When Lucien wandered into the salon to find Essek and Caleb sitting on opposite sides of one of the small desks dotting around the space, he pulled out a chair next to the new arrival. He had allowed Essek to join them for the evening after all, as it wouldn’t really affect his plans in any material way. It was cute to observe the Nein and watch them try to work around his own goals. He couldn’t help but indulge them, some part of the secondary consciousness thrumming through him was amused by it all. Pulling out a chair next to Essek, Lucien dropped down into it, tail curling around the back as he hooked a knee across one of the low arms.
Both wizards looked at him, twin expressions of distrust and displeasure adorning their faces.
“Oh, don’t let my presence interrupt… whatever this is. I’m just curious to see this type of magic in action.” He waved towards the pages in front of them both, before taking a moment to look around. It was a cozy space, and he much preferred being able to make use of it to the cold winds of the tundras outside. He took his time looking around the room, tipping his head back to take in the upper levels and made a point to ignore Essek and Caleb until they returned to their studies.
He’d been with them for an hour now. Caleb worked intently, directed every so often by Essek’s soft, accented voice as he guided him through the base mechanics of a spell. It gave Lucien time to observe them both, to puzzle and work through what they meant to each other. There had been tension from the moment Essek had arrived. Jester was the only enthusiastic one, the rest had varying levels of withheld relief and suspicion.
Caleb looked up from the book for a moment, eyes darting far too quickly from Essek to Lucien in a way that just furthered his own curiosity. Lucien merely raised an eyebrow in response, daring Caleb to comment.
Caleb, it seemed, was going to rise to the bait.
“Is this entertaining for you?” said Caleb, irritation clear in his tone.
“Fascinating beyond measure,” he drawled in response.
“For someone as all-powerful as you are, this cannot be the best use of your time.”
He was aware of Essek subtly tracking the exchange between them, all without visibly moving. Like he had been doing it for years. Like he was skilled at it.
“There’s always something to discover from observation.”
Caleb’s eyes narrowed briefly, before schooling into an invitation.
“Then be sure to pay attention. Wouldn’t want you to miss a learning opportunity.”
Lucien leaned back in his chair at the comment and gave it a beat before he cocked his head towards Essek with a leering smile on his face. He folded his arms, keeping his eyes resting on Caleb while directing his next comment to his right.
“He’s attractive when he’s condescending.”
He was rewarded by an immediate stiffening of Essek next to him and a flush across Caleb’s face as he coughed and turned away. The tension up the back of Essek’s neck was clear, and his long ears twitched back slightly. Smiling more widely, Lucien turned to look at Essek, who resolutely didn’t meet his gaze.
“Feisty as well, isn’t he? Hungry for knowledge. Always about books and learning. He said as much himself. Is that how he wound you in?”
A single hand clenched where it was resting on the armrest and Lucien grinned. Everyone had a button that could be pushed, it was a matter of finding out what it was. The drow intrigued him. Introduced by Caleb simply as ‘Essek,’ it was clear he was an influential member of the Kryn Dynasty very far from home. Perplexing, that this irritating group of adventurers had somehow managed to tie him to them.
Caleb, for his part, was doing his best to ignore them both, spellbook and notes opened in front of him as he puzzled through a page offered by Essek. There was clearly something unsaid between them, something unacknowledged but known by everyone. The tension and reluctance ebbing and flowing as they refused to make eye contact, the way they gravitated towards each other before forcing themselves apart when they realised, the looks they gave while being so careful not to be caught. Lucien hasn’t yet to find a scab he couldn’t resist picking at.
Lucien leaned forward, close enough that he could pitch his voice for Essek’s ears alone.
“He’s not bad to look at either, if you’re into humans,” he said, voice dropping into a lilting purr. “Easy on the eyes, strong arms. I wonder… what it would take to get him to... unleash .”
There was a bang as Essek’s knee connected with the underside of the table and he jerked up out of his seat, ears twitching back as he spun around with the most delicious of expressions on his face. He appeared to be hovering a few inches above the ground without even realising it. Now that was interesting.
“Essek?” Caleb asked, confused and wary as he looked up, attention once again drawn away from the open pages in front of him.
Lucien watched as Essek’s expression flickered between annoyance, devastation, and longing before he schooled it into something akin to polite indifference.
“I--” started Essek, before breaking off. He turned back to Caleb. “I need… to get...”
Essek turned without finishing the sentence and floated out into the centre of the room and upwards, appearing to not need the assistance of the field in the centre of the chamber to rise between the levels.
“I’ll take that as my cue,” said Lucien, pushing up from his chair with a smug expression as he sauntered to follow Essek.
He was stopped by an invisible grasp on his arm. He turned, eyes flicking to see Caleb staring straight at him, eyes narrowed and suspicious.
“What are you doing.”
It was more of a statement than a question, really. Lucien shrugged and with half a thought dispelled the magic around his arm in a pulsing red flash.
“If you’re not going to go after him, then I will.”
“Leave him be. He’s not important to what you want.”
“Well, you can’t judge a book by its cover. There’s more than one use for people as I’m sure you know.”
“ Lucien --”
“Don’t worry, I won't touch a hair on his head without permission,” he said, just to see what Caleb would do.
The flush against his pale skin was worth it.
“Get back to your books and we’ll see who’s been a good boy later, hmm?”
Without waiting for a response, Lucien moved to the middle of the chamber and thought up. It really was a neat trick, the way this tower was built. The levels, the warmth, not to mention the kitchen and the food. Genius, really, and explained how they had managed to survive for as long as they had.
Stepping onto the landing outside the kitchen, Lucien caught sight of Essek through the open doorway, a hand across his mouth and his eyes closed. Cats were in this room too, darting about as they set up a tea service on mismatched tableware. He was still hovering, which was interesting. There were no spell glyphs that he could see, though there was a faint pulsing energy that he couldn’t make sense of.
Lucien leaned against the open doorway, continuing his quiet observation. There was a faint tremor in Essek’s hand as he picked up the cup, something vulnerable in the way his shoulders drooped and his ears twitched back when he didn’t think he was being observed. A rawness underneath the carefully controlled exterior that had been on display in the room below.
“I really am curious though,” said Lucien, causing Essek to jostle the cup enough to splash over his hands. Essek twirled around, letting go of the cup which floated back to the dining table of its own accord. “What it is that drew you here, considering we’re freezing our asses off in the middle of fucking nowhere, and you really don’t strike me as the adventuring type.”
“I am a researcher.” Essek’s voice was detached, practised. “A great many mysteries catch my attention. When they asked me to look at one with them, I had the time.” It was hard to detect any lie in the words.
“Sure, I’ll believe you. What is it about him, though? That has you coming out here?”
Lucien chuckled. “No really, what’s the real reason? There’s something between you two. I doubt I’m the only one who has noticed.”
“He is a friend and a student,” said Essek tersely.
“And quite the adept at magic. I don’t remember him mentioning you though, in all the days we’ve spent together.”
Essek’s eyes narrowed and he didn’t respond.
“Has it been a while? Since you’ve seen him?” Lucien grinned, pushing off the doorway as he moved towards Essek. “Do you miss him, miss how he feels against you? I wonder… is he a quiet one in bed, or a loud one?”
A ripple of dark purple arcane energy exploded around him. Lucien felt the air shift oddly, almost as if a heavy blanket had been thrown over him, making it difficult to move. Whispered screams filled the back of his head, as his eyes snapped to Essek who was wearing a look of devastation and anger. Lucien frowned, catching the last of the arcane glyphs as he felt a spell lock into place around him. It was new, this type of magic. New and oddly familiar. The consciousness that flowed through him recoiled, and a moment of fear flared before he quashed it.
He laughed quietly, lip curling up into a feral grin, masking the wild pulsing of his heartbeat.
“I really wish you hadn't done that.”
His eyes flashed red, right hand reaching out as he flared his fingers, and he felt the strange twisting gravity vanish.
“Not possible,” breathed Essek in Undercommon, eyes widening in a similar expression to one Caleb had worn days before.
Straightening, Lucien stalked the remaining distance between them, pausing only when Essek bumped into the long dining table behind him.
“There’s a lot of things that are possible when it all becomes unlocked,” he replied, leaning deliberately into Essek’s space. He raised his hand, turning it around as the eye shifted, tracking Essek even as Lucien broke Essek’s gaze to look at the eye on his palm. “Once you have seen it, it’s hard to resist its call, the gifts granted.”
“You didn’t cast counterspell. How --”
Frustration and hunger was clear on Essek’s face, one he had seen on the Nein at different times over the last few days, but this time, this time there was caution that spoke of years of experience. That warned Lucien that Essek wouldn’t be so easily caught the way the humans had been.
“You might want to ask your… friend down there about it. After all, he’s already taken the first step.”
Realisation dawned in Essek’s eyes as his expression morphed, the pieces of a puzzle becoming clear and clicking into place.
“Ah, so they have told you about it. Well, you play your cards right and you might get to witness Them yourself. There’s always room for more,” he said, voice shifting into a welcoming, rhythmic cadence intended to ensnare.
“What did you do to them?”
“Technically, they asked for it,” he said with a shrug. “Knowledge is a wonderful thing, is it not?”
“ What did you do to Caleb ?” Essek demanded, a panicked edge to his voice that Lucien was sure he was desperately trying to conceal.
“Nothing beyond providing a bit of light reading,” he said reassuringly. It was, after all, the truth.
Something about his words had the opposite effect. Essek held his gaze, defiant energy radiating through it.
“He is not yours.”
“But you see, he is also not yours. That makes him fair game as far as I’m concerned,” said Lucien, stepping back as he licked his lips, letting his fangs show slightly. “I’ll let you in on a secret, Essek. If you want something you have to be bold enough to take it .”
“ He is not yours .”
Lucien chuckled, the exact tone that he knew put people on edge.
“Well, you better make a move then. I’m not known to be one who shares.”
A lie. But Essek did not need to know that.
The drow snarled, hand snapping up and connecting to Lucien’s chest. A familiar arcane energy gripped him and twisted --
Lucien blinked, shaking his head as blackness cleared from his vision. Essek was no longer in front of him, and in fact was nowhere to be seen. Lucien turned on the spot, eyes activating as he tried to work out what had happened. There was a growing pit of dread in his stomach, as he realised that this wizard might be more dangerous than he thought. He caught the edge of a cloak vanishing out of the door, and debated going after him or giving them a head start. It wasn’t like they could go far.
The study area of the library when he returned to it was empty, papers and pens left on the table, though it looked like both spellbooks had been taken with them. He could go searching, or could just look . He lowered himself back into the chair he occupied earlier, and using the eye they shared, threw out his consciousness into the expanse of this little pocket dimension.
The image when it focused and coalesced was of an unfamiliar room, if it was even a room at all. A sea of stars met Lucien’s gaze, distantly flickering in and out, casting the room in an inky-blue glow. The targets of his scry were located in the middle, and though Lucien couldn’t see a platform, there must have been one as Essek took a step towards Caleb. He focused in, and concentrated, rewarded with conversation a moment later.
“--you should know better,” hissed Essek, anger and disappointment laced through his words. “Did you not even think to take a precaution?”
“You cannot be… be lecturing me on risks--”
“Mitigate the risks, Caleb,” snapped Essek. “I told you all--”
“--or have you forgotten that despite all of it, I made sure to have safeguards in place, I took my time and I planned it? Until you all, I avoided suspicion for years ?”
Lucien paused at that, contemplating. Essek sounded like he had experience in less than legal activities, and maybe this was the hold they had on him, the source of the tension between them all. He wondered what it would take for him to find out, what button he could press that would get them to admit what this whole deviation had been.
“Show me.” The demand and challenge was clear in the set of Essek’s jaw, in the way his pointed ears were pressed back, in the crossed arms he gripped in front of himself.
There was a hint of defiance in Caleb’s eyes, and Lucien wondered if he would refuse on the principle of it. Neither spoke, each waiting to see who would crack first. Even from his odd vantage point, Lucien could feel the building tension between them, unchecked where they thought they were unobserved for the first time all evening. There was no avoidant gaze now, no hesitation in the way they stared at each other, the gravity between them.
Caleb swore in a tongue unfamiliar to Lucien and reached for the laces of his shirt, untying it in a business-like fashion. A glance to Essek showed triumph in his eyes, and a flicker of anticipation as he uncrossed his arms and took another step forward. Caleb tugged the shirt over his head, exposing his pale skin inch by inch. It took on a faintly blue glow in the light of the stars, the single red eye on his shoulder standing out with its bright glow in stark comparison.
They had definitely told Essek more than they had let on. A problem for later.
It was hard to look away, not that Lucien wanted to. They made quite the pair, Caleb bare to his waist with hair falling out of his tie, Essek covered from head to foot, not a hair out of place. Lucien licked his lips and sat back against the wall, eyes shifting as he focused in again.
Essek had reached a hand out, arcane energy sparking at the tips as he waited to be granted permission it seemed. At Caleb’s nod, the hand made contact. Lucien felt the flare of magic against his own mark. Felt it flare and flicker out, a weird duality to see the see it happening elsewhere, and to feel the echo of it against his own skin.
Essek didn’t remove his hand, even as the magic faded and Caleb looked down where it was not quite obscuring the glow of the eye beneath.
Essek’s tone had shifted, the anger from before replaced by something far softer and more delicate.
Caleb’s eyes flicked closed as Essek’s hand shifted up and across Caleb’s shoulder, coming to rest against the back of Caleb’s neck. There was a faint tremor in Caleb’s posture, and Lucien saw Essek tangle his hand in the hair at the nape of Caleb’s neck. Essek’s other hand came to cup the side of Caleb’s face, thumb brushing against Caleb’s cheek.
“Caleb,” Essek repeated, and Lucien realised that under it all, there was something real here. Something dangerous for both of them. Something to be exploited.
“I am scared, Essek.”
“You are not his, Caleb. I won’t let you be taken by this if you don’t want to be,” said Essek, the hand in Caleb’s hair clenching in a way that belied the sense of calm of the words evoked. “Neither will the Nein.”
Caleb huffed a breath, eyes opening as his face crumpled. Wrapping his arms around Caleb and pulling him gently forward, Essek made a soothing noise as he ran a hand up and down Caleb’s spine. Essek’s face was a storm of emotions, ruin and tender care battling as he pressed his lips to Caleb’s forehead. It was so brief, that Lucien thought he had imagined it.
The hitch of Caleb’s breath and the way Caleb’s head tipped back to capture Essek’s lips was far more deliberate. As were the hands that reached up from Caleb and fumbled with the clasp of Essek’s complicated cloak and shoved it from his shoulders.
The groan that caused Essek to release was positively delicious.
Lucien grinned to himself, drawing back from the vision in his mind and blinking to dispel it. He shifted in the chair, slouching down in a long, low line, tipped his head back and laughed. Now that was an image he wouldn’t forget any time soon. Nor was it one he wouldn’t plan to exploit at a time that was advantageous to him. He might enjoy sharing this one with them when the timing was right.