes moved between him and Denver so quickly, looking around the church and back. He took a breath and seemed to loosen a little. “No, I’m good. I’m going to go to the privy.”

He started to leave, and Greg said, “it was good to see you, Daniel,” though it hadn’t been.

“Yeah. You too,” Daniel muttered, meaning it the way Grey Rain never did, but he went off.

Denver looked after him. “So, he’s not okay?”

“No,” said Greg, with a shake of his head. “I don’t think he is.” And he didn’t know how to help Daniel. He didn’t know if he could help Daniel. He didn’t know if he wanted to help Daniel.

“Guess I wouldn’t be either,” Denver said. He leaned on a pew. “Are you okay?”

Greg nodded. “I’m doing much better.”

“I’m really happy to hear that. Have you seen Roderick?”

“Yes. He’s got a boyfriend in Pelican Bay and they’re gardening together a lot,” Greg said. He’d gone to visit Roderick just the other day.

Denver nodded. “Good,” he said. “I saw him last week. I’m glad you’re both doing well.” He looked over to where Daniel had disappeared. “It would be nice if Daniel could be doing well, too.”

Greg nodded again, but he didn’t say anything.

“Hello, Greg.”

Starting, Greg looked up at Theodore, who was towering over him, smiling. Denver was tense beside him, and Greg tried not to shrink back. “Hello,” he said.

“I noticed you speaking with Daniel earlier. Do you happen to know where he went?”

Greg shook his head. “He said the privy.” What did Theodore want with him?

“Ah. In that case, I shall trust him to return to me, as ever.” Theodore nodded once. “I wish to congratulate you on your increase in station. Very few runaway slaves manage such a feat.”

Greg didn’t think he hid his flinch very well. “I’m not.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m not a runaway. I was freed, it says so on my manumission paper.”

Theodore raised an eyebrow. “Curious. Darwin is a kinder man than I’d given him credit for. I should like to speak with him, if you…”


Theodore met Greg’s eyes, and Greg met them back. “I assure you I mean him no harm.”

“He told you no,” Denver said, moving closer to Greg. “And I’m telling you ‘fuck off and die.’”

“There is no need for such crassness,” Theodore said with a snort. “We are all on the same side here.”

“No we aren’t,” Greg whispered. “You’re on the side that tortures people for their entire lives.”

“I assure you, Greg, there is no…”

“It’s Prince Greg, actually.” Greg stood up, swallowing. Theodore looked surprised. “Prince Greg Sanct, of House ven Sancte. I’m fourth in line to inherit the throne of Dolovai. Denver is the Emvel Degmen of the Imperium of Ran Errevir. It’s very important to me that this wedding be nice and that it go well and nobody causes any problems. But if the knights have to pick which of the three of us they’re going to kick out of the church, it’s not going to be me or Denver. So I would like you to please go away before I start making a scene.”

Theodore stood there for a second, looking stunned, but he collected himself and gave a bow. “Of course, your Highness. I apologize if I caused you any offence.”

“You should practice saying that,” Greg told him quietly. “A lot of other people would like to hear it, I expect.”

“I shall keep that in mind, your Highness,” Theodore said stiffly, and he left.

Greg sighed, closing his eyes. “That was so cool,” Denver said, sitting beside him.

“Thank you. I’ve been practicing. Um. I’m glad we could talk. I appreciate that you were trying to get me to go after Daniel, but I’m not ready to talk to him.”

“Okay,” said Denver, nodding once. “I get that.”

“It’s not that I don’t want him to be safe,” Greg explained. He didn’t want Denver to think he was cruel. “It’s not. It’s just that I don’t feel safe around him, especially alone.”

“No, I get it,” Denver promised. “I’m sorry for pushing you.”

“It’s okay, you were doing the right thing. But I think I’m going to go sit in my place now.” Greg didn’t think he wanted to talk to anyone else right now.

“Sure. I’ll see you later at the party.”

Greg nodded and got up, went over to where he was meant to sit. He was…he was proud of himself, for how he’d handled that. Grey Rain and Owen and Gavin would all be proud of him too, but he didn’t think he’d tell them, at least not right now. Gavin was still talking to everyone, and Owen was stuck with him. In front of his pew, Grey Rain was turned backwards so he could flirt with some Yavhorel royalty who’d turned out to know sign language. Greg sat. And then stood up when he saw Sir Anthony. He’d done a good job handling all that, but he knew how he could help Daniel feel better and also help himself feel safe.

“Hello, Sir Anthony,” Greg said, approaching him. “I’m sorry to bother you when you’re working.”

Anthony smiled at him. “You never bother me, kid. What’s up? Something wrong? You seem a bit upset.”

“My…friend is here,” Greg said, deciding that untruth was the easiest. “His name’s Daniel, he’s with a man named Theodore Silver. The prince invited them.”

“I remember that name from the guest list, yeah,” agreed Anthony. “They causing problems?”

Greg thought about lying again, saying they were, but that would be cruel. “No. Um. Daniel would have had a knife with him that got taken away when they came in. Do you know where they would have put it after they took it away?” Daniel had been very obviously reaching for a knife that very obviously hadn’t been there. Greg remembered when he hadn’t felt safe without his knives.

Maybe if Daniel felt safe, he’d look less scared.

“Yeah, but they’re not going to give it back to him, kid,” Anthony said.

Greg nodded. “I know. But I’d like to know where it is anyway.”

Anthony sighed, shaking his head. And he told Greg. Greg smiled and thanked him, and let him go back to work.

Greg did want to sit quietly and not talk to anyone, but he could do that in a few minutes. He had enough in him, he thought, to do one small thing for someone he was afraid of. And that was it.

Greg was proud of himself for not letting anything stop him from enjoying the wedding. And maybe this could be something else to be proud of himself for too.

Well, it turned out Daniel was a fucking coward. It had taken him running the fuck away from Greg and Denver to realize that they probably hadn’t been planning to attack him. But what else was he supposed to have thought? He hadn’t known they knew each other. He should have asked about Darwin, and Roderick. Fuck, he should have asked about Bradley. He was the only one completely unaccounted for. But maybe it was only Daniel who couldn’t count him.

“Goddammit,” Daniel whispered, breathing out through his nose. Now Theodore was going to ask him where he’d gone and why, and he was going to have to lie so he didn’t freak out. He was fine, he was just a big stupid baby who’d been better off wearing the collar that made him into a small stupid baby.

He’d make Theodore give it back to him after the wedding. For now he just wanted to pee for something to do.

“No fair, Bradley, stop being mean.”

Daniel went tense, instinctively reaching for the knife that wasn’t there. Bradley was fucking here? What the…

There were twin boys coming down the hallway, wearing yellow and black and holding hands. “Not until you stop being horny.”

“I’m never going to stop being horny.”

“Then I’m never going to stop being mean.”

“You’re the worst twin.”

“So are you.”

Daniel let them pass by him, closing his eyes. He was such a fucking idiot. Bradley was just a fucking name. Of course other people might have it.

He hated being in the capital. Ever since they’d gotten here all he’d done was worry about stupid shit. He wanted to go home. And they would, after the wedding. Maybe.

Some guy looked Daniel up and down as Daniel approached the privy, but Daniel ignored him and went inside. He’d just pee and go back and pretend that nothing had happened. And punch Theodore if he brought it up.

The privy was empty except for a guy just finishing up, which was another thing Daniel hated about this. Why couldn’t he just pee by himself? Glancing at him to make sure he wasn’t dangerous, Daniel looked away once he saw the guy looking back at him.

“Hi.” Fuck, who talked to someone who was trying to pee?

“Uh, hi,” said Daniel, not sure what else to do.

“Are you looking forward to the wedding?”

“Sure, I guess.” Ozzy had tried to train him to talk small or whatever when they’d been in the caves under Merket, but Daniel had never really thought it was important. He’d have to never tell Ozzy that he’d been right.

“I bet it’ll be nice,” the older boy went on blithely. He kind of reminded Daniel of Stephan. “And there’s a big party after in the castle. Are you coming?”

“I think so, yeah.” Fucking Theodore would definitely make them go to the fancy-ass party. The only reason Theodore didn’t have fancy-ass parties of his own all the time was because he didn’t want anyone else ogling his slave boys.

“Maybe we can hang out if we get bored. I’m Isaac.”

Oh. Isaac. Isaac was just a name, lots of people had it. Daniel shut his eyes for a second, tried to remember what Isaac had been wearing. A coat and breeches in black, white and grey, with a red belt. A three-pronged tower had been embroidered on his chest. He was a student from the mages’ academy.

Daniel was supposed to kill him. He fit himself back into his clothes. “Daniel.” He went over to wash his hands and smiled at Isaac. “It’s nice to meet you.” They were alone right now, but Isaac had magic and Daniel didn’t have a weapon. It was better to earn his trust now so he could do his job later.

“You too.” Isaac smiled back. “Want to walk back together?”

Ugh. Daniel didn’t want to go back at all. “Sure.”

“You seem a bit upset.”

“I…I’m fine.” Fuck, why were people always so good at knowing when he was annoyed? “Just ran into a friend I wasn’t expecting to see here. So who dragged you here? You seem more like a real person than a noble.”

“Just because they throw worse parties doesn’t make them not people. But you’re right, I’m a student at the mages’ academy.” Isaac tapped his sigil as if Daniel hadn’t already seen it. “Some of my teachers had extra passes or something.”

Thank God he was so open with information. Made it easier not to have to pretend. “So you’re a mage?” Daniel asked, as he dried his hands. They went for the door together.

“Yeah. A student mage.” Isaac gestured, and the door opened on its own.

Daniel didn’t know much about magic, but he did know about showing off and that it was mostly something people did when they weren’t that confident in their skills. “That must be super cool.”

“Yeah. It is.”

Isaac suddenly went tense, frowning at nothing. “You okay?” Daniel asked. Hopefully he didn’t have mind reading powers or something.

“Yeah. Just a weird…”

“Oh, it’s Isaac.”

There were two guards coming towards them, so good thing Daniel hadn’t tried anything in the privy. “Perfect,” said the smaller of the two. He was squish-faced and had really short hair on one side. “Hi, we kind of need help? There’s a thing.”

“Okay, what’s the thing?” Isaac asked, immediately. Wow, he was trusting.

“Right, so…I don’t know if anyone told you, but there’s a portal to hell under the city?” the hotter of the two asked. “And someone’s trying to, uh, we think open it? Someone named Ariel told us we should come find you. Or like, an army.”

Isaac went really tense in a way that Daniel recognized. “Okay, where’s Ariel?”

“Down the hall, around the corner, there’s a closet. Uh, a guy is passed out in front of it, but he’s alive, don’t worry. There’s a tunnel and it leads to a cave and…”

“Got it. I’m sorry,” he said to Daniel. “I promise everything’s going to be okay. Just go back to the wedding and I’ll…”

“I’m coming with you,” said Daniel. If someone was trying to destroy the city, it was stupid to go back and sit in a wedding when he could help. Besides, maybe if there was a fight he could kill Isaac by accident. Anyone coming through a hell portal would definitely have a knife.“If something serious is happening there’s no time to spend arguing. Let’s go.”

He didn’t need Isaac’s permission to go anywhere, so he went off in the direction the guard had directed them, not really listening to Isaac chat to the guys behind him. He clearly knew them.

The closet wasn’t hard to find, because there was indeed some guy in armour sleeping outside it. Daniel checked his pulse and he was fine, so he stood up. He sighed, stood up and…

“Oh, hey, Greg,” said the smaller guard. Greg was there, approaching them. Holding a knife. Daniel tensed. “What you got there? Contraband?”

“Sort of,” Greg said, looking between them all. “What’s going on?”

“Situation with the portal?” asked the small guard. He sounded like Ozzy, a bit. “We’ve got it under control, you just go have fun.”

“If you’re sure…should I at least tell Owen?”

“That, uh, might not hurt.”

“Okay.” Greg stepped around the boy, and he stood in front of Daniel. Daniel waited, watching the knife. His knife.

Greg flipped it around and handed it to him hilt first. “What?”

“I went and got it back for you. I don’t…really want to talk to you right now. But I think I will someday and I thought this might help you feel better. So here.”

“Uh.” What the fuck? Daniel would never have given Greg a weapon in his position. “How did you even…”

“I asked nicely. Please be careful.”

That felt like it was meant to sting, and it did. “Thanks. We’ll…handle it. Don’t worry.” This was the worst conversation Daniel had ever had.

Greg nodded, looked back at all of them, and then turned around and left without another word. What a fucking weirdo.

But whatever. Isaac surprised him by touching his hand. “You okay?”

“Fine,” Daniel said instinctively. He put the knife into his shirt, feeling much better. “Let’s go.” Daniel went inside the closet, where there was a mess on the floor and some shelves, one of which had a hole in it.

The smaller guard got down on his knees. “Down here,” he said, and he went right into the hole.

Theodore was going to be so annoyed that Daniel had gotten his clothes dirty, but since they weren’t hiding knives anymore, that’s all clothes were good for. He went in last, following Isaac’s magic ball of light. It was a long tunnel that sloped downwards pretty steeply and reminded Daniel of the tunnels the Empty Moon worked in. Tighter, though, he thought. The bigger guard was only a little bigger than Isaac and he was about as big as could fit through the tunnel.

Just ahead of him, the bigger guy said, “So you know the prince?”

The prince. Greg. “Yeah, I guess.”

“You guess? Are you like, not sure it’s him that you know or…”

Great, he was nosy idiot. “We used to be friends. We don’t really hang out anymore.”

“On account of he’s a prince now?”

On account of Greg trying to cut Simon’s throat. “I don’t live in the capital,” Daniel said, instead of that.

“That sucks. Listen, if there’s going to be fighting or anything down here, I want you to let me protect you, okay? I know you’ve got a knife but it’s kind of my job and if you got hurt…”

“Sure,” Daniel lied, to make him shut up. “I’ll hang back, don’t worry.”

“Thanks, that’s all I ask.”

The tunnel came out into a big underground cave that was full of red light, which probably told Isaac something but just made Daniel scowl at the poor visibility. In the middle of the room a woman was standing still while also rotating. She had a robe and a lot of bushy hair that were both floating with magic. She looked at them. “Hey, Isaac. Do me a solid and stand just there?”

“Sure.” Isaac just kind of did as he was told, but Daniel could hardly fault him for that. “What’s going on?”

“Some chucklefuck is trying to destroy the city. Fucking again.”

“Wait, how often does this happen?” the small guard asked. Daniel thought that was a very good question.

Isaac just sighed in a way that made it clear they wouldn’t like the answer. “Don’t worry, we’ve got this.”

“You’ve…got this?” Daniel wasn’t sure there was anything here to ‘get.’ There was some red light and a mage with bad hair. Big deal.

“Yeah, promise.” He turned back to the woman, who was probably Ariel. “What do you need me to do?”

“Get real good at sorcery real fast,” Ariel said.

It was clear there wasn’t actually much for Daniel to do, so he just kind of wandered away, poking around the cave. It had shit carved into the walls and floors, and signs near the entrance. The smaller guard came with him. “Sorry to drag you into this,” he said, after a minute. “I was only trying to drag Isaac into it but then you were there and that’s kind of how dragging works, you know?”

“It’s fine, I was bored upstairs,” Daniel said.

“You’re like a noble, right? Don’t worry, I’m sure it’s totally safe. And if it’s not, uh, it’s not our fault and please don’t tell your noble parents about this.”

“God, no,” Daniel laughed, looking at the boy with a smile. He reminded Daniel of Ozzy. Greg and Denver may have gotten to be princes, but that wasn’t Daniel’s life, thank God. “No, my dad just thinks he’s important. I’m Daniel.”

“Twig. Don’t worry, really. Isaac is pretty awesome, or so I’m led to assume because Leo hasn’t shut up about him and how cool he is, so if he’s got this under control I’m pretty sure it’ll only be…hm.”

Daniel had heard it too, people coming towards them. He lowered his voice. “Yeah, hm. Someone must have like, done this spell, right? Like it didn’t just happen?”

“That’s usually how magic works, as far as I know. Leo?”

The bigger guy disappeared out through the entrance, then came back. “A dozen guys. Armed.”

Twig drew his sword. “Hey, what the hell?”

A bunch of thugs burst into the cave, and Twig stood in front of Daniel, Leo coming over to stand with him.

“Boys, if you could handle that while we do the magic business,” Ariel called, in the same voice Benedict used to direct table settings. “That would be great.”

“Come on, Twig,” said Leo. To Daniel, he said, “You stay here.”

“I’m fine,” Daniel promised, and he darted between Leo and Twig, right at the thug in front, a big guy with a short sword. He swung at Daniel, who spun to the side, kicked him in the kidney, then in the knee, then in the back of the head after he fell. Daniel picked up his sword and used it to parry the guy behind him. He snatched a knife from that guy’s belt and used that to slash at a third guy who was behind him.

“Definitely not a noble,” Leo said, crashing into that guy and knocking him off his feet.

Daniel smiled. “No. These guys aren’t well trained. As long as you two are, this shouldn’t be a big deal.”

“We’re very well trained,” Twig promised, kicking a thug in the balls, then punching him in the face. “Hey, I know you! You’re Jim’s brother! Fucking Rock Boys?”

“What?” Daniel asked, stabbing one in the knee and ignoring how he screamed.

“They’re a gang,” Leo told Daniel. “Drug dealers, mostly.”

“And beating people up when it’s fun,” Twig added. “Assholes are…”

There was a loud bang, but Daniel didn’t have time to turn and see what had caused it. “Fuck,” said Leo, who was facing the other way. “That thing’s headed to the church.”

“I’ll get him,” Twig said, running out of Daniel’s line of sight.

“Okay, we’ll handle this!” Leo called. “Don’t die!”

“It’s okay, I know what I’m doing!”

Daniel glanced at him as he disappeared into the tunnel. “Does he actually know what he’s doing?” That was what Ozzy had said the time with the molasses leak, and he’d come back all sticky.

“Not really, but that seems to work for him most of the time, he’ll be fine.” Leo bashed a Rock Boy in the face with the guard of his sword.

Daniel chose to trust that and went about fighting the rest of the Rock Boys. He’d been trying not to kill them, just to avoid questions. But in the fight he ended up stabbing one in the temple and slicing another’s belly open. It was their own fucking fault for not backing off once it was clear that Daniel and Leo were way fucking better fighters than they were. Some gang. “The fuck is all this about?” Daniel wanted to know, as the last one fell down.


Something heavy hit Daniel and he went flying through the air. He barely managed to land without stabbing himself but he rolled to his feet beside Isaac, trying to see what had hit him. He was definitely going to have a huge bruise on his left side later.

Annoyed, Daniel got up and hurried back over to where Leo was fighting…something. Two tall, greyish, reddish guys in loincloths and with tusks jutting from their mouths, one fighting with a two-handed broadsword in one hand and the other using a big hammer. They were both easily as tall as Ozzy when he sat on Daniel’s shoulders. They both had shields, which must have been what had hit Daniel, because he sure as fuck wouldn’t have survived a clean hit from either of those weapons.

“What the fuck?” Daniel demanded, joining Leo, who was dancing between the two of them.

“Yeah,” Leo agreed, parrying the broadsword with difficulty. “I think they’re orcs?”

“Don’t orcs live in like, mountains?” Three Hills had a few hills, but no mountains. Daniel leapt away from the hammer and slashed at the orc’s knee, which got him to step back. He suddenly wished he had a shield instead of a sword.

“I guess these ones are fucking lost. Fuck.” Leo brought his arm up to block a swing he’d missed, falling backwards as the hammer took him in the breastplate. He was moving, so Daniel leapt over the other orc’s broadsword, stepped onto the hammer while it was low enough for him to get on, and used that to jump into the air, flipping over the orc’s head. He reached for Daniel but he was too slow, and Daniel’s knife cut through his neck with only a little difficulty, because it was a piece of shit knife.

He didn’t have time to worry about that, landing and leaping backwards as the orc fell, bringing the sword up behind him when the second orc roared and ran at him. He slid it up under the orc’s chestbone, wrenching his arm as the orc fell forward onto it. Daniel turned and moved to the side as he died.

And he heard, over all the whooshing and zapping sounds Isaac and Ariel’s magic was doing, a slow clap.

Daniel rolled his eyes and tossed the shitty knife into the entrance of the cave. “Really?” he asked. “You’re so confident you’ll give away the element of surprise?”

The knife came hurtling back and Daniel caught it by the handle, and a tall, blocky woman with short hair came into the cave, wearing black. “I was only expressing my enjoyment of the show you put on, young man,” she said, in a deep, rolling voice. “My name is Jocelyn. I don’t suppose you’re interested in a job?”

“I’m overcommitted already,” Daniel said, inching closer to her. If she was the boss of all this bullshit, she was probably a mage too. She clearly wasn’t that worried, which meant she was probably good at it. Talking to her could give Daniel an opening.

“Probably for the best,” said Jocelyn. She held out her hands. “I have no luck with little boys. Fortunately there are always those more willing.”

The orcs started to get up.

“Oh, fuck no,” Leo said, staggering over. He took a swing at Jocelyn, who waved and knocked him down. The corpses stopped moving, so Daniel took that opening and ran at her. She snarled and lifted him off the ground with magic.

“I worked hard on this,” Jocelyn told Daniel, making him drop both his weapons and then squeezing. But Daniel had another weapon. “I will not have it ruined by some random teenagers. Do you know how much effort it was to track down a sorcerer who could—ah!” Daniel had managed to get his knife and thrown it at her, taking her right in the chest.

A deep pulse hit Daniel, rattling around his tummy and causing dust to fall from the walls. All the magical sounds behind him stopped as he fell to the ground, Jocelyn taking his place in the air as she was lifted off her feet and thrown backwards, slamming into the wall. She collapsed, falling to the ground with a much duller thud.

Daniel looked over his shoulder, saw Isaac glowing a little. Or a lot? He didn’t know what the normal amount of glowing was. But there was an old man there now, and he seemed to be doing…something? He was wearing elaborate robes and had a beard, and he was touching Isaac’s arm in a very familiar way.

So Daniel went over and helped Leo up. “You okay?”

“Fine,” Leo promised, rubbing his head. “Bruised. You?”

“Also fine.”

“Well, you’re not even wearing armour and you had to scrounge your own weapons, so it’s really fucking embarrassing for me that we’re the same amount of hurt,” Leo said. He grinned at Daniel. “If you tell anyone about this, promise to at least pretend I was cool?”

Daniel snickered. “You were cool. I can tell everyone you killed the orcs if you want.”

“Nah, that’s way too cool not to take credit for. What did you even do? I just got up and they were dead!”

Daniel shrugged, suddenly less comfortable than when magic had briefly made him think he was going to take a mid-air shit. “They weren’t even wearing armour.”

“Okay but neither were you! How did you learn any of that?”

“I took dancing lessons as a kid,” Daniel told him, walking with Leo over to Jocelyn. She was breathing, but bleeding. He pulled his knife out of her chest and wiped it on her shirt, tucking it away carefully, grabbing his other stolen weapons just so he could have them.

“Damn, I fucked up learning wrestling, clearly.”

“Worked out pretty well for you,” Daniel muttered, noting how muscular Leo was, because he was standing there. He was just very…calmly not pressing Daniel on anything, and that was really nice of him, even if it was probably mostly shock.

Isaac came over and joined them, looking a little woozy. “You guys okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” said Leo, smiling at him. “You were really cool just then.”

“Uh…thanks. Give me like two weeks and maybe I can tell you what I did.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t kill her,” said Daniel, nodding at Jocelyn, who would be in no danger of dying if she weren’t steadily bleeding to death thanks to Daniel. “Seems like it was her who set all this up.”

“Yeah?” Isaac crouched down, touched Jocelyn. The cut on her head closed instantly, and so did the one in her chest. Daniel frowned. What was the point of healing her? “Well, hopefully she’ll tell us why when she wakes up.”

Oh. Fair enough. “I bet she will.” Daniel wanted to say that he shouldn’t have healed her, but he already had, and it did make sense that they might want to ask her why she’d done whatever it was she’d done exactly. Maybe if Daniel had ever left any of the people who tried to hurt Theodore alive, he’d have more answers than he did. “She seemed to like talking.”

“Okay,” Isaac sighed. “You should head back up to the wedding.”

The old man was hurrying over, his robes snapping everywhere. “All of us should,” he pronounced. “There is time yet for it to begin, and the city guard has been dispatched to bring these fiends to justice already.”

“Huh?” Fiends? Who said fiends?

Someone patted Daniel’s back, but it was just Isaac. “If you’re sure it’s safe.”

“Ariel has assured me she has the situation in hand from this point. We are all expected at the wedding.” The old man was weirdly insistent on going to the wedding, like that fucking mattered when someone had just tried to kill everyone. “Come, I know this has been eventful for you all, but I must ask your patience for a few more hours.”

“Sure,” said Isaac. He obviously knew this guy, and was clearly going to go along with him, even though he was the one who was glowing. He was obviously Isaac’s teacher or mentor or something. Poor Isaac, Daniel thought. This guy didn’t seem fun to fuck. He wasn’t even hot like Theodore pretended to be. Leo just shrugged, clearly going along with Isaac, who was now looking like he was going to poke something. And as he did that, the whole cavern turned inside-out, and they were thrown onto the floor in the cathedral. “Oh.”

“Ah, a marvellous teleportation spell,” the old man was saying, as Daniel tried to get his bearings. What the fuck? “I daresay your experience with the font has given you some new power. I want you to know that I’m very proud of you, but I would suggest…”

“That I don’t use it until I understand it. Got it. Promise.”

“Come,” said the old man. “Young knight, I expect you have superiors to report to, is that correct?”

Leo jumped in place. “Uh, yeah. Thanks for all the…everything. I’ll see you later, Isaac.”

“Thanks, Leo.” Isaac touched him briefly, and Leo went off, waving at Daniel, who nodded. Isaac let out a dramatic sigh. “Can’t the royal family ever have a party that doesn’t get interrupted by someone trying to kill everyone?”

“Alas, it is the curse of their status.”

Daniel should introduce this guy to Theodore, who also thought ‘alas’ was a real word. He’d never admit that being rich was a curse though. “God, we haven’t even gotten to the party yet,” Daniel muttered. His head hurt. He put the sword down, since taking it into the church would be a bad idea, then went to tuck the shitty knife into his shirt. The old man gave him a very pointed look, so Daniel tried not to roll his eyes as he put the knife down too. He’d get another one if he needed it.

“Not to worry, lad. This is to be a joyous affair. Come.”

So they came. “Told you I had it under control,” Isaac told Daniel as they walked.

Maybe he had. Or maybe he’d have been eaten by orcs if Daniel hadn’t been there. “Yeah. You did.” He looked at Isaac. Did Isaac think they were friends now? Maybe he did. This was useful. “Hey, can I come see the academy sometime before I leave the capital?”

As Daniel had predicted, Isaac smiled. As he hadn’t predicted, Daniel returned it. “Sure. I’ll sneak you in and give you a tour. It’s not very interesting. We only save the world sometimes, and the rest of the time we just kind of hang around and read. There’s a pond if you like swimming, but it’s still mostly frozen.”

Daniel let Isaac chat at him for a few minutes until they got back to the main room and had to separate, which they did with a promise that Daniel could come to the academy in the next few days.

Killing Isaac in his school would be just as hard as killing him at the wedding, but at least he’d have both his second-favourite knife and time to plan it.

He slid into his seat next to Theodore, who raised an eyebrow at him. No, Daniel thought, as he saw some robes flapping a few seats down. He arched the eyebrow at him. “You were gone for a very long time.”

“Was I? I was just in the privy.”

“What were you really doing? You’re all dirty, Daniel.” Theodore wiped something off his cheek.

Daniel grinned. “I don’t think the High Presbyter will notice.”

“I simply cannot take my eyes off you for a second. Did Greg upset you? I noticed you speaking with him.”

Sticking out his tongue, Daniel took Theodore’s hand as some music started up. “No, I don’t even remember what we talked about. Now be quiet, the wedding’s starting and you’re the one who insisted we come.”

Theodore fell quiet, and let Daniel hold his hand for the whole ceremony. The wedding didn’t actually start for a bit, but there was a lot of pre-wedding music that Daniel used as an excuse to be quiet. Maybe it was Theodore’s hand, or maybe it was the feeling of having done something useful, or maybe it was the soreness and tiredness spreading through his whole body, but Daniel felt like it was a really good day, no matter what had happened earlier. He didn’t feel threatened by Greg or Denver or anyone. Greg walked by him later even, in the wedding procession, and he looked at Daniel, and Daniel managed to smile at him a bit. He was fine. Maybe it was that he had his knife back. Whatever. He was where he should be. Right here beside Theodore.

Which was convenient, because he fell asleep partway through the wedding, and Theodore’s shoulder was a good pillow.

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