A Fresh Start
A Fresh Start
Blackthorn Manor was a flurry of movement. It was the closing days of winter, the air still bitingly cold but the day outside promised weak sun. There was the first scents of fresh blooms and blossoming cherry trees. The winter months had been a long and difficult period for every member of the Blackthorn household, especially its two owners, Adrian Blackthorn and his naga mate, Owethu Selvagem.
To say the relationship was unusual would be like saying the Amazon made a fairly decent river. As far as either of them knew, a relationship between a naga and a human practitioner was unheard of. At least in the sense that the human didn’t get eaten at the end of the week. Adrian and Owethu had now been living together for three months, a world record by his own clan’s calculation given that naga were not known for emotional connection of any kind. The South African man was certainly blunt. He often spoke without taking into consideration the impact of his statements. He really never cared if others liked his opinion.
Easy to do when you’re immune to almost every poison known to mankind, have nearly unbreakable skin and are already over four hundred years old. Adrian often had to remind himself of this when he and his lover argued. Which was often.
‘I have no interest in this event,’ the naga said as Adrian tried to corner him on the way out of the enormous manor house.
‘Neither do I, but we are expected to attend!’ Adrian said, already exasperated.
‘It is a political event for power-hunger humans and bored super-naturals.’
‘You are literally describing every fundraiser by the High Council of Practitioners. As one of the founding families, the Blackthorns have to be there.’
’I am not a Blackthorn,” the naga said bluntly.
‘No, you are effectively my damn fiancé! We are supposed to be showing the world how unified and put together we are, remember? So, I don’t get shipped off to the looney bin?’ Yes. A lot had changed for Adrian Blackthorn.
His life had taken a nasty downward spiral when his parents and younger sister, Jenny, had been killed in a car crash the day Adrian had graduated from high school. Instead of celebrating with his friends, he was being consoled in an empty hospital room by several nondescript adults who attempted to tell him that his whole world had essentially been destroyed in a matter of minutes. This loss had only been made more potent by the fact that Adrian was meant to be with his parents and sister that night. They had wanted to celebrate as a family, but Adrian insisted on staying on campus to celebrate with his friends. Unfortunately, this story only got more depressing. See, every practitioner specialised in something. Some were experts in elemental magic, like Adrian’s best friend Daniel who was a pyrokinetic.
Adrian’s gift was in shield making.
Yes, in case those values weren’t adding up, if he, Adrian, a shield maker, had been in the car, there was a very good chance the impact that hit the car never would have slaughtered those inside it. A fact that followed him every damn day. He spent the first year after his family’s death merely existing rather than living. Unable to face the enormous manor house he lived in, he had bought a smaller house in the suburbs and moved in.
He even got a cat. Or rather, a cat showed up outside the house one day and decided Adrian was its owner. He named the cat Prince and didn’t think his life could get any more twisted, until Daniel had talked him into coming out of hiding and attending the Quadrennial Conference where Adrian found out he had a soul bond to one of the city’s oldest nagas.
The universe was not interested in giving him a simple life. It wasn’t until he ended up with a second cat that he was received the nasty revelation that his cats weren’t cats. They were familiars, magical entities created to help balance his magic. Despite the popular fiction, familiars were not common at all. Very rarely was a magic user strong enough to require a familiar and there were almost no recorded cases of practitioners conjuring two. Those few stories of magic users with two familiars normally ended when the mage became so overwhelmed or infected by their own power that they went insane, usually killing a bunch of people before being put down.
So, Adrian had that to look forward to… Of course, the events were so rare, and stories so spread out, Adrian had no idea if this was a real possibility or just horrible coincidence. He could pretend that this outcome didn’t often invade his thoughts, especially late at night when Owethu was away, and Adrian was left to fester in the dark. He now knew what it felt like not to have complete control over his magic. It was a terrifying feeling.
The High Council of Practitioners weren’t keen to take the chance. As soon as word got out that the sole survivor of the Blackthorn family had two familiars, they had sent people to take Adrian in. Only his connection to Owethu’s clan had prevented him from being whisked off to the gods knew where, probably to be a guinea pig for the rest of his life. As Owethu’s soul bound mate, he now shared the naga clan’s diplomatic immunity.
It was a complicated political mess and Adrian was right smack bang in the middle of it. He was forced to give up his little house in the suburb and return to the gigantic empty manor he grew up in. He did agree to see a therapist each week. Partly because his lawyer hinted that it would show that Adrian was making strides to better his mental health and partly because Adrian’s other best friend, Lyndall, had thought it would truly help him to talk to someone about his family.
It had been uncomfortable at first, but Adrian could grudgingly admit that he sort of enjoyed the weekly appointment with his therapist. The woman’s name was Eliza Maine. She had the sort of unforceful calm demeaner that made the room feel quiet instead of oppressive. She never forced a conversation or asked invasive questions. She was more like a guide, encouraging Adrian to share how he felt on the day. He had gone into therapy with the stubborn expectation that he would hate it, but in truth, she had won him over in only three short sessions.
His other distraction to keep him sane was his job at a small gallery in the city. His boss, Gale, was happy for him to do most of his work at home. Given that his job generally involved writing up the media posts for up-and-coming exhibitions, updating the galley website with new events and sending out invites to various openings, he could work just about anywhere so long as he had the latest newsletters and a laptop.
As his family was one of the wealthiest in the damn country, he didn’t need the money, but he loved his job, and it was a good way to stay busy. Busy was good. Busy stopped him from brooding. He would have liked to actually go into the gallery but almost every time he left the property, he was inevitably tracked down and hounded by reporters and paparazzi.
So that’s where he was at. Effectively stuck in his parent’s house, mated to a naga and spending most of his days trying to think of the best way to make the rest of the world leave him the fuck alone. When he had received the invite to this up-and-coming fundraiser, a part of his soul shivered because knew he was expected to attend. He was just hoping he could convince his ass of a life partner to come with him.
‘They can’t arrest you for not attending a social event,’ Owethu said blandly. Prince, with his snow-white fur and Duchess, with her black fur a polar opposite, were currently weaving in and out of their legs. It used to be that Adrian could leave them behind at home and walk around the city without them but lately, they followed him everywhere. The thing about magical creatures was they didn’t care much about walls or doors. Adrian had once shut them in the kitchen with some wet food to distract them. He made it all the way outside but when he opened the back door to the car that was his uber, there they were, sitting on the seat much to the confusion of the driver who swore he didn’t let them in the car.
‘Are you willing to test that theory? Owethu please, we both know you’re better at these things then I am. Please don’t let me go to this thing on my own.’ Adrian didn’t want to beg but hells, he really was desperate. The naga regarded him, one hand on the doorknob to leave.
‘I will do my best to finish up my duties with the clan and make it to your… event,’ he said finally. His event, as though Adrian had planned the up-and-coming nightmare.
‘Thank you. It’s at seven, try not to be-’ Owethu was already opening the door and walking through it. It closed with a snap behind him.
‘Late.’ Yeah. Adrian’s life really was a gigantic mess.
‘Don’t fidget,’ Lyndall said, gently tugging Adrian’s hands away from the silk tie that felt like it was choking him. It was a beautiful strip of material, patterned softly all over with silver and black spirals. It went with the immaculate black and pale grey suit he had been forced to wear for this ridiculous gala. He had no idea how much the suit cost and honestly, he didn’t want to know. Peters, Owethu’s personal manservant, had taken his measurements and organised the suit’s creation. Adrian would have been fine with just walking into a damn shop and finding one that fit okay but Peters had given him such a disgusted look, he had dropped the idea.
Lyndall Chevalier was looking immaculate as she always did. She really was stunning, with long hair that she often braided and bound up into a bun to keep the curly strands from falling in her face. She’d lost the French accent of her parents and grandparents, but she still had the musical soft voice. She had been his friend since they were seven years old, and he loved her as though she was his sister from another family. Lyndall, at least, would do her best to stay by his side through tonight.
‘Tell me again how Daniel managed to wiggle his way out of this?’ Adrian grumbled as he picked a cat hair off his sleeve cuff. For magical animals, they still managed to shed like regular cats. Speaking of the little devils, both cats were sitting pretty at his feet. With their alternating colours and mismatched eyes, they gave off the impression that Adrian was some kind old timey god. They were attracting a lot of looks and he was already feeling horrifically uncomfortable.
‘Daniel is out of town for a few days visiting his uncle, remember?’ she prompted gently. He did remember. Daniel had texted him at least five times, partly to complain about the long drive and partly to apologise a hundred different ways for ditching him.
Adrian sighed. ‘Don’t suppose you can look into the future and tell me if Owethu will be here soon?’ He asked without much hope.
Lyndall pursed her lips. She wasn’t a psychic exactly. She could predict the future, but it was complicated. Her affinity for magic was a lot more subtle. It could best be described as intuition rather than flat out prediction. If she had a bad feeling about something, something bad almost always happened. It was more vague than straight up prediction, but because of this, she was very rarely wrong. She stared into the crowd of people milling about and Adrian could see from her frown that whatever news she had was probably not good.
‘It’s difficult to say…’ she started.
He snorted. ‘It might be difficult to say but you know what the answer is. He’s not coming, is he?’ Adrian asked sadly. She bit her pale lip and shook her head.
‘Sorry Adrian,’ she said as she pet his arm. Adrian’s shoulders slumped. The relationship he shared with Owethu sometimes felt so barely there, that it was a mockery of a true soul bond. They just didn’t have much in common. They weren’t even the same bloody species and that in and of itself was almost unheard of. They had made some progress. The man was definitely more affectionate towards Adrian then he used to be. Mind you, the man had practically threatened to kill Adrian the first they had met so that wasn’t saying much…
‘Mr Blackthorn, Miss Chevalier, I’m so glad you could make it.’ Both practitioners turned to see a bespectacled man in his sixties with salt and pepper hair and a short, neatly trimmed beard. Adrian recognised Rupert Maynard from the many press-conferences the man often attended as one of the highest representatives from the council. One of those conferences had involved the man questioning Adrian’s sanity and whether he ought to be removed for his own ‘protection.’ The man didn’t look the slightest bit abashed by the tight-lipped scowl Adrian was wearing. Lyndall was a little more civil.
‘Mr Maynard, of course. It’s a lovely turn out,’ she said with an elegant curtsy.
‘Made all the better by having the both of you here.’ Gods, the man was laying it on thick. Prince mewed, drawing the man’s eyes down.
‘And these must be the famous Blackthorn familiars,’ he said enthusiastically. Well, they were famous now Adrian’s personal life and history had been splashed all over the damn media. It was an extremely nasty and unpleasant thing to turn on the television and see a photo of his dead mother flash on the screen as the topic of some daytime news show.
‘And how are things?’ The man continued in an unctuous voice as though Adrian was a troubled student and he, a kindly headmaster. Struggling not to grind his teeth and act like a real adult, Adrian met the man’s dirty brown eyes.
‘Fine. Keeping busy,’ he managed.
Maynard nodded sagely. ‘Of course, of course. I imagine that collection of yours must take some upkeep.’ Not for the first time did Adrian have the creeping sensations that the people around him knew something he didn’t. He received one other mind-blowing shock two months ago after moving back into his childhood home. The Blackthorn library was known to have one of the rarest and most in depth collections into the supernatural community. Adrian’s father, grandfather and great grandfather had all added to their own published works to the library, having studied cultural anthropology and biology and sociology. For a long time, Adrian had thought this was the extent of it.
Since becoming the sole heir to the family fortune and property, he had received countless emails, phone calls and letters asking for his time, money, and access to the famous Blackthorn collection. He had begun to wonder if his family was hoarding more than just books as the month went on and his suspicions were proved horrifically correct when he had uncovered a massive hidden chamber in the heart of the manor holding artefacts and books that Adrian had never seen before.
Most of the objects were ancient and several of them held magic that Adrian hadn’t wanted to mess with. Every weekend since, he, Lyndall, Daniel, and Peters would descend into the vast room and try to catalogue and document the sheer number of items but without much success. Adrian was sure that his mother and father would have made some kind of proper catalogue but so far, they hadn’t been able to find it.
Aside from the fear of potentially having the magical equivalent of a nuclear bomb sitting in the centre of his house along with gods only knew what else, Adrian was starting to get the impression that he wasn’t the only person to know about this magical hoard. It had to have come from somewhere and every day since he had discovered the room, he wondered if he really knew what it was his parents or indeed, his entire family, did for a living. They’d never mentioned any of this to Adrian.
His dad had started inviting Adrian along to meet various supernatural ambassadors. He even became good friends with one of the sons, an earth fae by the name of Dewin. Adrian’s parents had wanted to slowly bring him into the family business. Their grandparents had died of old age. Perhaps they just never thought that they would both be killed before their children even graduated. What parent does? They had made contingency plans, of course. The will had been well worded. Everything was to go to their children. As Adrian’s sister Jenny had shared their fate, everything went to Adrian. Unfortunately, whether by design or not, the will mentioned absolutely nothing about a magic museum filled with dangerous objects situated three doors down from Adrian’s damn bedroom.
Since being attacked in his own home by a fellow practitioner, Adrian now knew that the car crash that had taken his family from him was no accident. Unfortunately, the only man who seemed to have known anything about it was now very dead all thanks to Adrian’s familiars who didn’t take kindly to their master being drugged and murdered. Turns out the two adorable tiny cats could do a little more than shed fur. And by more, they could turn into enormous jaguars the size of the average Clydesdale. No-one knew exactly how they were able to do that… All Adrian got was more and more questions and he had no way of answering any of them.
‘Will your mate be joining us tonight?’ Mr Maynard asked casually.
Adrian cleared his throat, bringing his thoughts unpleasantly back to the present moment. ‘Uh, no. He had clan duties he had to attend to.’ Again.
‘Ah, that is unfortunate. We were looking forward to speaking with him. There are many up and coming local elections and I know several of them that may affect our supernatural community guidelines.’
Adrian tried to look as though talking to Owethu about human politics was a mildly interesting idea. It wasn’t, but Lyndall was giving him that look she gave when she wanted him to act like the adult he was supposed to be. ‘In any case, I’m very glad you’re here. I know things have been difficult for you and I wanted you to know you have our support at all angles. I understand you’re in a very sensitive position at the moment.’ As if you and the idiots who work for you weren’t the sole cause of most of those problems…
‘I know we came across rather strongly but it’s only because we care very deeply for one of our oldest magical families.’
Unable to restrain himself any longer, Adrian opened his mouth. Before he could speak, Lyndall leapt in. ‘Mr Maynard, is that the Iliescu’s?’ She asked in a falsely excited voice. The man’s head whipped around as two of the world’s most beautiful figures entered the room. It was an obvious appearance as the other people shrank away from them like dried leaves near an open flame. Dumitru and his mate, Mariana Iliescu were two of only a few dragons that had anything to do with human society. They very rarely attended human events. It took a lifetime to earn a dragon’s trust, something that Richard Blackthorn had achieved.
Adrian had incredibly fond memories of the peaceful dragons visiting the Blackthorn manor. They had always been very kind to the shy human boy, showing him how they could make little fire balls and control the electric lights. Adrian had a thought that they may have only come tonight just to see if Adrian himself was attending, a theory that was confirmed when the female dragon with her perfect crown of golden ringlets and dark exotic skin met his eyes and smiled. Adrian’s heart squeezed a little in his chest.
‘Excuse me a moment,’ Maynard squeaked as he hurried away, his new target in sight.
‘Let’s give them a moment to get rid of him and then we can go over to say hello,’ Lyndall suggested brightly.
‘This is almost exactly like the night I met Owethu,’ Adrian mused, still drifting in his own memories.
’True,” Lyndall said with a smile.
‘I thought he was going to kill me that night.’
‘And now you’re mated,’ she said.
Adrian nodded, his hand coming up automatically to touch the raised scar on his neck, the evidence of the naga’s mating bite.
‘Sometimes it really doesn’t feel like it,’ he admitted softly.
Lyndall’s expression softened. ‘You both just need some time. A couple of months or so isn’t a long time for a relationship even for humans,’ she pointed out gently.
‘Yeah, and most people don’t have the entire world looking at them and judging every part of their life with a microscope,’ Adrian grumbled. Even as he spoke, several journalists were moving stealthily about. Adrian was almost positive they were trying to get a better angle to take photos of Lyndall and him. Duchess was watching them, her little black tail whipping back and forth.
‘Easy, precious,’ he said, instinctively bending to scoop the black cat. It would not be a good look for a gigantic jaguar to suddenly appear and race through the crowd and maul a couple of humans. He looked around to where Maynard had gone. He was apparently babbling. His face had that sort of awestruck, slack-jawed look of a man utterly out of his league and knowing it. The two dragons politely inclined their heads, the movement so graceful, it made the human in front of them look like a thin paper cut-out. Mariana said a few words and then both moved past the stunned man and came towards Adrian.
‘Put a smile on. We have to introduce them to your new cats,’ Lyndall giggled.
Adrian smiled weakly. Yes, his life was a complete mess but at least he wasn’t alone anymore.