“Is that everything in the car?” Lord Andreas asked, when Topaz knelt in front of his chair. Lila, who had been helping, looked puzzled by the absence of her mage but sat on the floor in front of the chair Lady Catherine had been in, while Pride and Chance returned, technically, to the feet of their respective mages; of the three, only Pride could be considered kneeling at all, and that was probably because at her height it made it easier for her mage to reach down to touch her. But then, even that much was probably a combination of his and Lord Andreas' presence and the limited number of seats on furniture in the room.
Lord Aiden and Lord Brennan had sent their good-byes via the others; Sage and Oblique, badly needing to feel normal and to shake off the feeling that they should somehow be kept away from other sensitives, were at Cornucopia working, and just in case of trouble, their mages were lurking quietly in the vicinity. Lady Kerry had an appointment she couldn't change, and Topaz had missed the details on Lady Shvaughn's not being here, but their sensitives were around somewhere.
The sheer size of this close-knit circle of family and friends and their sensitives took some getting used to, after so long with everything quiet.
“Yes, my Lord. I checked your room and the library twice each myself.”
Lord Andreas laid a hand on his shoulder. “We'll be back, forgetting something wouldn't be the end of the world.”
No, but Lord Andreas would be annoyed. Better to just avoid that altogether. Four sensitives combing through it should have gotten everything.
“Sable, Catherine got a phone call from Victoria,” Lady Neely said. “She wanted to talk alone.”
“Thank you, my Lady.” Lila's forehead furrowed—worrying about her mage, Topaz thought—but she left it at that.
“Would you like anything before you go?” Lord Van asked Andreas, and then his attention shifted to Topaz. “Either of you?”
Topaz shook his head. “No, thank you, my Lord.”
“I believe we've both been to the bathroom,” Lord Andreas said, with a hint of humour. “We can stop partway for a drink if we need. But thank you.”
“I'm still working on ways to thank you enough for everything,” Lord Van said.
“You're free, and able to keep going with the frightening but I think also vitally necessary work you feel called to do. You know how to reach me when you need legal help again.”
Yes, it was pretty much certain that was a when and not an if.
“Please do remember to keep me updated. This case may have been an earthquake, but I foresee future aftershocks in plenty and an avalanche of hearings as a consequence of this one, and I strongly suspect I'm going to be asked at least for advice.”
“Absolutely. I have a long list of contact info from people wanting to be involved that Catherine collected. I'll be working on that for a while. Whatever I get, I'll send your way.”
Lord Andreas ran a hand over Topaz' hair; he nuzzled into the affectionate touch happily. “I think my policy of trying to stay uninvolved directly is about to suffer major revisions, at least as far as one very important issue. I don't believe I could live with myself at this point if I chose not to act and a ruling passed that did harm to sensitives or those trying to protect them.”
And that, Topaz knew, was at least in part because his beloved Lord loved him. More time travelling would mean more for him to do in order to help, and periods without shapechanging that would make the times between that did involve shapechanging less dreary. He was allowed to stay in touch with Lila, and Lord Andreas would be visiting here now and then, and Lord Andreas had said something after the hearing that made Topaz think he was going to be encouraged to make and maintain contact with other sensitives. He understood enough to accept himself as he was.
Compared to before the hunters, or the first few months he'd been with his Lord, or even a few days ago, it all sounded extremely promising.
But just wait until Zephyr heard about all this! To say nothing of Lady Phyllida...
“Anyway.” Lord Andreas' somewhat rueful tone turned more practical. “Any trouble for Brennan and Aiden over Oblique and Sage is an extremely high priority, and I'll be here immediately—and you can tell whoever causes the trouble that. There is not a single law, no matter how obscure, that they've broken. People are just going to have to accept the idea that there's more to sensitives than some of us ever thought. Unfortunately, people being people, I expect some of them to scream and fight tooth and nail for every inch.”
“People being people,” Lady Neely said, “a lot of them just didn't bother to think about it, and are going to be just fine with it once they get used to the idea and realize that for most people it's not going to be all that big a change in practical terms.”
Lady Catherine rejoined them, her long blue skirt swirling around her legs like water reflecting sky, and reclaimed her chair.
“Is everything okay?” Lady Neely asked.
“That was a very interesting conversation,” Lady Catherine said. “With Elena not only badly injured but under severe disciplinary actions, Brock under serious doubt because of his closeness to her, at least one novice's training ended on bad terms, and the other novice and all support staff being investigated and re-evaluated, that leaves only Victoria and Faisal responsible for several cities and towns. They're suspending all official sensitive hunts for at least two years and expect to be doing it on a very limited basis for at least three years after that. That won't stop individuals who decide to try on their own, and there will be a few, but without hunter training the odds of a sensitive successfully escaping go up quite a lot. I think alternative methods might suddenly look more appealing to a number of younger mages.”
“Oh god, young mages who were looking forward to getting sensitives of their own are going to be freaking,” Lady Neely said. “They'll probably try anything they're told will give them a decent chance.”
“And their best chance,” Lady Catherine said, “is drawing sensitives to them, by creating the equivalents of York House and Cornucopia. She's very interested to see what happens, and is hoping Van, as the expert, and Grania and Maya and others directly involved will be willing to talk to those from other cities who are considering doing so.” She took a deep breath. “She also asked if I'd be willing to reconsider being a hunter.”
The room went very quiet for a couple of heartbeats. Lila, completely breaking tradition, looked up at her Lady and reached up to close a hand around hers. “But without the hunting sensitives part, right, my Lady?”
“Yes, without that. Focused entirely on the laws and maintaining them. Since the parts of my training I never completed were largely about sensitives, and with the proviso that I take some time to refresh my memory on mage law, she and Faisal are willing to skip any further training and consider me a full hunter immediately.”
“Hunters have partners for a reason,” Lord Andreas said. “With the probability of anti-abuse laws being passed in the near future, you'd need someone to watch your back all the more.”
“Yes,” Catherine said. “And under the circumstances, she has no one to suggest, but she agreed to my request, with some conditions attached. Neely? Until you pass your Master's exam and have time to learn more details about mage law and a few other things, you'd be effectively a part of my household, not Aiden's, and responsibility for making decisions would be up to me. But I can't think of anyone I'd rather have in reach when possibly dealing with mages who are doing things they shouldn't be.”
“Say what?” Lady Neely said; she sounded stunned.
“Think about it,” Lady Catherine said. “I told her I couldn't make a decision like that at a moment's notice and that it was also dependent on what you want. Obviously I didn't point out that Sable and Chance get a say in this too, since it would be an enormous change for all four of us.”
“A Donovan hunter,” Lady Neely muttered. “What a concept.”
“Maybe it's about time,” Lord Van said. “I think the two of you could make a huge difference in a lot of lives. But it's definitely a big decision to make.”
“I must admit,” Lord Andreas said, “my first reaction is to hope you choose to accept. But it would be understandable if you chose otherwise. Let me know when you decide, hm? Meanwhile, we should be getting home.”
Topaz rose quickly to help his Lord up from the chair.
“Thank you. I'm going to go to the car. I think you have some good-byes to say. Take your time.” Lord Andreas gave him a fleeting kiss on the forehead, and turned towards the door.
Topaz thought the three mages remaining exchanged quick glances, then all left the room, Lady Neely starting to speculate about what accepting the offer would mean.
Topaz found himself the centre of a tangle of hugs—one that grew when Tinker and Azure realized what was going on and joined in.
As it wound down, Lila gave him a last fierce kiss, which he returned more than willingly.
“Stay in touch and stay happy,” she said sternly.
“Right back atcha,” he retorted. “Try to stay out of trouble. If you can.”
“Not likely,” Chance chuckled.
“But we'll be watching out for her,” Azure said.
“And for you if you need us,” Pride said.
“Go on,” Lila said, more quietly. “Your Lord's waiting for you.”
It was Pride who walked him to the door, and just before it, she picked up a large sealed envelope and handed it to him.
“Printouts of some stuff Oblique and Sage's overseas friends thought would be useful. There's a copy at home for Van, he just doesn't know it yet. Since your Lord seems to have decided to plunge into the middle of the mess, we figured he should know everything available. I haven't read it yet, but I gather it's basically an overview of how sensitives and mages relate in Western Europe and Australia, plus what they understand about sensitive abilities. They seem to have less of an understanding about how we bond to each other,” she added thoughtfully, “and some non-magical aptitudes and stuff, so maybe we have stuff to teach them, too. Anyway. You can tell him Van forgot to give it to him, unless you think he'd be okay with the fact that Oblique and Sage and Lila and I basically are responsible.”
“I don't think I want to lie to him, but I don't think I'll tell him the details unless he asks directly. Thanks.”
Lord Andreas gave him a warm smile when he joined him in the car and snapped his seat-belt on. “All set?”
“Yes, my Lord. It'll be nice to get home and rest.”
Lord Andreas chuckled. “They are an exhausting bunch, collectively. What's that?”
Topaz repeated Pride's description of the contents, though not who had provided it; his Lord didn't ask, just thought about that for a few minutes, while they pulled out of the long driveway and got oriented in the right direction.
“We have a long drive,” Lord Andreas said finally. “Why don't you pull those out of there and start reading them out loud?”
“I'm not worried about you abusing anything you learn. And we do need to understand as much as possible before someone thinks of charges to call Brennan and Aiden on or some other sensitive figures out how to do it.”
Topaz smiled, tore open the envelope, took out the couple of dozen pages inside, and settled in to read to his Lord through the trip home.
Thank you for taking the time to visit one of my worlds! If you enjoyed it, please consider leaving me a review at your favourite site, telling your friends, or dropping me a line to let me know. Keep your eyes open for more of my work!
~~Steph Shangraw / prysmcat
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