Aurora Lee Thornton has a new queer fantasy book out: “All or None.”
In a world where everyone has a soulmate, uniquely powerful mage Royiora and reluctant assassin Kalo collide in the worst of ways.
Royiora Daralkaen, the only mage alive able to use all five kinds of magic, has a near idyllic childhood in the country of Porescalia – before war breaks out with their antagonistic neighbors, Kloria.
Kalo Porla, a naturally magic-proof individual known as a Null, is trained to be as an assassin by the authoritarian empire known as the Domain.
When Kalo and his partner assassin are sent to kill a mage and his apprentice, it starts a journey neither man was prepared to begin.
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Is this our destination? Roy considered, but chose to wait to find out.
His assumption turned out to be correct, as Kalo sighed in relief when he saw it, leading the way right to the door and knocking.
A woman of Kalo’s race answered it, even with the same red skin and gray hair. She laughed and pulled his soulmate into a hug when she saw him, before pulling back and flicking his ear with something even Roy recognized as an admonishment.
The assassin replied something tiredly, walking past the woman with the slight limp he’d had for the past week or so.
Then she turned to the mage, and in perfect Porescalian said, “And you must be my brother’s soulmate. Hello, I’m Rela.”
Roy flinched in surprise, then cleared his throat and shook the proffered hand, “Yes, uh… I’m Royiora.”
“Do you shorten it?” Rela asked, ushering him inside, “I read most Porescalian men do.”
“Um, yes,” the Porescalian man replied, “I usually go by Roy.”
The horned woman nodded, half pushing him past high vaulted halls into another room, “You must be freezing – come on, let’s get you something warm to drink. I’m sure you have plenty of questions Kalo couldn’t answer.”
Roy didn’t get a word in until after Rela had taken the borrowed coat and replaced it with a surprisingly warm blanket, sitting him at a table in what appeared to be a study or classroom with the promised hot drink.
“There are warmth runes inside the stuffing,” someone said, and then a strange looking man with six arms and blue skin hung down from the ceiling. Unlike Rela and Kalo, he had purple glowing eyes, and held out one of his arms, “Hello, I’m Xia – Rela’s one of my soulmates, and this is our home.”
“Uh, hello,” the mage said, shaking as he looked up at the rest of the man’s insectoid body clinging to the ceiling, “I’m… Roy.”
“Nice to meet you, Roy,” Xia said, skittering over a bit to lower himself to the ground, “Rela and I took the trouble of learning your language some time ago, as our other two soulmates appear to be Porescalian as well.”
“And Kalo asked me to translate his soul writing when we were kids,” Rela said, sitting across from Roy, “He was so very excited to meet you, you know. Though, judging by the state of the two of you, I’m guessing it wasn’t under happy circumstances.”
“Not… exactly, no,” Roy said, feeling comfortably warm for the first time in a while. He took a sip of the drink – it was oddly nutty, but enjoyable nonetheless, “Uh… what… is Kalo?”
Rela snorted, “A bit of a pain in the ass, honestly.”
Xia laughed, and went over to the chalkboard in the room. He cleared it with a bit of arcane magic, and started drawing, “Kalo is what we call a ‘null’ – magic doesn’t affect him, and he can absorb it to fuel pseudo-magic abilities of a limited range.”
The strange insect man pulled back to reveal the celestial star, with words written underneath each point.
“Divine magic gives him self-regenerative abilities and invisibility,” Xia said, pointing to Radzmia’s crystal throne, then moved on to Pelzz’s obelisk, “Arcane provides mental acuity and teleportation,” onto Ruelop’s spring, “Physical resistance and enhanced senses,” Guulruf’s nine-pointed star, “Physical strength and shadow walking,” and finally, Forea’s whirlpool, “And physical speed and water breathing.”
“They identified him and our cousin when they were five,” Rela said, smiling, “We were all so excited – the government provided us stipends for their education and care. Us, a little provincial family of no repute.”
“So it’s an…” Roy struggled to keep up as the warmth and stillness worked on relaxing him to the point of drowsiness.
“That’s what they told us,” the woman snorted, taking a drink, ears flicking, “But when they were twelve, they went to the Institute.”
“Where they train them to be tools of the Trinity,” Xia sighed, coming back to the table.
“The… Trinity?” Roy asked.
“Our leaders, Frezians like Xia,” Rela supplied, then shook her head. She looked up at the mage, “Let me tell you about what happened to my brother.”
Kalo was so glad to finally lay down on a pad and sleep without worrying about being attacked. Rela had said she’d talk to Royiora, explain things, and he trusted her to do so.
His sister and Hult might be the only people he trusted anymore.
The null didn’t know how much time had passed before there was a gentle touch on his shoulder, and his soulmate saying his name softly.
Kalo sighed, forcing himself to sit up and turn to look at the mage.
Royiora frowned at him, then his eyes lit up gold and he hesitantly reached up and laid a hand on the null’s cheek.
The assassin understood, but still hesitated himself before kissing his soulmate. It wasn’t like the time when he’d had to stop Royiora from killing them both by causing a cave in – it was slow, deceptively intimate.
He only took enough to heal his current injuries before pulling back.
The mage was still frowning at him. Royiora’s gaze fell – to the arm which used to have Kalo’s soul writing on it.
The assassin sighed, and unwrapped it. What did you go and tell him, Rela?
Kalo held the arm out, rough, burnt skin obviously clear of writing on display.
His soulmate reached out hesitantly, gentle fingertips brushing over the scarred skin. Then he took a sudden breath, hand jerking back as if he were the one burned.
Kalo looked up to see the other man crying. He shook his head, reaching out without thought to cup his soulmate’s face and brush away the tears with his thumbs, “No, don’t – don’t cry over me. I don’t deserve that.”
Royiora stared up at him, and something like resolve seemed to enter his eyes. He pushed up, barely hesitating before kissing Kalo himself.
At first, the null didn’t know how to react. This wasn’t an exchange, it wasn’t necessary. It couldn’t be affection – so what was it?
And then Royiora’s hand brushed over his burns again, and it clicked – sympathy.
Aurora is a nonbinary, asexual writer with a new goal in life: to write the queerest books possible. (And yes, xe means gay, but also weird is good too.)
Xe loves dragons and fantasy, and someday hopes to complete a (soft) science fiction novel as well. Currently, xe lives with xyr two cats.
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