Copyright 2016 Ashe Thurman
Published by Ashe Thurman at Shakespir
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Table of Contents
When the gates first opened on Latolan some eight hundred years ago, the only thing the first explorers found were the drunken ruins of a civilization at least a thousand years dead. Since then, The District has taken advantage of the relative neutrality to make the world the home of its headquarters and most of its government funded projects. The only major settlement is Tomar, a single, 80 mile wide city-state containing a number of prestigious universities and private schools, The Grand Tomar Library, and the main hall of several technical and magical guilds. The kaleidoscopic native population is joined by the seasonal residents of Starlight Vale, off-world wealth and nobility with the disposable income and inclination to keep a second estate in the lush hills and meadow-lands set aside on one edge of the city proper just for that purpose.
“So, er, did anything particularly interesting happen on your last procurement?”
Thresh waved his hand vaguely.
“I met a human woman who was choosing to present as male for reasons other than dysphoria or personal preference.”
“Oh.That’s…less exciting than I expected.”
“Really?” And he leaned forward, making a v-shape with his arms on the table and tenting his fingers in front of his chin. “She bound her breasts and wore pieces of very structured clothing that she admitted didn’t fit her right because it was made for average male skeletal and fat proportions. Her human masculine posturing also led to unnecessary escalation of physical conflict as a way to overcompensate for what she perceived as her natural human feminine tendencies. And, in her own words, she only did these things because she didn’t want to appear as a target while traveling through the backroads. And she wasn’t physically weak by any means. A scrapper-I’d suppose you’d call it-who didn’t back down easily but knew when she was outpaced. Fairly well-suited to her lifestyle overall. However, this young woman was so ensconced in a specific sexual-social narrative, she felt she had to physically alter herself via deleterious means just to engage in her preferred activity.” He paused, gazing at me expectantly.
“Yeah?” I tried to prompt. Thresh narrowed his eyes.
“You don’t find that fascinating?”
“You’re supposed to know where Thresh is?”
I looked down from the top of the ladder where I was pulling a book from the topmost shelf. Well she was certainly a pretty little thing, skirt full with a layer or two of lace petticoat and a fitted vest. All very fashionable at the moment. Her brown hair was cut short with a weird patch of gray in the back that was partially covered by a headband. I scurried down to the floor and tried on the whole charming smile thing that I was still trying to nail.
“Yes, I’m Rasheed, and I’m his assistant…liaison…thing…Did you need to speak with him?”
She shrugged a little, unsure.
“I had a test this morning and finished early, so I thought I’d stop by to see if he wanted to do lunch or something. If he’s busy though…”
“No, no. He’s back in his office. Come on.” I did my best not to look as nonplussed as I felt. A cute young human college girl just shows up to see Thresh, a somewhat doddering academic that you couldn’t hold a conversation with without it turning into doctoral thesis presentation. And he was a trenglate on top of it, all scales and claws. He was the first one I had ever met, and I was at least ten years her senior. The fact that she was on a first name basis with the guy was weird and intriguing all at once, and I needed to know more.
I knocked on the door of his office. He called out to enter, and I pushed the heavy wooden door open slowly.
“Did you find the book?” He asked immediately, his three fingered hand held out for it, scales sliding against each other with a soft scrape. He hadn’t even bothered to look up. I set the book in his hand.
“I did indeed, and I’ve got something else for you. A visitor.”
On the word “visitor” he looked up sharply, and the strangest expression broke across his face. A smile.
“Anne Marie, how are you, dearest?” He hopped up from his chair and nearly skipped his way around the desk to meet her. He rubbed his face against hers, and she responded in kind. Now, I had learned from him that rubbing ones faceplates against another was a common trenglate greeting among close friends and family. I hadn’t actually seen him do it, yet, though, and it was…cute, actually. Like a giant cat.
“What brings you around?” he asked.
“I had some extra time. Lunch?”
He threw his hands up. “Yes, that would be delightful. Just let me finish this write up while the thoughts are still in my head.” He flounced back to his chair and started scribbling furiously.
I watched her watching him and kept wondering where this girl fit into the life I knew of Thresh’s so far. He was a librarian and a field researcher, a man whose best friends were a professor of archaeology, a cartographer, and a horticulturist. All of them different species and none of them human; I had happened upon them all sharing a strong drink at a pub down the road. The horticulturist was a little more energetic than I would have expected, but they all fit together as a clique incredibly well.
“You’re in college? What’re you studying?” I asked searchingly.
She flashed her face toward me. “Psychology at Poasgers.”
She wasn’t terribly invested in it, it seemed, but that was about right for the school. It was the sort of university you went to when all you really wanted was the name on your diploma. That probably wasn’t the connection, then. When she tucked her hair behind her ear, I saw a flash of shiny on her ring finger. An engagement ring? Engaged to someone that Thresh knew, perhaps? I kept staring at her, hoping the longer I looked at her the clearer it would become.
Then the warmness started in my chest at the bottom of my ribcage. Slowly, like a faucet with a bad leak, I felt it trickle down into my belly. Then…lower. I curled my toes in my shoes and felt my throat tighten. I was staring at her still, but now, I suddenly realized, she was staring back at me. Not overtly, just sideways from the corner of her eye, her head still bowed like she was looking at Thresh. The world around her was foggy, but she was in focus. What was this? What was happening?
I snapped to attention. Thresh was peering up at me from his desk, hand paused over half a word on the paper.
“How very rude of me,” he said. “Rasheed, this is Anne Marie Ochrie. She did some work with me this past summer on my last field expedition. I do believe I’ve mentioned her before.”
I passed my attention back to her, but now she was looking down at the floor. There was a cringe on her face as though she were anticipating something. I searched my memory.
“Oh? Oh! Are you the girl who dressed like a man?” I was saying without realizing it. The revelation had been so abrupt, my mouth got to it before my brain did. She made a disgusted noise in Thresh’s general direction.
“Really? Am I just ‘the cross dresser’ when you talk about your adventures?” She shifted her weight between her feet a few times, annoyed.
“In my defense it was the third most fascinating part of that whole expedition for me.”
“Third? What’re -oh…” She blushed scarlet.
One and two must have been quite interesting, but the likelihood of me hearing about them was minimal at best. I had been working under him for months, now, and he’d barely shared a few vague anecdotes about his years in field research. There always seemed to be a story brewing just right under the surface that he was unwilling to share. But maybe this Anne Marie might have a looser a tongue? I worked through a few scenarios quickly in my head. Yes. I had one.
“Lady Ochrie,” she bit out at me, still giving Thresh a death glare.
“Uh, sure, Lady Ochrie,” I corrected hesitantly. Tomar didn’t have nobility or royalty, but the off-worlders were quite adept at throwing their titles around as though it meant something to anyone but themselves. It was better to play it safe considering what I wanted from her, though. “I was just thinking that since he’s still finishing up, I could give you a little behind the scenes tour of the library while you wait?”
Thresh cut me off. “Actually, I need you to help me finish this up very quickly Rasheed. Anne, why don’t you wait for me in those chairs out by the circulation desk. It shouldn’t be more than a minute or two.”
Anne Marie raised an eyebrow at him, but moved away from the desk without another word. As she passed, however, I felt another flash of heat that I had to choke down. I watched the last trailing end of her skirt disappear through the door.
I snapped my head back to Thresh who was now tapping his pen against the desk in agitation.
“On the off chance that she drops by again, don’t allow yourself to be alone with her. I understand that she’s quite attractive and I’m sure you want the chance to exercise your favorite human mating display on her, but it will get you into trouble.”
I squinted at him. “Are you telling me not to hit on your friend? Is that what’s happening here?”
“Yes? I’m confused as to why you’re confused. I feel like I missed something.”
“It’s just so protective of you. I didn’t know you were the type.”
He chuckled a little bit. “You’re the one I’m protecting, not her. She’s a succubus.”
“Oh come on, just because a girl might flirt a little…”
“No.” Thresh was scanning my face as though he were reading a book in one of the few languages he didn’t understand. “She’s literally a succubus. A psychophage. A person who obtains sustenance from biochemical reactions relating to arousal and sexual gratification. A vampire.”
It took a moment for this information to sink in.
“No shit,” I said quietly. “A real life succubus? Her? Really?”
“What else would you expect?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never met one before.” I saw her in my head again. She was still a normal college girl. Well, except for one thing. “Was she trying to glamour me…or…whatever?” That would have explained the warm feeling. I bit back a smile as I thought about it. I had heard it was a scary thing to be glamoured by a vampire, but this Anne Marie was entirely non-threatening. This made her attempt to enthrall me almost…flattering. She wanted me.
“It’s entirely possibly, but I wouldn’t take it personally,” he responded glancing back down at his papers. There went that little inkling of self-indulgence. “Her engagement becomes official next week, so I imagine she’s looking for a last hurrah or two. Don’t get caught up in it, though,” he was looking back up at me, incredibly serious again. “On her home-world, the Ochries are an incredibly powerful family, and her fiancé is very nearly royalty. You don’t want to be caught up in a scandal. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to hurry and finish this up.” He immediately sunk back down into his writing. I shuffled my way back out of his office.
The sound of her voice right outside the door flew at me out of nowhere. There was that heat again, too, pooling in the bottom of my belly more intense than before. I pushed it out through my toes. Now I was starting to see the danger. She tilted her head at me curiously.
“Damn. He told you didn’t he?” She crossed her arms across her chest and leaned back against the wall across from me.
“Yeah? Is that a problem?”
“Not really. But it’s a lot harder to glamour a person who knows it’s happening. Not worth the effort.”
“So you were trying to glamour me!” A little spark in my self-confidence reignited.
She made a tsking sound. “Don’t take it personally.” And there it went again. “I was just trying to mess with Thresh. He gets jealous and it’s hilarious because he refuses to admit it. So, you know, if you’re working for him, and you want to bring him down a peg, there’s a free one for you.”
“Wait, jealous?” I felt a clicking sound in my brain, like little pieces were coming together to form something bigger. The way his eyes lit up, the face rubs, the casual way they talked to each other, the third most fascinating thing… “Were you and he….?” I ventured.
She smirked. She effing smirked.
“I’m going to go wait down in the spot where he told me to so he doesn’t have a conniption fit. See you later, Rasheed.” The bottom hem of her skirt flitted and fluttered as she turned, and she was around the corner, taking the heat with her.
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When the gates first opened on Latolan some eight hundred years ago, the only thing the first explorers found were the drunken ruins of a civilization at least a thousand years dead. Since then, The District has taken advantage of the relative neutrality to make the world the home of its headquarters and most of its government funded projects. The only major settlement is Tomar, a single, 80 mile wide city-state containing a number of prestigious universities and private schools, The Grand Tomar Library, and the main hall of several technical and magical guilds. The kaleidoscopic native population is joined by the seasonal residents of Starlight Vale, off-world wealth and nobility with the disposable income and inclination to keep a second estate in the lush hills and meadow-lands set aside on one edge of the city proper just for that purpose. She's pretty in her petticoats, but, according a man who's a little bit frightening himself, she's a creature to be feared. But is it jealously that drives his warning? A direct sequel to "A Question of Culture."