QSFer Olivia Helling has a new bi/gay historical fantasy romance out: “Requiem Inverted.”
A trapped recruit. A genius sorcerer. When war turns the world upside down, will they dare to fight for love?
Ben knew the price for surviving the exalted University of Magic: keep his head down and his mouth shut, no matter what. He never expected to attract the interest of the genius magician Maurice. He certainly never dreamed that Maurice would love him back.
Whether experimenting in his laboratory or protesting the current regime, Maurice has never found a problem he can’t argue his way out of. That is, until he starts dating his shy fellow classmate, and Ben simply refuses to argue back. When Ben is called up to fight an unjust war, Maurice brews the argument of the century. Anything to keep Ben safe.
But when a spell goes wrong, Maurice’s life is on the line. Will Ben destroy his remaining hope and dare to speak out?
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Ben had long accepted that he’d never design protection wards for the state or publish a magical theory paper, but he knew one spell that allowed him to survive three years at the University of Magic. He knew how to be invisible.
It wasn’t actually a spell. No such spell existed. But he knew how to keep his shoulders hunched, avoid all eye contact, and most importantly of all, keep his mouth shut.
He also knew he shouldn’t lurk outside that gilded door. Maurice’s door. Not in his military uniform. He smoothed down his jacket, as if removing the wrinkles would make the stark black fabric any less obvious to Maurice.
But he needed to be there. He needed to glimpse his boyfriend, to hold him in his arms, to have Maurice rub his back and whisper that everything was going to be all right as he smoothed away all the memories of lacerations and blood and death scoring Ben’s mind—
Ben caught himself rushing for the door and threw his shoulder into the panelled wall to stop himself, jostling portraits of important dead patricians. Idiot.
Maurice’s voice carried through the half-open door. Good, he hadn’t noticed the clatter outside his laboratory.
Ben needed to breathe. Sweat cooled against the back of his neck. He couldn’t let Maurice see his uniform. After one glimpse, he’d retreat and change. Then maybe he could dare to knock on Maurice’s door.
Another voice joined Maurice’s. A female voice. Maurice laughed, the sound low and rolling. The way Maurice laughed in bed, curled around Ben.
Ben slid his boots along the marble floor, trying to avoid detection. The open door offered a slice of a worktable, its bulky legs and plainness sticking out among these hallowed halls as much as Ben did. Beneath the table, Maurice’s school uniform jacket had slipped off the stool and lay pooled next to his violin case. Behind piles of papers and books, his most handsome, most charming, most marvellous Maurice Menenius jabbed at his notes.
Maurice had yet to find a dress code regulation that he didn’t flaunt. He’d stripped to his patrician-purple waistcoat, rolled up his shirtsleeves, untucked his shirttails, and yanked his tie loose. Most damning of all, he tucked his too-long blond hair behind his ear to show off his hoop earring.
The dean had threatened sanctions and Maurice’s father had once again threatened to disown him, but neither of those threats had stopped him from wearing the hoop. After a flurry of tense missives, Lord Menenius had donated a new section to the library.
Maurice hadn’t told his family about Ben. Ben hoped he never did.
Lord Menenius would approve of the girl Maurice was currently grinning at. Had approved, actually. Eleanor had the same arched nose and long face all patricians seemed to have. Maurice scoffed a patrician-scoff whenever Ben dared to mention it. Maurice couldn’t see it. He had never needed to notice the small differences between the classes.
And like Maurice, Eleanor was both beautiful and clever. After battling each other for the highest grade point average for the past three years, the two of them were still tied. Although if Ben mentioned that, Maurice would act wounded that Ben hadn’t noticed that Maurice had the higher grade in protective magic. Eleanor would trumpet that she had the higher grade in infused magic. Decimal points were extremely important.
Eleanor scoffed. “Only a madman would claim that.”
“It’s here, in black and white.” Maurice stabbed the note again.
“Just because you wrote it down, does not a fact make.” She peered closer. “And what does this even say? ‘Divide the quotient by the sim—’ You couldn’t even bother to finish the sentence.”
“Because it’s obvious!”
“Exclamation marks also don’t prove anything.” Eleanor rolled a shoulder and snorted.
Ben’s heart clenched. Was this what a heart attack felt like?
Or was this what it felt like to lose Maurice?
The two had dated in their first year, before Ben had even been a dot on their horizon. Ben had spent most of that year crouching in the meal hall and hiding in his dorm while the other first years basked in Maurice’s presence. Maurice had reigned over his fellow patricians, his queen at his side, as they debated magical theory far beyond anything taught in the introductory classes.
If Ben ever argued with Maurice like that, Maurice would drop Ben faster than last season’s fashions.
Ben shifted his head, trying to shake the thought loose. Maurice had dated Eleanor for four months, then moved on to Tiffany, then Prisma, Katrina, Lisa, Aeria, Osa… None had lasted long. None had remained exclusive. Maurice liked sex. He liked variety. He liked to get whatever he wanted.
Ben had lasted the longest. That should count for something. Even if Maurice moved on before Ben even left for the front lines.
Biting his knuckles, he whirled to outrace his thoughts and slammed into a navy wall. “Watch where you’re going!”
Even a plebeian like Ben could yell at a wall.
Except he hadn’t run into a wall. It was soft and squishy, and flew back when Ben had hit it. It snarled. “Mr Brand!”
Olivia Helling writes the dark fantasy series GODSBANE PRINCE and the historical fantasy romance series DAMON SNOW. Although she grew up an avid book lover, she couldn’t find the LGBTQ fantasy she’d always wanted. So now she writes them herself.
With a Religion & Culture degree and a love of history, she crafts wonderfully dark worlds and malicious gods. As if that weren’t trial enough, she burdens her protagonists with her own struggles of vulnerability and self-doubt, love and obsession. But through twists and intrigue that keep readers guessing to the last page, characters and readers alike finally emerge like a light in the darkness.