AGNPH Stories

Dance of Masks by Arcane_Reno


Dance of Masks

15th of March, 1695


My dear friend Matthew,

After a long and harrowing journey, I trust you will take heart in the

knowledge that I have at last arrived at my destination. Two days travel by ship, and three more by zebstrika carriage have left me profoundly road-worn. But, I shall not bore you with such details. Allow me instead a moment of indulgence in relating to you my arrival at the grand estate of the infamous marquis of masks.

Some two miles travel from the nearest town of Laverre, the estate crouches atop a thickly forested hill. Ambitious fool that I am, I elected to walk the final distance, wishing to stretch my legs after so long in close quarters, and to send for my things at my lodgings later, should my venture prove a success.

The brisk air of mid-morning was pleasant at first, though the sky lay overcast with the threat of rain (I had the foresight to carry an umbrella), and prevented my exertions from turning to sweat. As I began the winding climb up the road towards the estate, however, it was as if winter chose that moment to remind us that it has not yet let go of the land. A stirring wind scrabbled at my coat and rustled about under my shirt, chilling me to the bone. Above me, the dark spires of the manor reared up between scraggle pine—by any regard, a stark and unwelcoming sight—and were I one to fall prey to superstitions, I might have ascribed the event as an ill omen.

Yet, you know I would not be so easily turned from my goal. Three quarters of the hour more found me before the wrought-iron gates of the manor grounds. Pausing a moment to adjust my disheveled hair with my grooming kit, I strode up to the looming gates, and awaited the pleasure of my host's staff to attend my calling.

I do not know how long I waited, certainly far past the point of decency. Observing the grounds though the vine-patterned bars, there appeared none of the activity one would expect from such an impressive manor. A berry orchard, still awaiting its leaves from the turn of season, lay to the south of the main gate. The brickwork of the wall surrounding the grounds—and that of the path leading through manicured hedges up to the house entry—was well-kept and sturdy, and both the lawns and even the ivy crawling up those walls appeared neatly trimmed. The man must have groundskeepers then, and even were they not about their work, would one of the house staff not have observed me by now?

Surmising that I may need to take matters into my own hands, and apologize for my manners later if needed, I dared to push upon the gate. To my surprise, it opened with nary a squeak, its hinges well-oiled, granting me entry to the grounds. Still, no one emerged to challenge me. The chill wind had arisen once more, turning the prospect of waiting further into one most dire. I walked unescorted to the main door of the house, and—mildly offended on my host's behalf at the action—made use of the pyroar head brass knockers. Three resonant thunks resounded, raising the scent of oil and dust. No one had come to call in such a way for some time.

My misgivings grew as no answer to my intrusion came still, though surely that knock would have been heard throughout the surrounding chambers inside the house. I peered about, seeking a glimpse of motion through any of the three stories of windows. Not so much as a whisper of curtain. Was I to try this door as well? Were visitors so infrequent here that the staff did not know what to do with them?

The door yawned open so abruptly, I nearly fell back onto my bottom in surprise. I had not heard the faintest footfall from inside! No face peered out at me from the dark wedge between the two doors. Instead, a pale, violet glow wavered just out of sight. Swallowing my shock, I ventured, "Hello? I trust I am not intruding greatly. My name is Edward. Edward Gravely, of Geosenge. Son of Lord Gravely? I have come seeking an audience with the marquis."

That dreadful gash of darkness widened, and I barely contained a gasp. The violet light came from a spectral figure, malignant yellow eyes studying me intently from either side of a lavender flame, hovering imbalanced in the doorway. The apparition emitted a low, mournful chiming, and while my heart still raced, my mind slowed to rationality. A pokémon! Nothing more, though one I had never seen, and of ghastly visage, appearing in such a manner.

Spinning, the lamp-like creature floated back from the door, turned when I did not follow, and let out another of those unsettling whistles.

"You are inviting me inside?"

It bobbed in the air. Taking this to be an affirmative, I stepped over the threshold. How odd, to employ a pokémon as a member of staff charged with welcoming guests! Perhaps there was more to this picture, and the human staff were indisposed?

I followed my buoyant host, its own light adding to that of low-dimmed gas lamps in sconces around the entry hall. Typical of most such estates, sweeping staircases permitted access to the upper floors, while on either side, doors of dark wood promised secrets untold. My footsteps echoed across black and white tiled marble, polished well enough that even in the gloom I caught a spectre of my frazzled reflection. Strange too, that all was set as though it were the middle of the night, rather than the afternoon.

My guide lead me to a small antechamber, and bade me to wait with a series of sharp chimes and a nod towards an armchair next to a cold hearth. A painting of a stern countenanced man of middle years and in formal dress hung over the hearth. This room was similarly lit to the outer one, and in the servant's absence, I took the liberty of borrowing one of the oil lamps from a wall sconce to peruse the two large bookshelves set opposite the hearth. Thick tomes on such subjects as history, philosophy, mathematics, geography; even such arcane topics as alchemy and herbology lined the shelves, with nary a speck of dust. If the lord of this manse had indeed consumed all of this literature, I could only conclude he must be a man of formidable mind indeed.

When my enigmatic caretaker returned, appearing suddenly at the open door and chiming at me, I managed to maintain my dignity. Replacing the borrowed lamp (my possession of which earned a whistle and bob of the creature's body, perhaps in reprimand, perhaps in approval) I fell into step behind its hovering form, to be lead deeper into the dim confines of the house.

We passed through several doors and turnings of passage, which gave me the impression that it would be easy to become turned about within these halls. At last, we arrived at a large drawing room, its hearth lit though stoked low, lending a cozy warmth to the otherwise gloomy atmosphere. Stuffed couches and chairs clustered about small tea tables in the height of tasteful fashion, capable of facilitating either a large gathering of guests or a smaller more intimate affair. In another corner, a grand piano lurked next to a cello resting on its stand, no players about to offer music beyond the crackling of the fire.

Around the edges of the room, a macabre display quickened my breath. Mournful red eyes floated in midair, peering at me from above twisted, pained faces that seemed at first human, but on second fearful glance seemed to be ghastly masks, tightly gripped in a ghostly hand. Each fearful visage was unique, but all shared that same aspect of expressions frozen in torment or regret, visions of human agony surrounding me on all sides in a manner to set one's knees to trembling!

I am proud to say, my dear friend, that even through this, I remained steadfast, though my guts surely churned.

More of the curious spectral lamp creatures hovered in attendance amongst the silent watchers, alongside what must have been their younger brethren—a pokémon with the appearance of a half-melted candle, relegated to sit aglow upon the floor like some will-o-wisp. Their combined violet luminescence added enough light to the room that the shadows did not cling so harshly—enough that their hideous masked counterparts resolved into fellow pokémon, rather than some unknown arcane evil.

In the centre of it all, seated in a wing-backed armchair near the hearth, sat a lone man. Similar in appearance to the man I had seen in the painting previously, though clearly a descendant and not the same. Dark black hair—neatly combed and falling to his shoulders—matched a pointed, oiled beard, sharp blue eyes watching me from above a truly aquiline nose and steepled fingers. He appeared of middle years, perhaps ten more than my own three and twenty, and was dressed in a striking black and red silk smoking jacket.

Upon seeing my host, I offered a formal bow, apologizing for my unexpected calling. He acknowledged this with a nod and assurance that it was no great imposition, and bade me to sit in the chair opposite him to discuss my business.

"Good sir," I said, once such formalities had concluded, "I have no wish to dilly-dally with your valuable time. I have journeyed far to seek this audience with you, in the hopes that you might entertain a unique—and, dare I say, bold—proposition."

His lips twitched, as though he had just sampled a most unfavourable wine. "Very well," he said—his voice was a rich baritone, and he spoke with the confidence of one accustomed to being heeded. Perhaps a man of military experience? "What have you to sell me, young master Gravely?"

I hastened to reassure him. "No no, nothing so common as that, my Lord. I am not one taken to mercantile exploits. This is an offer of more… intangible nature. I can safely presume, sir, that you are familiar with the practice of wardship?"

"You may. A practice largely extinct." Looking me up and down, his lips twitched again. "You are rather old for such a thing in any right, and from what I recall, your father is in good health still even were you an orphan under age. Are you seeking to foist some child born out of wedlock onto me?"

"No sir, nothing of that scandalous nature," I replied, my fingers gripping the arms of the chair to steady myself under the combined weight of his piercing gaze, coupled with the stares of his watching servants. "I speak not of the asylum and care that is needed in such affairs. Instead I refer to the learning and… molding of the ward in question, of their tutelage at the hands of their lord. Perhaps a more accurate term would be 'apprentice', though that may seem crude. Sir, if I may be so bold, it is my understanding that you have no heir, nor a wife to produce one."

His eyebrow arched, and I thought I caught a glimpse of amusement. "Good of you to be so concerned about my succession."

Having no witty reply, I could only nod. "You see, my Lord, word has spread even to Geosenge of the mysterious and solitary Marquis Ruslan de Bulgakov, the infamous Marquis of Masks, of your fine conduct and character, and demonstrated shrewd wit. It is said that few are your equal in debate, and fewer still in affairs of state." I leaned forward, not needing to feign my admiration. "It is said that the queen herself sends personal missives to you, seeking counsel." I did not add the more ribald rumours, of how he must have a secret mistress, given how readily he turned aside the advances of young ladies at formal gatherings, or how he never appeared in public without a masquerade mask covering half of his face. It was clear that the whispers of some horrible scarring or other hideous visage were false.

He remained impassive, though that brow still quirked as though in question or mirth. "It is good to know that my reputation for reclusive behaviour and supposed secret dealings with the devil are not the only tales which travel far. But what, pray tell, does this flattering description have to do with your presence at my home?"

"Wardship, my Lord," I replied simply. "I seek tutelage under your hand."


"I…" His stark question took me aback. Had I not just stated? "To better myself, sir. If one seeks knowledge, it is best to seek those who hold it. And, I will grant you, a measure of curiosity, to find for myself if the whispered word of your character is true."

He snorted, shaking his head. "Bah. Curiosity I will grant you, but your family is one of means. If knowledge was all you sought, you could have tutors aplenty, true experts at your disposal. Why seek out some famously insular noble? Perhaps with the goal of ingratiating yourself into additional inheritance?"

"Sir!" I was unable to contain my offended outburst. "Perish the thought! I would not presume to—"

"Then why? The real reason, lad."

I wondered then if this was what it was like to be the prey stalked by a pyroar. This

man would not be satisfied with anything less than the full and complete truth. "My father, my Lord," I said, my words clipped and tight, "sees me as a useless fop. A disgrace. He has threatened to bestow my inheritance upon my younger sister, claiming she is more fit to carry on his name than I. Indeed, she is a shrewd woman, but… I aim to prove him wrong. Who else could claim to be a pupil of the most infamous noble of the land? Beyond all that I can surely learn from you, my Lord, I aim to cast down my father's notions. A matter of pride, as much as of ensuring my birthright."

Nodding, he sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers. “And so too shall the son exceed the father, only to rail against his own mortality as he sires one to exceed him,” he said with an air of one quoting, though I did not recognize the words. “A commonplace goal, to be sure, and not an ignoble one. Yet, one born of pride as much as a desire for self-worth. Why should a matter of your pride and reputation be any concern of mine?”

This question I was better prepared for. “You are correct, good sir. My battles are my own, and I do not expect you to concern yourself with them. Nor do I expect your tutelage to come without price. While my father has uttered threats, I am still in possession of some wealth, and am willing to pay a monthly sum in order to study beneath your guidance. Moreover, you shall gain a perpetual grateful ally with the eventual heir to the assets of house Gravely, which are not inconsiderable. You indicated you are familiar with my father, so you surely know of our trade interests in Johto, and of our considerable vineyards and silk farms.”

He waved a hand. “I have little need of greater wealth, lad. Nor do I lack for business partnerships, even if my assets do not lie in wine and silk.”

The time to play my trump card had come, and I did so with as much flourish as I could manage. “Naturally, my Lord, but I did refer to more intangible benefits. While I assure you I am not after your own fortune, surely you must wish for an heir of sorts… To your knowledge and talents. What man does not wish to pass along his learning? To leave a legacy in their impressions upon the mind and heart of another?” Rising from my chair, I knelt on one knee before him, head bowed. “This is what I offer you, sir. I am yours to mold as you see fit. Anything that you require of me, I am willing to do.”

A snort, somewhere between amusement and derision, nearly shattered my conviction right then and there, but I remained kneeling. He did not speak, but the sense of his eyes upon me, weighing and examining, lay heavy between my shoulders.

Glancing from side to side, I thought to add an additional argument. “If you would forgive my saying, sir, I could also offer you a hand in friendship about these halls. It seems a lonely place with only spirits for company.”

He did chuckle then. “You do not see the appeal of my servants? Pity.” A sigh

followed, then, “No.”

I felt as though ice water had just been poured down my spine. “I beg pardon, my Lord?”

“No. I have my reasons for my seclusion, and see no cause to break them for the presence of some young dandy nipping about my heels. Nor do I have cause to champion your pride. If you wish to become the master of your own destiny, you must go out and seize it, lad. Do not seek it in the shadow of another.” His words were iron, slamming between he and I like so many bars.

I rose, struggling to contain my disappointment and anger. How could he dismiss me so easily? He sat at ease, though his posture spoke of one prepared to act with haste if needed, though surely he did not suspect I would attack him. I wondered briefly what sort of life this man lived, that he could so readily accept his hermitage, and not wish to accept a freely offered squire. What argument might I offer to convince him? He did not seem the type to accede to begging pleas, though doing so was not beneath me in that moment.

“Sir,” I said, “Would you not consider even a short period of trial? Allow me a week to observe you, for us to become better acquainted, and I shall prove to be a most attentive pupil.”

You, my good friend, know that this would be the first such time, but I meant those words truly.

Shaking his head, the marquis rose as well, straightening his smoking jacket. He was shorter than I had expected, the top of his head coming only to my nose, but his presence loomed over me like that of a man twice my height.

“I tire of this badgering,” he said. “And my mind is set. You must find another instrument for your scheme, lad. I will permit you to stay the night out of respect for your long journey, but we will not speak of this further. Over dinner, we can find new topics of conversation.” Waving a hand, he gestured one of the floating lamp creatures near. “My servant will show you to a room. If there is nothing else, then I have other matters to see to.”

All of my carefully laid plans lay shattered around me. With a heavy heart weighing my tongue, I could do little more than nod. Just like my father, this man saw little value in me. The marquis, seeing my defeat and acceptance, turned to go, leaving me in the care of his frightful staff.

“My Lord.” I do not know what possessed my tongue in that instance. It was certainly no conscious thought, for none of my carefully planned arguments could answer his staunch refusal. He looked back, brow raised, and I said, “No man is an island unto himself.”

Knowing what I do now, I understand why this gave him pause, but at the time I was truly shocked at the impact of my words. He turned to face me once more, standing straight, and looked at me with renewed interest. “You have read Torkhov?”

“Some.” It was not a lie. I had read that quote.

“What must a man do to be worthy of respect?” he asked.

This was not a test I was prepared for in any regard, yet it was not one I would balk at with this sudden turn of fortune. After a moment of thought, I answered as best I could, dredging up the most dusty of my readings. “He must first respect himself.”

The marquis frowned, but inclined his head. “A simplification, but not a perversion. Caiphus, perhaps. What is the greatest wealth a man can achieve?”

This phrase I did know, at least in part. “Happiness, my Lord.”

Another frown, but coupled with a nod of assent. “Contentment is more accurate, lad. Many chase a nebulous notion of ‘happiness’, and will never obtain it. The man who is content needs for nothing, and can acquire no greater wealth. Who is the wisest man?”

For this, I was truly mystified. “I suppose that would be a matter of perspective, my Lord.”

He chuckled. “A fair answer, and no matter. Roedegarde’s words are lesser known. The man who is truly wise is the man who knows when he is acting the fool. Have you any familiarity with Lakhmann?”

I confessed that I did not. He waved it away, suddenly jovial, his dour mood of rejection gone like clouds before a stiff breeze. “Perhaps I was overly hasty in my judgement of you. The works of the great thinkers are sorely understood within the ranks of the nobility—a shortcoming which has pained me for some years. If your mind is already this open to their words, then perhaps there is potential in your proposition. I would see you better educated in this area, and mayhap this would enact some of the change I wish to see.”

“Change, my Lord?”

“Indeed, in the manner of the aristocracy at large. Rot and corruption brought on by power runs rampant, and will not die with one man or even twenty, but only through the alteration of the noble mindset.” Seeing my surely bewildered expression, he forestalled the further questions burning within me on that topic. “That is not a matter to cover at this time, however. You need only concern yourself with the fact that I am persuaded, and shall entertain the notion of taking you in as ward. For a time, at least. You must prove yourself indeed a studious pupil, for I will not foster a layabout!”

I could scarce believe my turn of fate. “Of course, my Lord! I will not fail you, on my honour!”

What followed was a rapid discussion of terms and conditions. True to his word, he cared little for my offer of repayment, though he did grudgingly accept a small weekly stipend of crowns, more at my insistence for the sake of my pride than for any need. I would not be seen as one seeking charity! He would grant me a week at first, and should I meet his expectations in that time, a full year would follow. I would attend him in public, and he would train me in various skills in private, in addition to assigning me studies. In my free time, I had my leave and freedom of the estate, but I was forbidden from entering the north wing, in which were the marquis’ private chambers. “And what I do there is no one’s business but my own.”

Naturally I had no objection to any of these terms, and while no contract was written, we shook hands as two men in agreement. His grip was far firmer than might be expected for a man of average stature, and I had the sense that he was not seeking to show his strength either. Our pact thus made, he again bade me to the guidance of his servant, granting his permission for me to send a carrier pidove to the inn instructing for my things to be sent to the mansion.

My dear friend, I write to you now from my assigned quarters in the marquis’ home, eagerly awaiting the challenges to come. It may seem strange to you, that I—the boy who liked to skip his lessons in favour of adventuring on the estate grounds or sneaking to town to catch the players troupe—should so look forward to learning, but the marquis is surely every inch the man his reputation dictates. I know not what to expect in these coming days, but I will keep you duly appraised.


Yours, always,






22nd of March, 1695


My dear friend Matthew,

Never before have I endured such an exhausting time. Our good marquis is a tyrant and a taskmaster the likes of which might be found in the man-markets of the darkest reaches of Canavarr! Every day he has set me to work like a common ponyta, wielding words sure as whips to drive me on. Though he claimed that my free time would belong to me alone, I have had scare little enough of that to visit the privy, let alone the town! Laverre may be small, but I noted a number of likely venues of entertainment for a man of means, and I would sorely love the chance to investigate them further. Would that you too were here, and we could peruse these delights together, though I understand that your good wife may object to such revels.

But my lamenting digresses from my recount. In the late morning (for the marquis it seems favours the night hours, and does not rise early as many do), he brings me to the courtyard to practice with the rapier. One look at my clumsy efforts at the forms had him snatching even the blunted practice blade from my hand, “Lest I put out my own eye, or his!” Steel traded for wood, he drills me on form and conditioning alike, having me run about the courtyard and perform calisthenics until my face is red and my brow drips with sweat. After this, we duel, though it is more an exercise in seeing how long I can stave him off than a true matching of blades. Bruises purple my ribs and arms from the blows he has dealt me, and when I asked if he might not hold back somewhat, he only stated, “No, for coddling you here in the practice yard will do you no service in a true fight.”

Perhaps he is right in this, though my limbs ache from this daily abuse. Even after such short time, my hand is steadier, my movements more assured. He has allowed me one day of rest from this, in order for my bruises—and perhaps my pride—to heal.

Following our fencing practice, we break fast proper, he having forbidden me from eating more than a serving of fruit and cheese prior to training. I am allowed a short time then to freshen up from my exertions—the marquis, though he mirrors some of my efforts, never seems to so much as have a hair out of place—and then it is to the library, “for the mind must be honed as much as the body,” says the marquis, adding, “a sharp mind is the greatest weapon at one’s command.”

Here, I am left somewhat to my own devices, with the marquis offering me first a choice in thick texts to consume, and then permitting me leave to read them at my own pace. His library is quite vast indeed, the small antechamber I was first introduced to being no more than an appendix to the great room with its rows of shelves, heavy indexes on lecterns, and display cases filled with skeletons, artifacts, and other sundries to study. He insists that I take notes of my reading, so that I may commit them better to memory. The first day, when he found I had not done so, he was most aggrieved, and peppered me with questions about my chosen tome on geography until I had no choice but to admit defeat.

My fingers now ache from the many lines I have written, jotting down summary and paraphrase of the densely printed words. While the marquis takes leave of me during my reading time, left to the watchful eyes of several of those ghastly floating mask-bearers—yamasks, they are apparently called—he will return to the library at random times without warning, appearing in the doorway to test me with questions, such as, “Who participated in the battle of Fuchsia bridge in 1608?” or, “What are three uses of bitterroot extract?”

Vexing as they may be, it seems his methods do indeed bear fruit in this regard also, as I find myself often able to answer his queries with little hesitation. This seems to please the marquis, though he will say little in praise other than to offer a nod and a ghost of a smile, before vanishing back into the dim halls of the manse, only to appear again upon the next turn of the hour, another carefully selected question chosen to test me.

Our time in the afternoons will vary. If the weather is good, we may ride forth on a pair of the marquis’ fine rapidash, either to inspect his orchards or simply to roam the countryside. On the fourth day of the week, he took us to a nearby lake where we spent a pleasant time fishing, conversing amiably about local and foreign affairs—an arena he has much more knowledge in than I.

On other days, he will permit me to shadow him as he goes over his business affairs, instructing me on the relevance of particular documents, and various means of ensuring smooth daily operation of one’s interests. Our good marquis indeed holds a variety of accounts beyond his orchards, with investments in iron and silver mines, brine distilleries, spice imports from across the sea, and even the patronage of several artists and musicians, including that young pianist Eisenberg that we enjoyed together at the theater two years past. Such a night that was! I hope you remember it as fondly as I do, even though you and I parted ways not long after.

Evenings, following a shared dinner waited on by his servants—quite impressive how they manage the tasks of preparing and serving a meal without the benefit of proper hands—the marquis often chooses to practice piano or cello. He offered to teach me, though this did not fall into his planned regimen, but I politely refused, feeling both overwhelmed with my current workload, and overshadowed in the light of his obvious skill in this area too. While he is no Eisenberg or Strom, he plays with certainty and grace nonetheless, giving flawless—at least to my ear—renditions of classics. He permits me to watch while he practices, and accepts my praise with modesty.

Other evenings he too will select a book to repose with, or we may engage in a game of chess. He is attempting to hone my skills there, though I despair at ever defeating him in that arena. Some nights, he may retreat early into his private wing, bidding me to continue my studies for a time before turning in for the night. He rarely seems to take the usual brandy or scotch in his leisure, though he will enjoy a single glass of wine with his dinner. Invariably, he makes for his quarters before the clock strikes nine, though I am quite certain that he does not find his bed for some hours yet, leading me to wonder what he does in that secluded wing. Given the collection of books on alchemy, herbology, and mechanics in his possession, might he have some manner of workshop to tinker in potions or gadgetry?

On at least two of the nights, whilst reading, I am certain that I heard the great front doors of the house opening and closing, though when I went to the window, the grounds outside were dark and silent, and no clatter of hooves on cobbles indicated the marquis had taken horse into town. When I asked him of the matter the next morning, he gave no credence to my observations, claiming that I had either misheard, or that it had been the groundskeepers on their nightly rounds. His lateness to rise gives credence to his nocturnal exploits for certain, though what those may be remain a mystery.

We have yet to make an appearance in public. The marquis confirmed that he attends social gatherings rarely, though he is invited to all that occur nearby, and even some further afield larger affairs such as weddings or holiday celebrations. With that caveat, however, he has promised that we shall attend the Lady Coutevere’s evening party next week, both so I may have a night off in social company, and so he may observe my conduct at such a gathering. Needless to say, he has concluded that my wardship will continue, which puts my concerns of disappointing him to rest for the time being, and for all my griping, I cannot offer true complaint at my lot. The marquis’ intention to display me in public is as good an endorsement as I could hope for, given how sparing he is with direct praise.

I am pleased that I brought along appropriate clothing for such an event, and shall not have to shop, for the offerings of Laverre are not nearly so varied as back home. It shall be a treat to mingle with the high society of North Kalos, both as a welcome respite from my training, and as an opportunity to be introduced to new people. I understand that several of the noble families in this area have sons of an age with you and I, which offers promising prospects of new friendships.

I trust that this letter finds you and your wife in good health, my dear friend. Please write to me soon, and regale me with your own exploits. While a part of me still regrets what came between us, you must know that I wish you nothing but happiness, and that I cherish our time together deeply.


Yours, truly,






29thof March 1695


My dear friend Matthew,

This night came a fascinating and harrowing event.

It all began at the party.

Early in the evening, the marquis arranged for his personal carriage to be made ready, two of his well-trained rapidash festooned in livery and harnessed to the conveyance, which was driven by none other than one of the odd masked pokémon servants. A most peculiar sight, I assure you! Though it seemed barely able to grasp the reins in its hand-like appendages, the team of horse was unperturbed, and set off with nary a whicker of protest in regards to their frightful driver, or so much as a frisk against its guiding touch.

The marquis and myself were of course dressed in formal attire, he in his favoured black and red, even the ruffles of his coat done in crimson silk instead of the usual white, while I wore the dashing blue and gold affair I picked out for your birthday celebration two years past. In addition, the marquis donned his iconic mask—a pure black satin affair covering the top half of his face, lending him a visage in common with our driver (though the marquis was far more dignified than ghastly). While we rode in the carriage, I ventured to ask about the famed accessory, but he would only answer, "In good time, lad, in good time."

Lady Coutevere's estate rivalled the marquis' in terms of size and grandeur, but where his sat reserved and perhaps with an air of brooding atop its lonely hill, this was a place of ostentatious glamour, its grounds lit with coloured lanterns leading the way to gaily bright windows gleaming with inset brass. While his residence favoured stark looming spires, here were balconied rooms overlooking the gardens, which themselves held groomed shrubbery in the shapes of men and pokémon.

In truth, the marquis himself seemed out of place here, yet as we entered, he did so as though it were his own manse—stoic, yet comfortable. I thought there might have been a faint stiffening of his posture, but it could easily have been a trick of shadows.

The large hall we were lead into was truly awash in light, laughter, and nobility. Crystal chandeliers sparkled, marble floors and columns gleamed, and balustraded staircases offered egress to viewing balconies above the tumult. Soft party music floated over the general hubbub of conversation from a string trio in the far corner, while servants tiptoed among the various groups of gowned ladies and suited gentlemen, plying trays of delectables and sweets, or glasses of punch or wine.

Our warm welcome and announced arrival at the hands of greeting staff was met with some surprise by the nearest guests—clearly the marquis' presence had not been anticipated. We did not tarry with them, though the marquis nodded greetings at several lords and ladies, murmuring apologies to two who attempted to engage him, begging leave to pay respects to our gracious hosts. Many an inquisitive look was directed at me, though once the marquis' intent was made clear, none saw fit to disturb us in order to sate their curiosity.

Lady Coutevere we found among a small gaggle of attendant guests near the head of the room—perhaps her inner circle, though the introductions to most of them were brief. At our appearance in their ranks, all conversation abruptly halted, interrupted by the good lady's, "My dear marquis!" A tall, greying woman who managed to be both imposing and graceful in an elegant gown of sky-blue silk, she offered a white-gloved hand for the marquis to gently kiss, her rouged cheeks crinkling in a genuine smile as he offered his greeting and pleasantries.

A broad-shouldered man dressed in matching—though darker—blue trimmed in silver, his hair greyed even more than the good lady's, and bearing a truly impressive moustache, stepped up beside her, clapping the marquis on the shoulder and proclaiming, "Bulgakov, you devil, we did not expect such a trivial affair as this to rouse you from your den! I hope it is not in the hopes of drubbing me on the chessboard again. I daresay I've near given up on the game since!" This was followed by a rowdy chuckle, the man's substantial belly jiggling the silver tassels on his coat.

While the marquis assured the man—who turned out to be none other than Count Coutevere—that he was here only to, "Enjoy the evenings delights," Lady Coutevere's eye fell upon me. "And who is this young gentleman with you? Have you taken a wife in secret, and at last broken all of the young eligible hearts? Is this an adoptive son?"

Some titters rose from the assembled group, but the marquis bore the joking with good grace, making of the opportunity to introduce me to our hosts. "My protégé, the Lord Edward Gravely. He is in residence at my estate for a time, seeking tutelage and refinement."

"What a wonderful notion!" proclaimed the lady, offering her hand to me in turn, of which I offered the proper respects. "An uncommon venture to be sure, but you chose a fine gentleman to emulate, young sir!"

I agreed, turning to acknowledge her lord husband in turn, who said, "Be sure not to let him cheat you on a business partnership, m'boy! He is as shrewd a negotiator as he is player of cards and pieces!"

The marquis chuckled at this. "Sir, you are mistaken if you think I am unaware how many of your trading ships have turned excellent profit on my spices and salts, regardless of how you gripe about port levies."
"Bah, you see?" The count shook his head, plucked a wine glass from the tray of a nearby serving man, and toasted the marquis. "Like dealing with the devil himself, and with the fiend's own luck at cards no less!"

"Not a fault of mine that you fail to know how many cards are in the deck, my good count."

"Surely though you do not expect this young gentleman to be pinned to your side while you discuss business," Lady Coutevere interjected. "There are many guests of his age here." Glancing at me, she smiled, though there was a touch of predation in her gaze that set my spine straight. "Indeed, many young ladies as well, should he wish introduction. A noble gentleman from other parts of the region is always a source of much attention."

I bowed, politely declining her "kind offer", under the excuse that I wished to remain with the marquis. But to my surprise, he said, "No no, our good host is right. There will be plenty of time for you to attend me. Go on, mingle, and be free to strike up new friendships."

Thus dismissed, I had to once more decline Lady's Coutevere's offer of assistance, to which she laughed and turned her wiles on the marquis, saying, "He is your pupil indeed, my dear Marquis. If he is not so inclined, perhaps we might at last find a suitable lady to grace your arm instead?"

"My Lady, I did not take you for cruel, to subject some poor soul to such a horrible fate," the marquis replied, prompting a gale of laughter from the group at large. To this, I made my withdrawal, fascinating as it was to observe the marquis plying his social graces. I had indeed spotted several likely groups of younger nobility during our journey across the ballroom, and, equipping myself with a glass of wine and a pastry, I made my way towards the nearest of these, wherein several young men stood next to the marble colonnade supporting the balcony.

I will not bore you with the details of the ensuing introductions and conversation. Suffice it to say that, while I made acquaintance with several gentleman of fine house and reputation, including the young lords Beauregard, Tretiev, Gruber, and Sapowski, most proved to have interest primarily in the unwed ladies present at the party. My appearance in their ranks, and the subsequent story of how I had come to be there, was certainly an object of fascination, and I am sure much gossip sprung up following the marquis and I's departure from the estate. Yet, beyond some shared enjoyment of theatre with some, and of Felix Gruber's surprising mutual interest in the music of Eisenberg, the majority of our conversations bore about as much substance as the light and fluffy cakes the servants began to offer later in the evening.

When the dances began, I was against my behest pulled into the fray by my new acquaintances, and soon found myself across from, and then arm-in-arm with, a procession of young ladies who moved with grace and aplomb. I am proud to say I acquitted myself well here, though I noted that the marquis had managed to free himself of obligation upon the ballroom floor, and was observing me from the balcony from among a group of several other gentlemen.

Several dances later, I managed to extract myself, begging need of refreshment to my current partner—the ringlet-haired lady Malion, who had seemed determined to embed her fingers in my hand rather than allow me to escape. A comely girl to be sure, though her laugh had the unfortunate quality of a mudbray's cadence. Thus divest of female accompaniment, and leaving the disappointed Lady Malion in the care of Lord Tretiev (who was quick to distract her from my departure) I sought out the marquis once more. In truth, I was less parched and winded than my tale to the young lady may have indicated, for the marquis' efforts seem to have benefited my stamina in the dance as well.

I found him once again haunting the main floor of the ballroom nearby one of the side entrances, in conversation with a lady and gentleman of middling years. As I approached, the gist of their discussion reached my ears.

"I can assure you, my Lord Marquis," the lady was saying, "that Charlotte is shaping up to be a fine young woman, and more than capable of a gentleman of your station."
"To say nothing of the fact," the lord—dressed in dashing green accented by bronze—hastened to add, "that the benefits of tying your estate to ours would be most significant. Why, with so much wealth under your command, you—and the inevitable heir—would rival a grand duke! There could be no better match available, lest you fancy one of the royal daughters themselves!"

"Your kind offer flatters me," the marquis replied, his tone level and cool, though perfectly polite, "and I will afford it due consideration."
"Sir, if you question the status of her maidenhood—" the lady began, but the marquis cut her off with a shake of his head.

"I would not presume to imply such impropriety, Lady Kozlov." Overhearing this, my heart quickened, arresting my approach. The Grand Duke and Duchess themselves!

The marquis had seen me, and whether I provided a convenient excuse or he would have found another, he nonetheless bowed to the couple, saying, "Please excuse me, my attentions are required elsewhere it seems."

Neither duke nor duchess appeared pleased by his departure, but they acquiesced without further comment beyond a, "Good evening to you, Marquis," and the lady's, "We will await your decision eagerly!"

Thus freed, the marquis placed a hand on my shoulders, turning me and propelling the pair of us away from the couple, murmuring under his breath, "Come lad, lest she seize her talons upon you next. Let us take some fresh air."

Once we were at a safe distance, and somewhat removed from the throng of revellers, I asked, "Sir, was their offer all as it seemed?"

"Likely," he replied. "Charlotte is their third daughter, and it serves no risk to them to tie her to a rank below theirs, with their two eldest already married off. It is not out of possibility that there is some factor I am unaware of, though I doubt it to be a bastard in the belly or anything of the sort. The good duke has been attempting to 'strengthen our business relations' for some time now, and this is merely the latest in his tactics."

"If I may, my Lord, it appeared a generous arrangement. You truly have no interest in it?"

He looked at me, his expression unreadable behind his mask. "As much interest as you showed in the fine young Lady Malion? I am sure we could negotiate a similar 'generous arrangement' for her hand if you so wished."

While at this point, my trust in the marquis had strengthened greatly, I thought it most prudent to prevaricate. "I am not seeking a match, my Lord."

"And nor am I," he replied, with such finality that I dared not press him further on the matter.

We had nearly reached the doors leading out into a small courtyard, when the marquis suddenly halted and seized my elbow, saying, "Attend, lad."

I looked to see what had arrested his attention, and noticed a man and a woman standing in the shadows of a small side passage—one of the servantways. The gentleman was dressed in fine white and crimson with golden accents, a man of late middle years and medium height, with shocks of gray at his temples and a most dreadful blemish on his nose. The lady was liveried in Coutevere blue and silver, and at second glance was perhaps no more than ten and seven, an empty tray clutched to her breast like a shield. The man stood, leaning one hand on the wall, blocking her progress further down the passage.

"Trouble," muttered the marquis, gesturing me to follow towards the pair. As we approached, the servant's distress became more obvious, with her wide eyes and leaning away from him, even as he made use of his superior height to loom over her, a lecherous smile on his face.

"There now," he was saying, his words somewhat slurred with drink, "No need to hide such a fine young lady that way." He reached for the tray she clutched, pawing at it. "It behooves me greatly to be in the presence of such a lovely flower! Will you permit me the honour of your name, my sweet?"

"Lord Winthrop," the marquis' tone was ice as he planted himself in the doorway, a pace away from the pair. "Your depravity never ceases to amaze me."

The lord turned, though he did not give up his position just yet, still hemming the poor serving girl in. "Marquis Bulgakov," he said, as if he had just swallowed something foul. "Tongue of an arbok as ever. Pray go ruin some other poor soul's evening."

"And leave this one to your tender mercies? I think not. Come, lass." The marquis offered his hand to the girl, tugging her gently out of the passageway and away from the lord, whose face was beginning to redden. She accepted the offer with a trembling hand, darting a mere glance back at her molester, and was quick to flee as soon as she was once more upon the marble floor of the ballroom, lifting her skirts and moving with great haste to a different side passage.

"Pah! You have no right, Bulgakov, no right!" The lord, whom I later learned was Marquis Winthrop of Coumarine, stood up straight, adjusting his jacket. "What business is it of yours whom a man chooses to converse with?"

"As you have no right to make free of the good lady's staff, sir. The young lady did not appear to be a willing participant in your 'conversation'."

"Nonsense! We were simply becoming acquainted. It is only natural she might have had a touch of nerves, speaking so familiarly to a noble. We would have been quite friendly in no time had you not interjected your overlong nose!"

The marquis crossed his arms, his tone level. "Rape is an ugly word, sir. Our gracious hosts would not look kindly upon such activities beneath their roof."

Lord Winthrop's face twisted into a snarl, his hand falling to the hilt of his dueling blade. "How dare you sir! I demand satisfaction of you for such an insult!"

It should be said that I fully expected the marquis to refuse. It would have been well within his purview to merely withdraw, and report the incident to the count and countess. But, to my surprise, he calmly nodded, saying, "As you wish."

The contract of duel thus struck, we proceeded to the outer courtyard with Marquis Winthrop, who, upon encountering the smaller gathering of party guests in the lantern-lit square, declared loudly, "This cringing cur has impugned my honour! Clear us a space, that we may settle this affair!"

Several gasps met this proclamation, but, never to stand in the way of the entertainment of a good duel, the gathered onlookers drew back, allowing a wide arena for the two combatants. Having no other choice, I joined the throng, securing a place near the front, and with a fine view. It struck me that the Marquis Winthrop must be supremely confident, in order to make such a public display, though it may have been the depth of his cups speaking more than a sound mind.

Both men produced their duelling blades, paced off the standard distance, and stood at the ready. Lord Winthrop thundered and railed the whole while, calling out insults upon the good marquis, and uttering such threats as, "will carve a line through that ridiculous mask of yours!" Throughout the verbal onslaught, the marquis remained serene, and did not rise to the provocations.

The cause of Lord Winthrop's bluster soon became clear, as even with wits sullied by drink, he struck with the speed of a seviper, his aim true, seeking to quickly blood the marquis and end the duel. Yet the marquis parried the blow, stepping back and inviting the lord's advance upon him, his feet as nimble and hand as quick as it had ever been in our practice. The two men's blades became a blur of steel my eye could not follow, blows deflected aside to give way to elegant ripostes, followed by counter manoeuvres that seemed sure to cost the other man a finger, only to be caught upon guard or dodged aside from. Lord Winthrop was truly a fearsome opponent, fighting with vigor and aggression and pressing the marquis, though my Lord never seemed to falter under the vicious assault.

The murmurs and conjecture of the surrounding onlookers was no more than babble in my ears, my sole focus the ring of blade against blade. Yet, even I heard the loud shout of, "What is the meaning of this? My Lords, cease this at once!" from the steps leading up to the ballroom door—a voice I distantly recognized as Lady Coutevere's. Neither of the duelling men appeared to hear her, or at least Marquis Winthrop did not leave off his offensive, permitting my Lord no choice but to continue defending himself.

It occurred with such speed, I still cannot describe precisely what happened. It is clear to me now that the marquis was indeed holding back in our practice duels, for to execute such a technique would leave any amateur such as myself cut to ribbons! The marquis stepped aside from a brutal thrust that would have taken him in the neck—a dishonourable, lethal blow in a duel such as this—and appeared to counterattack low, to the thigh. Yet as Lord Winthrop twisted and brought his blade to bare in parry, the tip of the marquis' sword appeared lodged in the shoulder of his sword-arm!

A roar of pain left Lord Winthrop, his blade dropping from his hand as a red line opened down the meat of his upper arm, and he fell back from the marquis, clutching the wound. The marquis kicked aside the fallen blade, flicked crimson droplets from his own, and lowered his guard, permitting his foe the surrender.

"Bastard," growled Lord Winthrop, blood streaming around his fingers. "Look what you've done!"

"Be grateful," the marquis replied, his tone icy and soft, yet clear in the otherwise silent courtyard. "I could have taken your hand. Or enacted the queen's justice, and taken something else for your misdeed. Let that hand be your company, and its continued attachment be a reminder."

"Bastard!" Wheezing, the lord was now quite thoroughly defanged of any more than such insults. Having been so soundly defeated with so many onlookers must surely have stung more than the wound he had taken, even through the muddle of wine.

"That is quite enough, Lord Winthrop," the Lady Coutevere announced, the onlookers clearing a path for their host. "You will depart my house this instant, and indeed be grateful our good marquis does not demand further satisfaction of you!"

Grumbling, the defeated man gathered up his duelling blade and whatever remaining shreds of dignity he possessed, then executed a retreat, the white sleeve of his jacket quite thoroughly ruined.

Lady Coutevere accosted the marquis next, demanding to know why he had participated in such a foolish ruckus under her roof, as, "I was under the impression that you had greater sense!"

To my surprise, the marquis did not relate the lord Winthrop's molestation of the young serving girl to the lady, and shot me such a severe look when I thought to interject, that I quickly fell silent. He stated merely that, "The marquis in his cups is a fearsome beast, and sought the settling of an old grievance. Fool that I am, and unwilling to let him bluster further, I accepted his challenge." With a deep bow, he offered sincere apologies, and begged leave, for he had certainly had enough excitement for the evening.

While the lady was far from satisfied with his answer, she proved mollified by his offer to entertain she and her lord husband at the opera in recompense, and bade us to depart, with a final admonishment to me of, "See that this is an example of his you do not follow, young sir!"

Not until we were safely in the carriage and on the way back to his estate, did the marquis' posture relax from its tension held from the duel. It was a subtle thing—a mere straightening of back and slacking of shoulders, but having seen him at his true ease in his home, I noticed the difference between this and the cloak of serenity he had worn during the commotion. None other had likely seen—I too had been fooled until that very moment—yet that icy calm had been a mask as surely as the black satin one he wore.

I at last was able to question him about his actions, wondering why he did not reveal the true nature of Lord Winthrop's indiscretion to Lady Coutevere, instead shouldering some of the blame upon his own shoulders.

"I lost my temper, lad," he said, a rueful smile tugging at his lips. "I truly had no right to be provoked into such a public duel, and should have turned him down or taken him to the street."

"You wished for there to be witnesses," I said, marvelling. If that was he losing his temper, what would his true fury look like?

"Indeed, for that man has needed to be made aware of his own mortality for some time, and this seemed an opportune moment to do so. Yet…" He shook his head. "Ill done on my part, for I offended our host."

"Yet, you did so to defend an innocent! Surely that is a laudable act and one worthy of calling to her attention," I protested, for it truly grieved me to see the good marquis impugn his own actions so.

"Indeed, but then I would be no more than a sycophant seeking praise. Beyond that, she would have sought the queen's justice, and I am of the impression that our good Marquis Winthrop has seen adequate punishment for the time being." His lips twitched once more. "Though perhaps his wife should be consulted in the manner, as she may be well inclined to divest him of his pride to such a degree."

"And if he has not?"

Even behind the mask, I sensed the darkening of his countenance, though his mouth merely twitched. "Then I would disabuse him. He would not be the first, though I pray that tonight's mercy will prove enough."

I fell silent then, pondering this and all else I had observed. I was struck by the inkling that there was far more to my Lord than I knew, even after such time in his presence.

My good friend, I trust that this tale has been of interest to you, and that you yourself are well. Rest assured I will relate more to you soon, as I feel there are more secrets the good marquis has in store for me. Please give my regards to your lady wife, and do not hesitate to write to me of your own struggles! Know that I will listen with a keen ear, and I hold no ill will against you. It would do my heart good to hear that you are prosperous, or whatever such woes you may wish to relate, I will feel their cuts as deeply as though they were my own. Please write soon!


Yours, truly,






14th of April, 1695


Journal of Edward Gravely


The marquis holds a secret.

My suspicions were awakened the night of lady Coutevere's party, and events over the following days and weeks have served to deepen them. My tutelage continues apace, but the marquis will appear in the practice yard on some mornings as a man bereft of rest, and will oft vanish after breakfast, bidding me to "continue my studies". Any enquiry I make in regards to his health is brushed aside, and he merely presses harder with the practice blade, as if to prove to me that he is hearty and hale (though this merely results in my blade being knocked out of my hand, or a firm drubbing leaving me with bruises!)

Three days past, my conjecture was confirmed. While I sat in my room enjoying a

pipe and a snifter of brandy, I overheard the resonant sound of the estate's front door. I dashed to the window in time to see a lone man's shape stealing away through the gate. At first, I did not believe it to be the marquis, for the figure was hunched, and moved swiftly as though at a run, though it appeared to be in no hurry. Moreover, the swirling darkness around it bore the appearance of a grand cape, an accessory I have never known the good marquis to wear. I did not have long to ponder, for the figure melted into the dark night beyond the gates nearly as soon as I had observed it, leaving me to wonder if it had been an apparition—perhaps one of the marquis' odd servants.

Determined to resolve the matter, I left my quarters, seeking an audience with the marquis. Even at that hour of night, the lamps are lit as always, allowing my traversal without a hand lamp to light my way. The servants haunt the mansion halls about their mysterious business also, leaving the impression that the estate never truly sleeps, though most of their activity seems contained to the inner parts of the manse in the night hours. I saw but two as I searched the communal portions of the house, finding the library, study, dining hall, smoking room, and drawing room all unoccupied. The second servant—one of the floating lamp creatures I passed in a corridor—I thought to question, asking it about the marquis' whereabouts. It merely chimed at me, and wobbled midair as if to shrug, then continued on its way.

My search thus fruitless, I considered my options. I could return to my chambers, and ask the marquis on the morrow, yet that would likely gain me a non-answer. The staircase leading into the north wing of the estate loomed before me, tempting as a warm fire on a cold night. I could call out, making an unseemly fool of myself—particularly if the marquis was, in fact, asleep. Or, I could disobey the marquis' order not to enter this portion of the house, on the grounds of my concern and the urgency with which to find him should I encounter him.

Yet, what if I were discovered? To take such a risk seemed rash, as the marquis might be incensed to the point of dismissing me. My foot halted on the first step of those stairs, and I looked up at the landing beyond. What secrets hid up there, behind closed doors and down darkened passages?

A querulous whistle from behind nearly had me leaping from my skin, and I floundered, almost falling most undignified upon my rear. I whirled on the servant who had snuck up on me—one of the smaller candle creatures which would glide along the ground—too flustered to be angry at it. Its violet flame flickered, and it repeated its query, to which I merely shook my head.

"He is out, is he not?"

Another one of those strange chimes, and it bobbed. This seemed as close to affirmation as I would receive without confirming my suspicions through further investigation. But I could certainly not do so while under watch. With a last regretful look up the staircase, I turned away, leaving its secrets behind. At the very least, I was certain now, and would not accept the marquis' deflections on the matter.

Stealing back to my own chamber, I pondered this quandary, and felt the need to write down my thoughts. If the marquis is going out in the middle of the night, why go on foot? To say nothing of what his destination might be, or his purpose.

While this does explain his tiredness, and his reluctance to rise early in the day, my curiosity has been far from sated. Why also conceal his nightly exploits from me? Surely the incident three weeks past was also he, and yet he denied it when questioned. I am loathe to admit my explorations to him, yet should I present the evidence of having seen him leave with my own eyes, he must admit to the fact, and perhaps will be inclined to share his purpose in doing so. We shall see what the morrow holds.




15th of April, 1695


Journal of Edward Gravely


If I expected the marquis to be surprised by my revelation of knowledge, I was sorely disappointed.

"Only a matter of time before you noticed I suppose," he said when I confronted him about his night-time forays. "You have proved a sharper lad than I originally gave you credit for, and there is no sense in denying it further."

Somewhat taken aback by his easy capitulation, I queried further into the nature of his activities, to which, by means of answer, he said, "Tell me lad, you have read, The Nature of Accountability, by Johannes Muller, have you not?"

I nodded, though added that I had only consumed half of the tome thus far, on account of the many others he had assigned me to study. This did not disturb him, and he asked, "How do those who seek to commit evil succeed?"

"By the inaction of the good men who would stop them," I said, recalling the passage.

He appeared pleased by this, and added another quote with which I was not familiar, "A man with no cause to champion, who cares for nothing more than his own safety, is a miserable creature lacking the most basic freedom, save that granted by the efforts of better men."

Now quite mystified by his response, I asked for clarification.

"Do you recall our conversation when we first met?" he asked, "Of my reference to the corruption rampant in our society?"

I nodded, though confessed I was still uncertain of his meaning. We were a

respectable, civilized nation, were we not?

The marquis laughed at this, though there was little humour in it. "Certainly. So civilized that a man of noble birth can accost a woman of low birth and see no retribution for it, lest one of his peers censure him. So respectable that a lord can freely beat his servants for the smallest indiscretion, so long as he does not mutilate or kill them. We are so upright in standing that orphan children vanish from the streets into brothels and work gangs, and no one cares to put a stop to it."

Naturally I agreed that there were certainly ills in our world, but added that at large, Kalos prospered and offered a life of goodness for the majority. Surely he did not expect a world devoid of evildoers?

"I do not speak of vague utopian fantasies, lad," he said, standing from the breakfast table and beginning to pace with his hands clasped behind his back. "If a man has a rotten tooth, it must be pulled lest the infection spread. The rot lies within the thoughts of the aristocracy itself, the insidious ideas about our fellow men that allow justification of reprehensible actions. After all, if a person is lesser than you, what does it matter if they are beaten, or raped, or murdered or kidnapped or enslaved? The rich exploit the poor for their own gain every day in this world, and in doing so sponsor lifestyles of decadence and excess."

"Men like Marquis Winthrop?" I asked.

"He is an obvious example, but I could list many others." He paused by the window, looking out over the gardens. It was a bright morning, at odds with the gloom of his words. "Lords and ladies of the finest breeding, who put on masks of their own and greet their guests with smiles and laughter, and who sleep peacefully upon their deeds despite the suffering they might cause."

At this I protested, for surely he could not hold every noble accountable for every action committed in their name. "Even a good man might not be aware of the wicked doings of one under his employ."

"Not every action, perhaps. I would surely not blame a lord for one of his merchant fleet captains beating a deckhand without cause. But it is a poor lord who does not know what occurs in his own house, and a poorer one still who does not take the needed action to see to the well-being of those under his care. The common view, sadly, is that those of low birth are beholden to those of nobility, rather than the other way around. Moreover, that nobility bestows upon one rights and privileges above the law, and above the common man."

"You speak as though wealth itself is evil," I said.

The marquis laughed, this time in genuine amusement. "A wise man once said that money is the root of all evil, though I would argue that it is the power that comes with wealth which corrupts more so. I do not seek to cast down the wealthy, lad. Nor would I demand every noble distribute their wealth to the poor—though some could certainly afford better efforts in that area. Indeed, there is good among the bad, as you have stated. I have high hopes for you, young Edward, that you will take your learning to heart and become one of those."

Uncertain of the end goal of all this, I nodded, assuring that I did not intend to start beating servants anytime soon.

"You might get quite the surprise if you tried with any of mine," he replied, a wicked grin rising to his lips. "But good that it is far from your mind."

I pondered all he had said, attempting to assemble the pieces. An image came to mind of the marquis dressed in his customary black and crimson silks, mask affixed, duelling sword at the ready, fighting off a band of highwaymen. Quite a dashing image, ludicrous though it was. After a moment, I asked. "Is that why you creep about late at night, to wander the streets in search of misdeeds to correct?"

He clapped his hands, startling me. "Bravo, lad. Though not quite the whole picture. While I would certainly not hesitate to aid someone molested in a dark alley, or to halt the actions of a cutpurse or highwayman should I come across one, these crimes are best left to the city watch. When I prowl, it is to seek information from those sundry places high society would turn up its nose at, yet where a few coins in the right hands tell quite a different tale of our good lords and ladies. Or it is to gather evidence about certain nobles' indiscretions, to be presented to Her Grace in secret, allowing her to enact justice. For some, it is a time to pursue them into gambling dens, brothels, or the hidden fighting rings, to surprise them in the act, and put the fear of God into them."

This, I confessed, was quite the tale to swallow. Did my good lord take the matter of justice into his own hands?

At this, he looked away, though he did not seem ashamed, only pensive, his finger tapping his jaw. "There have been times. Men careful to cover their tracks, yet committing egregious crimes of which only I held witness. I am no judge and executioner, but if I find a man cutting open a prostitute simply to hear how she screams, I will put a stop to it. I have been forced to defend myself with lethal violence, and men have met their end on the tip of my blade in duels to the death. It is not an act I relish or pursue—much better that the queen's justice do its work."

I nodded, though I believe he sensed that this revelation disturbed me. He gestured to the edges of the room, where, though few in number for breakfast, some of his ghastly servants floated, their metallic masks staring sightless at us.

"Do you know of the origins of the yamask?" he said.

When I replied that I did not, he proceeded to relate to me a tale at once fanciful and macabre, of how the creatures were—supposedly—the remnants of souls who perished in torment or distress. Their mournful visage was a memory of their past, and a grim tableau painted for the living. Naturally I asked why he would wish for such hideous companions, to which he said simply, "A reminder. Every day I am surrounded by representations of the souls of those who suffered in death, and it serves to maintain my focus on my ends."

At this I shuddered, though at last his reason was clear—if indeed a dour one. What manner of man had I entangled myself with, who courted death and an ideal of justice alike? I felt caught between a mummer's farce and some ancient fable about noble heroes. I had—and have—no doubt that the marquis believes his cause true. The only question whirling in my mind was if I also believed it, or if he were a raving madman taking the queen's justice into his own hands.

Seeing my distress, he bade me to take the day for myself, to take my ease however I wished. For the first time, I saw a hint of something other than his usual dignified calm or controlled intent. "I would understand, lad," he said, "should you wish to depart from my tutelage. Know that I do not expect you to follow my path—it is my burden to bear. I only wish for you to see with a keener eye than most of our other fine nobles, to be a man worthy of the title of lord. I have seen the capacity within you. If you trust me with this task, then remain. If not… Know that I will not bear any ill will towards you. I will await your decision at dinner."

He swept out before I could reply, leaving me to brood upon all I had learned. A walk in the fresh air and sunlight failed to clear my head, and I returned to my chamber, where I proceeded to write these words in an attempt to untangle it all. My hands tremble, near spilling the ink. Part of me wishes to write to Matthew, to confide in him as I once did, yet his lack of response to my letters leaves me with a heavy heart concluding that he either has not read them, or does not wish to hear from me further.

What do I make of this man? Is he worthy of my trust, as he has deemed me worthy of his? Do I walk a dark path of ruin by standing at his side? Could I simply leave, return to my old life entrusted with this forbidden knowledge of him, and not look back? In our short time together, I have learned much under his firm hand, and feel that I am a better man for it. Is he in truth a madman, suffering delusions of righteousness while acting the common thug?

What do I make of this man? He is dashing, bold, shrewd and insightful. He is frustrating and fascinating. A man of learning, conscience, excellent breeding and upright character. He is also a man who challenges the status quo, who seeks a distant ideal, and who lives a life of secrecy and espionage.

I also believe him to be lonely, despite his claims of preferring solitude within his gloomy manse. He is devastatingly handsome (in a refined way, rather than with the raw liveliness of youth) yet takes no spouse, even though he has high-born suitors dogging his heels at every social function. An enigma, though he has, for whatever reason, chosen to open himself to me.

What do I make of this man?




16th of April, 1695


Journal of Edward Gravely


I have decided to remain with the marquis.




9th of May, 1695


Journal of Edward Gravely


I have discovered a great and terrible truth.

The passing weeks have settled into a comfortable routine while the days warm in preparation of summer. The marquis continues to drill me mercilessly with the blade, and day by day I feel my hand growing swifter, more sure, though I am years away from achieving his mastery of the art. Similarly, he pushes me to hone my mind, expanding my knowledge of many subjects, but none so thorough as philosophy and history. Over many a supper or chess game, we have bantered comfortably on the words of Muller, Caiphus, Guastav, and the writings of the far east scholars Lakhmann and Mao Chi.

Our social affairs have been few, but twice more we have ventured out into the realms of nobility, the marquis ensuring I rubbed elbows with men and women of every rank from baron to duke. Several of these introductions came with the added weight of the presentation of some unmarried daughter or niece, much to my politely hidden distress, though I noticed the marquis observing me particularly sharply during such interactions. What he is plotting I could not begin to suspect, but my relief was likely palpable when he ceased exposing me to such potential matches after the first evening affair. Not that this stopped overtures during my own mingling of course, but these unsponsored and unsolicited introductions were much easier to excuse myself from.

Of the marquis' nighttime activities, there is little to mention. He no longer keeps his departures secret from me, but nor does he endeavour to bring me along, stating, "You are far from ready, even if you do seem eager as a stallion loose in a stable." Perhaps he mistakes my intent curiosity for fervour to participate, but I would indeed die for the chance to accompany him, at least once. Being left behind on so many a night niggles at me like a pebble in the shoe.

Between the marquis and myself has arisen a comfortable joviality. Our relationship is still one of master and student, yet something more lies there—a friendship, a bond. Our rapport at times reminds me of what I once shared with Matthew, though the marquis trades boyish innocence for a worldwise cunning, and fresh-faced handsomeness for dignified grace. He more readily shares stories of his exploits with me, though he does not reveal details which would implicate guilty parties, and often weaves such tales into an object lesson of some manner. Occasionally, he will relate other, more whimsical tales of his travels across the continent. I do not know if I believe his claims of being chased from Ecruteak by a herd of rampaging donphan, all while saving a flower bed from being trampled, but it certainly makes for a humorous image!

Yet, among all this, I sensed he was still holding something back. I was forbidden to accompany him in his forays, and I was forbidden from entering the north wing of the estate.

After such time spent in the manse, my interest burned bright as to what lay beyond those stairs leading to his private apartments. I do not consider myself prying by nature, but… the human mind does loathe a mystery.

Last night, I could bear it no longer. I waited in my quarters, reading, until I heard the great front door open and close, indicating that the marquis had left for the night. His sojourns varied in length, but I knew I would surely have hours before his return at the very least.

Making my way through the darkened halls of the house, I avoided contact with those servants still going about their business, and arrived at the stairway to the north wing unchallenged. I found myself climbing before I had truly considered the consequences. Yet even then, I did not stop.

My footfalls seemed impossibly loud as I ascended, and I half expected the marquis to emerge suddenly from a darkened hall, furious at my intrusion. Or perhaps the servants would come upon me and whisk me back to my own quarters. Needless to say, my skin prickled, my eyes and ears alert as I stepped onto the landing and surveyed the possibilities. Three doorways to choose from, at least two of which likely went to hallways leading deeper into the wing.

The first room I inspected arrested me for some moments, its contents unexpected. A large, high-ceilinged room dominated the space to the left of the landing, with windows stretching tall looking out over the orchard, and a jungle of plants carpeting it in lushness. Flowering shrubs and vines and potted herbs covered near every surface, the air awash with a mixture of floral and earthen scents. In the centre, near the windows, a curious tapered brass tube stood upon a tripod, pointed up at the sky, its sides festooned with gears and gadgetry of seemingly arcane nature. Inspecting the end of it, I was startled to find the moon leaping near to my gaze, appearing in the tiny glass viewing hole as if near enough to touch.

While this unusual conservatory fascinated and brought more questions, I left it behind to continue my exploration, still of a mind to find more about the marquis. The other doors on the stairway landing indeed opened onto halls, dimly aglow with the wall lanterns, and silent as a tomb. The north wing was smaller than I had expected for the marquis' personal domain, but then, he had the entire manse at his disposal. The second hall seemed to be a servants passage—narrower and with few doors, so I concentrated upon the first, creeping into its dimly lit recesses. The first rooms proved to be a small study, guest bedroom, and what would be a sewing room were there a mistress of the house, all proving vacant.

The next room captured me once more, containing two long wooden tables equipped with glass jars and strange apparatus, several display cases along the walls holding more jars and satchels, along with what seemed to be an assortment of alchemical materials. A smaller table held a set of tools, scraps of leather and brass fittings, along with an old, leather-bound book with yellowed parchment that depicted hand-drawn plans for fantastic contraptions. It was open to a page of some spring-loaded mechanism with a clawed hook attached to a rope, and the pieces on the table appeared to be that very device disassembled. I left it be with some reluctance, doing my best to make it appear undisturbed.

It would seem that the rumours of the marquis' unusual pursuits are at least somewhat substantiated, though none of what I saw would lead me to assume the more macabre assertions of high society gossip to be fact. These were clearly instruments of science, not magic or the occult. Likely, his research assisted in his nighttime endeavours, though what other purposes he might be about, I could not fathom.

Exiting the workshop, I froze in place at a faint sound from further down the hall. Assuming it to be a servant seeing to the cleanliness or stock of the marquis' chambers, I ducked back into the workshop, my heart in my throat. While the marquis would not likely be harsh with me for my intrusion given our recent good terms, I had no desire to tempt his wrath. I waited there for a long moment, but no flickering purple light coursed near, nor did red eyes suddenly flare in the gloom. The sound came once more, and I recognized it now as splashing, and (proved by an ear pressed to the wall) emanating from the room next to the workshop.

Summoning my courage and moving with the utmost care, I tiptoed into the hall and slipped near the door of the next room, which was indeed open, allowing me an angled view of the room beyond. The floor was tiled, the chamber of a smaller size but still comfortable for a master suite, and I saw the clawed feet of a well-sized brass bath tub. A grooming table stood next to it, and upon it a mirror, allowing me a reflection of the room's occupant.

I nearly cried out, only the hand flying across my mouth stifling the gasp. My limbs once more seized in shock. This was no servant about their duties.

Seated upright in the tub, back to me, was a… creature. Roughly man-height, festooned with thick fur of charcoal greys and midnight swaths. A glorious tuft of heavy fur rested atop about its head and ran down its neck, and even slicked down with water, I took the impression that this mane would be glorious indeed. Upon the side of the tub rested a limb much like an arm, though tipped in a three-clawed bestial facsimile of a hand, those sharp nails blood-red. Motion drew my eye to three bushy tails twitching languid over the back edge of the tub, their fuzzy tips left dry.

As I watched in mixed fascination and horror, the beast let out a long sigh of contentment, reclined, and tilted its head to the side, presenting a profile in the mirror. Its eyes were closed, and even were they not, I do not think it would have seen me from its angle, but I shrank away from the door nonetheless. In that brief glimpse, I caught a narrow vulpine muzzle with pointed ears, eye ridges marked in crimson and suggesting an almond shape, and a black canid nose quivering with the scents of the rising steam.

Quivering in the hall, my mind raced, panic slowly tempered by logic. I had never seen the like of this creature before, but that did not prove it to be some abyssal creature as my first instinct had screamed in my mind. Was this a wild pokémon who had snuck into the marquis' home? Or perhaps some servant I had never seen? Yet, why should a wild creature draw itself a bath, and likewise for a servant in the marquis' private chamber? A compatriot, perhaps? The partner pokémon of one of the marquis' allies? Though again the question of why? At the very least, entering the marquis' home and making free of his private quarters was horrendously poor manners.

My eye strayed once more to the doorway of the bath, my view of the tub obscured. Should I march in with full bluster, and demand an explanation of the beast? What if it was dangerous? Should it attack, I was unarmed, and those claws were deadly looking things, to say nothing of the typical strength of a pokémon, let alone one of unknown origin and abilities.

Next to the grooming table, upon a clothing tree, several garments hung. A crimson and black smoking jacket. Black silk shirt. Familiar clothes, which the marquis wore at his ease.

My mind gibbered to deny the evidence before me. The marquis had left the house. I had lived in his presence for months now. He was a secretive man to be sure, but ultimately, a man. We had spoken, dined, attended social functions. He was a lauded member of high society for god's sake!

Arcane magic was poppycock, though certainly some pokémon abilities took forms akin to it. There were no such things as curses or hexes or transmogrifications. Attempts at such magics were no more than blind bumbling into misunderstood science, or charlatanism brought about by superstition, or human efforts to emulate the fantastic abilities of pokémon. The marquis' own tutelage in the realms of science had firmed my existing belief in this fact. The thing in there was a pokémon, nothing more, nothing less. A strange pokémon, but a pokémon.

I had not seen him leave. This pokémon was acting completely at home in the marquis' private bath. I had no notion of what its powers might be. The marquis' clothing, which he wore regularly, sat close at hand to the creature, prepared for when it would leave the bath.

I ran, abandoning stealth in my haste. The beast surely heard my retreating footfalls, but I was not pursued. Several servants whistled alarmed queries at me as I fled through the house, but I ignored them. Stumbling, panting, elbow bruised where I barked it upon a door, I retreated to my quarters and slammed the door. Were I less resilient, I might have fainted away right there on the floor, but I made it to the bed and collapsed, shaking. This shock was orders of magnitude greater than the marquis' revelation of his nighttime excursions. In that moment, I could not even concentrate to write down my thoughts, merely whirling them about in my head.

The marquis was not who he claimed to be. The marquis was not what he claimed to be. I had been deceived. All of Kalos had been deceived! What was that creature? Was the real marquis dead? Had he ever existed? I did not know his family history in detail, but there was certainly a lineage of house Bulgakov, so certainly there was, or had been, a Ruslan de Bulgakov. A man. A mysterious and fascinating man.

Had I just seen his killer? Was it even now stalking through the manse seeking to claim my life next as witness to its crime? But the clothing. Not to mention the factor of time. How could the creature have succeeded at dispatching the marquis, returned to his home, entered his private quarters without the servants noticing or raising a fuss, drawn a bloody bath for itself, and taken its ease in the short half of an hour since I had thought the marquis to have left?

What manner of man had I entangled myself with?

The clear answer chilled me to the bone. Not a man at all. A deceitful beast, somehow wearing a man's shape. The marquis' admonition not to enter his private quarters, his hesitation to take me in as a ward, his reclusive nature, his refusal to take a wife… It all made sense in sudden new and terrible context. What manner of creature was this?

I should leave. Pack my things and flee in the middle of the night. I would not expose him. I would take this terrible secret to my grave. I owed him that much.

And yet…

He had sponsored me in my desperation, taken me under his wing, expended genuine and surely exhaustive effort to enact improvement upon my character. For a beast in disguise, he spoke more eloquently than any man I had ever met, conducted his business with both shrewdness and uprightness. He was bold, virtuous, a purveyor of radical yet honourable notions, gracious and distinguished. He protected the weak and the innocent, and sought to expose and prevent the deeds of evil men. Beast he may be in form, but surely not in character.

We have become friends. I cannot even fault him for his duplicity, for how could he admit the truth to me when I was a stranger, and even less so when I was an ally, however trusted? Did any person know? Her grace, perhaps? His servants surely, for even were they also victim of his illusion, they would be cleaning fur from the tub and his bedsheets!

My mind conjured the image of that long, vulpine muzzle, framed by its impressive mane, and those three long tails twitching with the simple delight of a warm bath. A hoarse laugh left my throat, seeming over-loud in my quiet chamber. His fondness for black and crimson now seems clear, given the colouration of his pelt! With the absence of my initial fear and shock, I could even describe him as a handsome beast, that lithe form speaking to both elegance and strength, those ruddy markings striking as much as they intimidated.

He is not a man, yet he is the best man I have ever had the pleasure to meet. I cannot leave. Not yet. Certainly not as a coward in the middle of the night. I could speak with him. Confront him. Bare my new-found knowledge surely as I had about his excursions. The powerful desire to know more—to solve the mystery—consumes me like a fire within. Should we part ways after, so be it.

Yet I find myself wishing and praying that it would not be so.




12th of May, 1695


Journal of Edward Gravely


Three days it took to summon my courage. Three tense days in which I tiptoed on the razor's edge, seeing my host with new eyes. The marquis did not say a word, did not question me about that night, though surely he had heard my fleeing footsteps. Perhaps he assumed I had merely heard his bathing, and not seen his true face. I caught the odd sidelong glance in my direction, lending the sense that I was being weighed and measured, my very skin being peeled away to expose the secrets beneath.

Yet we did not speak of the incident. Several times, my tongue nearly ran away with me, blurting the question, yet I controlled it as fiercely as I sought to control my practice blade, awaiting the right words, the right moment. The marquis certainly sensed my distress, but perhaps thought it to be guilt at disobeying his directive, rather than this forbidden knowledge. He waited upon my musing with as much patience as he had ever shown.

Finally, I seized the matter by the proverbial tail. We sat at our ease in the drawing room, sharing a bottle of wine (rare for the marquis, who in hindsight was perhaps seeking to place me further at ease) and idle talk of politics and upcoming social events. After a time, the conversation fell as it inevitably would into a comfortable silence—though this one came pregnant with expectation, as the marquis was clearly allowing me to be the next one to break it. I teetered upon the razor's edge of drunkenness, whereupon a comfortable haze clouded my thoughts enough to loosen my tongue, yet not enough to overly hinder my reasoning. Yet still, with the moment upon me my lips nearly froze, but another sip of my glass—an excellent Dendemille vintage—steeled my resolve.

"Sir," I said, recalling my carefully rehearsed words, "if I may be so bold, I would request that you cease hiding your true face from me."

He watched me over the rim of his wine glass, a faint quirk at the edge of his lips. The purple liquid swirled about as he considered. Then, he spoke, answering as he often did with a probing question. "Do you know why I always wear a mask in public, lad?"

I had always assumed it to be a means of creating a sense of mystery around himself, and said as much. To this, he chuckled.

"Not quite, though you have part of it. If a man gives his face to a cause, people often see the man first. The mask is a symbol. The one behind it could be anyone, of any origin. The mask is indifferent to nationality, sex, and birth. If I wish for my cause to endure, it must extend beyond me, that any could take up its mantle." He grinned. "Moreover, the, 'marquis of masks' creates much more of an impression than, 'the marquis Bulgakov', does it not?"

I agreed that it did.

"But that does not fully answer your question," he continued. "What is the function of a mask?"

The answer at first appeared clear, but the marquis' questions were ever multi-layered, so I gave it due consideration before answering. "To obscure a truth, or to present a fanciful illusion."

"Correct. It can also be a means of protection via obfuscation. A safeguard against a frightful reality, or to protect one's identity."

At that, I laughed. "Sir, your reputation of wearing such an accessory precludes such protection."

"Perhaps, though there are many plain black masquerade masks in the world, lad. With a hooded cloak in the night, the task of identification is not so plain, even should others suspect."

"This means that any could imitate you, given the motive to do so," I said. "Why, what if someone were to commit a crime wearing your colours and mask?"

"True, and this is a risk I take," he said with a nod. "It is good that you see the flaw in this scheme, though I believe the benefits to outweigh that particular risk. There are other precautions I take as well, though this is not the moment to discuss them." He regarded me for a moment, fingers tapping lightly on the arm of his chair. Finally, he said, "You are not afraid of this truth, of what lies beneath my mask?"

"If I were, I would not be here right now," I said honestly. "Sir, you are my mentor. I would go as far as to say my friend. Perhaps…" I managed to halt my tongue before blurting something foolish. The wine was a double-edged sword. "Perhaps your true form is indeed best not shown in public, but I do not fear it."

He laughed, a rich and hearty sound. "Would that not be a tale? To show up at a formal affair, invitation in hand… Whom do you suppose would be the first to faint in shock?"

"Likely lord Talmand," I said with a grin, recalling the nervous, twitchy man.

"Indeed, and many others shortly after him." The marquis shook his head. "I suspected that it would only be a matter of time before you learned the truth. A curious mind such as yours would not be kept at bay by my order forever."

"Are you angry?"

"Of course not. I have been teaching you to question, to seek truth. To be angry at you for doing so would be grossly hypocritical, even if my initial reaction was surprise and some irritation when I heard your footsteps in my chambers."

"Would you have told me, had I not uncovered it."

Pausing, he considered this a moment, tapping the arm of his chair. "In truth, I cannot say. It is a revelation of rather shocking and delicate nature to most, and I could never be certain of your reaction. However, know that I did consider the matter most thoroughly." He took a deep breath, then nodded. "Very well. As you wish."

His form seemed to ripple, like the surface of a pond disturbed by a jumping fish. Then, the handsome, dignified man I had grown so familiar with over the past months was gone, replaced by the beast. Startling crimson eyes regarded me from behind that lengthy muzzle, that canine nose twitching. The wine glass he held daintily between two claws. A pointed ear flicked, its inner tufts a royal red to match his facial markings. The clothing hung looser upon him with this more slender frame, his shoulders and chest not filling the smoking jacket and shirt so completely, though they did not billow so much as to hinder his movements. The breeches were cinched tight around his narrow waist with a belt, and his feet—clawed similarly to his hands—were bare, furred paws. His mane spread behind him, a magnificent thing indeed, glossy charcoal tufts falling past his shoulders, while his tails waved in nonchalant arcs over the back of the chair.

Despite my readiness, my heart still skipped a beat at the dispersion of the veil, perhaps in part due to the suddenness of the action. For a moment, we merely watched each other, the marquis graciously allowing me to collect myself, and quietly forgiving my rude staring.

"My mother was a ninetales," he said after a moment. His voice was familiar, but slightly deeper, more guttural in tone. "My father was a zororark, a species from a distant region. Typically in such unions, the offspring follows the traits of the mother. But, in rare cases…" He gestured at himself. "They will gain a mixture of both parents' attributes. It leads to some most interesting outcomes."

"It certainly does," I murmured, unable to help myself as I leaned forward in my fascination. "You are like no other pokémon I have ever seen."

"Nor are you likely to. It is, as I said, quite rare. My general form follows that of my father most closely, but with touches of my mother, such as these." His tails flicked. "And this." He brushed a claw along his magnificent mane. "I also gained a mixture of their abilities, which has been most useful in my endeavours."

"What else can you do?"

He chuckled. "Am I a performer now, lad?" He quelled my hastened apologies with a wave of his hand. "A joke. I did not mistake your meaning. I cannot breathe fire as my mother's species can, but it seems I have some access to the mystic arts that my father's species does not. Quite helpful in a duel, or in other perilous situations, to sense the foe's actions with more than merely the eyes."

I nodded, though in truth I only partly understood. "How did you come to be in your position? There must have been a human marquis at some point, was there not?"

"Naturally. The last of the Bulgakov line, I am sad to say. My mother was in service to his house, and at a young age, he and I became companions. We were never master and servant, he and I, and we grew closer together across the years, until he took up the leadership of his house. Then, we were more—partners. He was the one who began to cultivate the reputation of the marquis of masks, as he too saw the corruption rampant in our society. I assisted him in every way I could, ever his invisible shadow."

He glanced down at his wine glass, his claws tightening on the arm of the chair. "He never sought a wife, caring more for the cause than his lineage. A pity, for he was the last of a truly great house. When he took ill—a disease of the heart I believe, the same that claimed several of his ancestors—there was nothing either of us could do. He begged me to take up his mantle, not to allow our cause to quietly fade away. He knew what my abilities could do, and urged me to take his place. All of the human servants were dismissed, ensuring that none would bear witness to the scheme, and leaving me as his only companion while he slowly wasted away."

Pain trembled on the edges of his words, though it hid behind a layer of resolve and dignity. He did not seek comfort, he was merely relating his tale. "How long ago?" I asked.

"Two and ten years. He was of an age with yourself at the time, though you are his elder by at least three years."

I sat back, stunned by the enormity of it. Such a very long time to pretend, to wear the form of another. "It must weigh upon you greatly, to have kept this truth for so long, to have walked this lonesome path. How heavy is this mask you wear? Necessary to be sure, and it explains your seclusion and refusal of suitors, yet it must chafe at times."

He chuckled. "You speak truth. I would certainly not wish to startle some maiden to death with my form, and such a union would not produce any heir. Moreover, I would be confined to the mask at all times, and could never allow it to slip. It is a burden I must bear, and one of constant vexation to hopeful mothers and fathers of the nobility."

"You took such a great risk, in permitting my wardship."

Those tails writhed, and a hint of fang showed in his muzzle. "Indeed. Your words struck a greater chord than you realize, lad. My servants are loyal, but they are not companions to grant much ease to my solitude. I saw potential in you then, and I am pleased to have been proven correct. It is good to have a friend to confide in once more, and now that you know the truth, I may at last be fully at ease with you."

"A trust I value most highly," I said.

"As well you should, for it is not earned lightly. But you have proven yourself more than worthy of it, my friend."

It is hard to put into words how elated that title made me feel. This quickly gave way to shock as the marquis set his wineglass aside and began to disrobe, casting off his smoking jacket and beginning to undo his belt, claws nimble enough to manipulate the buckle.

"Sir!" I cried, "What are you doing?"

The breeches slid to the floor as the question left me, and he sat back, muzzle parted in what seemed to be a bestial grin, his crimson gaze intent upon me, tails twitching behind him. I averted my eyes in shame, though my instinct screamed at me to stare. A chuckle brought heat to my face, but he took pity on my distress.

"Do not fear to look, lad. Even were pokémon standards of modesty as strict as that of humans, have you forgotten that I wear fur in truth, not clothing? This is nothing obscene. You wished for me to expose my true form, and that is precisely what I have done."

I glanced at him sidelong, attempting to measure his intent. Difficult to do in his human guise, impossible to truly read his bestial face. Was that gleam in his crimson stare merely amusement? Was there menace in that display of fang? Did that flick of his ear mean agitation or invitation? I refused to allow my eye to stray from his face, despite his admonition.

"Be that as it may, it feels rather immodest, and if you do not need them, why wear the clothes in the first place?"

"Simplicity," he replied. "It is easier to create the illusion this way, which is why I have worn them in your presence. Moreover, when I am away from home, they have use. Lovely as my pelt is, it has no pockets, and it is difficult to strap a belt to myself without breeches, in order to carry my duelling blade. However, the sensation of clothing is unpleasant, and I am much more comfortable without it."

I could not fault the argument, but it did little to quell the burning in my cheeks as I slowly turned back to face him. He made no effort to hide himself, reclining at ease in his chair, though the fur did indeed offer a form of modesty. The thick fur around his shoulders and neck thinned lower down his chest, the shorter fur appearing silken and gleaming in the crackling light of the hearth.

My traitorous gaze wandered against my command, and I caught a glimpse of shadow between his thighs, partly obscured by fur, but enough to confirm his manhood. For him perhaps it was not obscene, for his parts were not on open display as a man's would be, but it stirred a visceral reaction within me akin to that of seeing another man in his skin. A man who had, for all intents and purposes, disrobed provocatively before me. While my embarrassment burned merrily, so too did something else, and I shifted in the chair to hide the telltale signs stirring beneath my own breeches.

"You are ill at ease, lad," he said, studying me. I once more had the impression that he was peering beneath my skin, uncovering truths even I did not know were there. "Why?"

I assured him it was nothing. He was correct, after all. My objections of modesty were somewhat foolish, but the notion was not easily discarded, especially considering the length of time we had spent together. I was still adjusting to the sight of his true face, let alone this apparent disregard for clothed decency.

"Indeed," he murmured, "but I suspect there is more to it. Perhaps related to your own lack of interest in female companionship?"

I came to the conclusion that the slight parting of his muzzle and twitch of his ears was most certainly wicked amusement. While I am quite certain my secret was already plain to him, I was not yet ready to part with it. "I do not know what you are implying, good sir."

"Come now lad, do you think me a fool? I know that you are not, but it seems you wish me to ask directly. Very well. It is quite plain to me that you prefer the company of men. Wise of you to be prudent regarding your tastes, given that in some circles knowledge of them would see you shamed. Rest assured that will not happen here, however. Pokémon are not so… small-minded, about such things. Even if we were, you are aware my mind is open on many matters."

My face was surely as brightly lit as the hearth by now. I could do nothing other than nod.

He leaned forward, resting elbows on his thighs and clasping his hands beneath his muzzle, resting his chin on his claws. Those tails swished. The gleam in his eye reminded me uncomfortably of the excitement of our family shinx when it was on the hunt. "There now. No further secrets between us. Unless there is any soul-baring you wish to impart?"

I can only blame the wine. Or, perhaps thank it for provoking my honesty. The marquis had shared with me his deepest secrets. Was it not only fair for me to do the same? "Sir," I said, "I do have a confession. Over our time together, I had begun to find myself besotted with a budding romantic interest in yourself." My hand shook as I raised the wineglass to my lips, emptying it. When the marquis did not reply, I hastened to add, "Foolish, perhaps. A product of my admiration you might say, though I would not call myself susceptible to whimsy as a rule. I also do not know if I would have admitted it before… This. It would grieve me greatly to have you dismiss me in disgust."

A low chuckle pierced me. Had I misspoken? Was my fear now going to come to pass with my foolish words?

"Have your feelings now changed, lad?" The words were almost a purr, the interest of my mentor nearly palpable in the air. "Has your attraction waned with the knowledge of my species?"

It felt as if he had prodded me with a burning brand. My wine glass was empty, and I set it down for fear of dropping it. I did not know where to look, and settled for studying the floor between his feet. Those clawed toes flexed, digging into the rug.

"I do not know, sir," I said at last, my voice low. "Certainly you are the same man who so captivated me, yet… You are not a man."

This brought a rich laugh, though it was punctuated with a rumble akin to a growl. "Trust me, my friend, we may not share species, but I am certainly a man in the matter of flesh."

Unbidden, my gaze flicked up at this, fixing briefly on that shadowed space between his thighs. While I immediately looked away, cheeks burning, I am certain he noticed. "I have no doubt of your masculinity, my Lord," I said, vainly attempting to cover my slip, "but you speak of something obscene."

This time, the growl came in truth. "Come now, I have taught you better than that. The only obscenity in such a pairing is when it is an act of force and not consent, or in the human looking upon the pokémon as no more than a beast. Do you think me a beast?"

I hastened to deny the accusation, but he trampled over my words. "What is the essence of love?"

"That of wishing for the other's well-being above all," I answered promptly. He had recently introduced me to the philosophy of the scholar Zhang.

"Indeed. And do you think a pokémon cannot hold this ideal for their partner? Or likewise in return?"

I had to admit that they surely could, for who did not know of the bonds of loyalty which could occur between man and pokémon? Yet, tales of this lady giving herself to her cherished furfrou or of that lord making free with his servant delphox, were bandied about with hushed tones of the most scandalous nature. To be found out as one who 'bedded with beasts' was to entertain the queen's justice, and the shame and ridicule of one's peers.

"A senseless and archaic law, to be sure," the marquis spat. "One which my efforts will not overturn, but that I dearly wish to, for it causes far more anguish than it prevents. I would see these bonds viewed in the same light as those between two humans, for certainly for the pokémon in question, it is no different."

His words rang true in my ear, as to deny them would be to deny that he himself were a being of intelligence worthy of equal standing. Who was I to say that other pokémon were not also?

"Does my form then repulse you, my friend?" His tone was softer now, touched with a hint of disappointment, perhaps? I could not be sure. "If such is the case, I can accept it, though I had not thought you quite so frivolous. I cannot fault a man on his perception of beauty."

The forcefulness of my denial surprised me. "From my very first glimpse," I said, "once my shock faded, I thought you a striking creature. That has not changed." I met his gaze, my fear of rejection long gone, replaced by a curious rising anticipation. Any barriers between us were crumbling. "While it was a different face which I was enticed by, this one charms in its own way."

My words seemed to hang in the air as several breaths passed, the pair of us examining each other. While I had spoken in utmost honesty, I was still unsure where this path lead. Was I merely being tested, so that he may know my feelings, or was my admitted interest shared? While I was not new to the delicate dance of romancing another man, I was in unfamiliar territory, my usual methods of discrete flirtation abandoned. Moreover, the conflict within me raged on, uncertainty about what outcome I wished for pulling me in different directions.

"Tell me, lad," he said after a time, once more leaning forward, his dark nostrils quivering as if trying to scent me. "Have you had previous experience with other men?"

"I have. Part of the conflict with my father, who suspected of my dalliances. My previous lover and I… were forced to part under unfortunate circumstances."

"It grieves me to hear that."

I waved it away. "The past. I still ache for him at times, but such is the risk of romance."

"And is it a new lover you seek, or simply a bed mate?"

"While the former would be ideal, I am not opposed to the latter," I said, squirming a bit under his scrutiny. "It has been rather a long time since I shared a bed with another."

"I imagine brothels hold little attraction for you," he murmured.
"There are some which cater to my… interests, but you are correct. I would rather win a man than pay him."

"Well said. A sentiment I share."

My breath caught. "Then, you too prefer the company of men?"

He shook his head, and my heart plummeted. "Not precisely, but neither am I opposed to it, nor a stranger to it. I believe that two like-minded individuals can find both comfort and delight in each-other's mutual company, regardless of sex. Not to put overly fine a point upon it, but my bed too has been empty for quite some time."

Within, the part of me who yearned for this fascinating man won a victory over the part which wrestled with his nature. I could not ask for a better invitation. Throwing caution to the wind, I blurted, "Perhaps that is a malady I can cure."

The marquis did not torment me with an overly long pause, yet that instant felt like an age. "Mayhap you can, lad, mayhap you can." That gleam had returned to his crimson gaze, and as my stomach fluttered, he added, "I am willing to entertain this dalliance, if you are. Should it prove to be something more… That is a bridge we can cross upon arriving at it."

"I would be delighted to dally with you, my Lord," I breathed, skin prickling with a sudden mixture of anticipation and apprehension. What manner of affair might this turn out to be? I knew my way around a man to be sure, but I suspected I would have things to learn.

"Very good," he murmured, rising to his feet. He held out his hand to me, and as if in a trance, I rose and took it. His padded palm was rough against mine, yet ever so warm, and the fur was as smooth as velvet, even while those claws wrapping around my hand threatened to prick my skin. "Come, let us retire to my chambers, and see what this night holds." He winked, the action so incongruous, I almost laughed. "The streets shall have to mind themselves for the evening."

While I knew the way, he did not let go of my hand, leading me through the mansion's dim halls, with an occasional glance back as if to ensure I was still following. This close to him, the familiar scent of the light clove and sage perfume he used tickled my nose, but now it held a more subtle aroma—something distinctly bestial, strange but not unpleasant. It was earthy, wild, and oddly enticing. Several servants noted our passing, but if there was any comment in their low chiming, the marquis did not respond to it. Perhaps they knew the significance of our companionship, or perhaps rumours would be whistled all over the mansion tonight. I did not care.

He released his hold on me once we reached the master bedchamber, pulling away to stand before the large, four-poster bed. It too was sheeted in dark crimson, accented by a black-dyed blanket, and I could not prevent a smile. Perhaps it was a comfort to him to always be surrounded by his true colours, or perhaps it was a subtle hint to his true nature. Either way, it seemed that even this enigmatic creature held habits.

"I trust these accommodations suit you, my Lord Gravely," he murmured, his muzzle parted in that curious feral grin. "But please, if at any point you are uncomfortable, or have need of anything, do not hesitate to say."

I assured him that I would not hold my tongue, though I was now somewhat distracted in inspecting him. With the intent of our pending activity, I could behold him as a prospective lover, and my breath caught as I took in what awaited me. Truly he was a majestic sight to behold. His tails swirled in gentle undulations, accenting his lithe figure in ways no human could ever hope to match. While his bestial anatomy brought him to hunch forward slightly, his overall structure was not so removed from a man's, right down to the fur-covered maleness of his loins. Apparently he too felt the stirrings of arousal, for from that fuzzy sheath poked a crimson bit of flesh, at once fascinating and strange.

He chuckled, and made no move to hide himself, instead running a hand through the thick ruff of fur at his chest, calling attention to his body. "I must say, you currently hold the advantage of me. Won't you be so kind as to even the scales?"

Face heating, I complied, and began to doff my clothing. Throughout this disrobing, I felt the keen eye of the marquis upon me, and low murmurs of approval stirred both my pride and further embarrassment. I felt once again like a nervous virgin, filled with vague notions of how this exercise should proceed, yet baffled as to the actual execution. Then, I too stood exposed, skin of my arms turning to gooseflesh, my own excitement plain between my legs, even while the abrupt chill caused it to flag.

"Arceus preserve me, my Lord, I never knew you carried such an impressive hidden blade," the marquis said, pointed ears perked, muzzle parted in his peculiar grin.

I snorted a laugh, shaking my head at his mischief. "A speciality of mine, my good man. I must say you have my interest piqued on your own armament. Professional curiosity, to be sure."

"Indeed? I should permit you to indulge then. But first…" He stepped to me, and I found myself pressed into an embrace. Our difference in height was greater now, the top of his head tucking beneath my chin, but his glorious mane assisted in the discrepancy, leading to my cheek nestling against its luxurious softness. The silken glide of fur along my bare skin titillated in ways I have never before experienced, all while his impressively powerful arms held me close like the most cherished lover, stirring the yearning within me.

My hands ran unbidden through the velvety fur of his neck and shoulders, while the rugged texture of his pads drew circles on my lower back, claw tips tickling. Cold wetness under my cheek startled me, followed by a deep intake of breath from my companion and a heavy, pleased sigh. Pebbled dampness traced the line of my jaw, my eye attempting to track the languid movement of his muzzle even as I shuddered beneath his attendant touch. My cock surged, stimulated by this intimate contact, and by the curious sensation of rubbing across that lush pelt. That wild aroma grew heady in my nose, and his hips rolled, grinding the firm, fuzzy sheath of his manhood against mine. Once. Twice. A third nudge came with a light nibble to my chin, and a corresponding kiss of exotic heat on my swelling member.

Another long sniff, this time with his nose laid along my chest, and low groan left the marquis. He looked up, capturing me with his sanguine gaze. "Forgive my lack of decorum, lord Gravely," he breathed. "It has been—as I said—some time, and your scent is… most intoxicating."

I stuttered some kind of reassurance, though I was rather distracted by the southward movement of his hands, those rough pads thrilling in their foreignness as much as their sensation, even as he continued to rut lightly into my groin, coaxing forth our mutual readiness. If this tender ministration was what he considered indecorous, what exactly might he see as lascivious?

"Tell me," he whispered in my ear, his long, dextrous tongue flicking at the lobe, "what manner of lover might you be? Do you fancy being the one to give, or to receive?"

Somehow, I found the words to admit I had enjoyed myself in both positions, and was so far quite content at his mercy. He chuckled at this, the rumbles of it reverberating through me, and drew back from me with a suddenness that left me wondering if I had given offense.

"Come then," he said, standing at the foot of the bed. "You are surely aware that such an act must be prepared for. I would humbly request that you prepare me." One hand outstretched in a welcoming gesture to the bed, while the other motioned to his now partly exposed phallus, several inches of cardinal flesh exposed from that swollen sheath. He seated himself, wiggling up to the head of the bed and sinking into the thick mattress, then leaned back at ease, his thighs spread invitingly. "I am certain you are versed in what to do."

"Insightful as always, my dear Marquis," I said, quick to take up his invitation, for I was most interested to examine his intimate regions more closely. Following him onto the bed (which proved to not so much as creak beneath my weight and to be as luxurious as it appeared), I lay prone on my elbows, bringing myself within reach of his most intriguing privates. Every man I had previously been with had held his own charms when disrobed, and indeed discovering them was a goodly part of the delights involved in the act. Yet, each and every one of them remained alike in their general forms, which, while appealing to be sure, fell pale against the fascinating specimen presented to me.

I encircled it lightly between my palms, feeling its weight, its gentle throbs, and its most startling warmth. The fuzzy protective tube of his sheath rolled back beneath my exploration, freeing ever more of that deep red pillar, and hinting at the impressive size it would achieve once fully unleashed. Its tip flattened in a spade-like taper, culminating in a narrow point, but quickly fattening down the length of the shaft, which itself was textured with veins and striation as opposed to the typical smooth column of flesh I was used to. Beneath, resting on the piled fluff of his tails (helpfully tucked to the side as they were, even while their tips writhed distractingly in the corners of my vision), rested a tight sack of dark fuzz, bulging with its assuredly virile contents. I hefted it, lightly rolling the orbs within, and leaned in for a deep inhalation of my own, gorging myself upon his aroma. As before, cloves and sage danced in my nostrils with that curious ferality, the latter much more eminent here, unmistakably masculine, and powerfully seductive.

"Does my aroma please you, lad?" he murmured, his tone husky, a claw tip tracing delicately through my hair.



Come then, I am certain you are quite versed in what to do.”




I assured him that it did, proving my point with another heady breath, before closing in on my prize. Some men became beset with nerves once the moment came, their erection flagging as another became familiar with it. Some men were overly eager, or demanding of their lover in their haste for pleasure. Not so of the marquis. He permitted me to take my time, to appreciate him in his glory, to tease and coax his arousal as I saw fit.

And appreciate I did.

With a hand wrapped around the central thickness of him, I closed my lips about that wedge-like tip, swirling my tongue about in a manner which had proved effective upon most all of my past paramours. The marquis was no exception here, groaning out and twitching in a most gratifying way, his cock pulsing against my palate. Hot, runny liquid dribbled along my tongue. I swallowed, its savour familiar, yet heavier than I had previously experienced, and as enticing as his scent.

My hand and head began to move in concert, suckling at his shaft, while my free hand cupped his sack, stimulating every part of his masculinity. It was a familiar rhythm, one of deep breaths through the nose, saturating me in his alluring musk, while I sought to caress every inch of this warm, intimate dermis, both to examine its texture and to slicken it for the marquis' coming intent of me.

A quiver wracked me as I considered the pending likelihood of receiving this magnificent manhood. The grandeur of his pride already filled my hand quite thoroughly, and appeared of greater length than my own too, though he was not yet at full erection. We probably could have sent for grease or oil from the kitchen, but to do so would spoil the moment, and while I was perhaps not as ready for such an act as I had been in my former proclivity, I was certain I could take him with minimal discomfort even despite his significant girth. Especially given how prolific he seemed to be with that piquant fluid, its pulses splashing over my taste buds and further wetting his tumescent rod.

Lower still, my small finger quested over a tight ring of puckered skin, earning a grunt of approval. While my right hand pumped and squeezed, my left tickled and teased, ever aware of the delicateness of the regions I had been granted access to. His orbs twitched in response to my sensuous stroking, while the gentle probing of my small finger tested a familiar entrance, feeling it clench and flutter. I wondered if he had ever before been on the receiving end of a man's passions, but was far too caught up in my own activities to ask. There would be time enough for that later. Given how his cock surged between my lips, my lover enjoyed my attentions.

Quickly, that turgid member swelled to fill my mouth, my bobbing motion pressing gradually further, stretching my lips and jaw with his thick warmth. I was out of practice, and did not think I could swallow him down my throat yet, but I sorely wished to try, even going so far as to press that spaded tip to the back of my throat, until need for air forced me to relent, chest heaving as I sucked in air heady with his musk through my nose.

"Arceus, lad," he said, his voice low and shaky. "Do not make me the death of you." Even while he chastised my foolishness, his stroking of my hair quickened, indicating his approval of my efforts.

In lieu of verbal response, I redoubled my efforts, hand working to tug down his sheath, freeing the last inches of his most attractive spire. At its base, a thick protuberance arrested my exploration, and while my tongue twirled languid rotations around the tip, I awarded the wad of flesh an experimental squeeze. The resulting jerk of his hips and sharp intake of breath told me what I needed to know, and I proceeded to massage the expanding bulge, seeing what sounds and motions I might coax from him. Two rapid spurts graced my tongue, quickly gulped down, and to my shock, the pulsing mass beneath my fingers fattened, growing from the size of an orange to that of an apple, and preventing my grip from encircling more than half of it!

A gentle hand on my forehead pushed me back. I resisted at first, enraptured in the pleasure I was providing, eager to bring him to the height of ecstasy, but a gentle, "Steady, lad," cajoled me to release my lover's delicates. Chest heaving, I looked up, meeting that feral grin, the excitement plain in the gleam of his eyes, his tails flicking up about his shoulder.

"My Lord?" I said, my own voice thick with arousal.

Chuckling, he sat back on his elbow, providing me a lovely view of his full splendour, his turgid shaft bobbing and glistening in the room's dim lamplight. "You nearly had me to completion, young Gravely," he said. "While I think you may have desired such, I am inclined to make different use of your fine efforts."

A shiver that had nothing to do with temperature gripped me, and I nodded my consent. "What would you have me do, my Lord?" I can be forgiven if the tremble touched my voice in that moment, for what man can maintain full composure in the light of such an impending tryst?

The marquis gestured to the pillows, indicating I should lie on my back, and I hastened to comply. Arranging myself comfortably, I noticed that my own belly was sticky, my now proud erection leaking with my ardour. Seeing this, the marquis grinned his bestial grin, seated next to me and leaning over, his hand caressing my cheek.

"It pleases me that you are so thrilled by attending to my pleasure, my friend," he said. "If you would permit me, I would be honoured to grant you a similar boon."

"As my Lord pleases," I murmured, running a hand along the plush softness of his thigh. "I am yours to do with as you will."

"A gift most fine, and one I will not squander." With that, the marquis flowed smoothly down between my knees, raised them up, then gently lifted them to my chest, exposing my backside completely. I expected him to then wriggle forward, to tuck his engorged and slick flesh to my entrance, but he surprised me by leaning down, muzzle and nose tucking into the space between my scrotum and pucker, and inhaling long and deep. The sigh that followed was of a man who had just tasted a sumptuous dish, and then came the tickling wetness of that firm, textured tongue.

Several generous licks tickled my sack, shooting tingling pleasure through me, but then his attentions moved downward, his hands trusting mine to hold my knees up while he parted my buttocks with gentle claws. A moan of mingled surprise and gratification left me as that strong, slick muscle swirled around my entrance, not a hint of revulsion or hesitation in his movement. My cheeks burned, though I made no move to stop him. No lover had been bold enough to attempt this with me, nor I with them, though I had heard rumor of the act (in a particularly seedy brothel which had so happened to be home to two male prostitutes), and it proved to be both curious and delightful.

Teasing my tender circle of skin with steady pressure, the tip of his warm tongue wriggled, flexing against the resistance within until the latter ceded, permitting that dextrous organ entry. I may have mumbled something, but it was likely incoherent, lost as I was in the sensation of my lover's ministrations. The gentle heat of that pliable intruder offered little stretching, but gradually eased the innate tightness of my inner muscle, its dutiful wriggles hinting at the far greater insertion to come, and preparing my body to take it.

My entrance grew damp, slickened with his saliva, and each twist or lap urged my relaxation while also stoking my excitement. Soon, he was able to press more of his tongue inside me, nose buried against my testicles while he slurped with apparent gusto, the unusual stimulation from within prompting further sticky dribbles onto my belly. His hands flexed and squeezed, massaging my rump in clear appreciation, those claws pricking in titillating manner without piercing. The rugged pads gave an altogether new quality to his touch, their rhythmic glide over my pale skin shooting tiny sparks up my spine.

How long he held me there, gradually coaxing my passage and lulling me further, I could not say. By the time he withdrew with a truly lewd suckling sound, my nethers felt thoroughly soaked, as was the line of hair beneath my navel from my emissions, and I was more than prepared for what was to come.

"My Lord," I said, slightly breathless, "That was…. Most astonishing. You indeed have had experience in this matter."

Licking his lips, he said with a wink, "Of this, no, though I have lain with another male in the past—albeit one of pokémon descent rather than human. However, I have done certain reading on the subject. The far East has some rather revealing texts of that nature. I have long been curious to apply the described methods."

I stared at him, somewhat dumbfounded at the implication that he had learned such an act from a book. Shaking my head, I said, "You shall never cease to amaze me, my good man."

"Wonderful. Perhaps then we should continue?" His tone was husky, and he once more eyed me in that predatory manner. His cock had receded slightly during his attention to me, and had likely lost some of its slickness, but his efforts between my buttocks would more than make up for that, and even as I gazed upon him, a fresh spurt of fluid beaded up on that narrow tip. He too was eager, and I nodded, heart pounding as I lay back and gripped my knees, presenting myself.

The mattress shifted beneath his weight, and then he was overtop of me, kneeling and aligning himself to my exposed rump. I felt a firm prod—heated flesh nudging my tender orifice—and instinctively stiffened. A second cajoling bump, then a third, and I recalled the means of easing oneself with a deep breath, and did so. The fourth nudge spread me around him, that narrow spade plunging in, and immediately halting with no more than an inch ensconced. The marquis waited, truly a most gracious and patient lover, while my insides adjusted to the new intruder. Heated fluid (warm enough that my eyes widened and a soft, wordless exclamation left me) dripped down my tunnel.

"Is it too much for you, my young Gravely?" The marquis was stroking my side, his eyes alight with concern tempering his obvious lust. "If I am going to injure you, I would prefer to—"

"No," I said, rudely interrupting his benevolence. After an apology which he waved aside, I clarified, "I only require a moment, my Lord. Please continue, but slowly." A sudden boldness overtook me, and I added, blushing, "I would have all of you inside me before this night is done."

A low growl rumbled in his chest: not one of aggression, but of desire, a sound that stirred something primal within me. "And so shall I grant your request," he said, voice thick and husky as he leaned forward, his weight pressing his throbbing flesh inward. My muscles still resisted, but his incredible tongue-work and the added slickening of his emissions aided him, permitting a gradual advance past my inner ring. I shuddered beneath the assault, grimly holding my knees through the slow breaching, the initial burn of stretching around a man's thickness gritting my teeth, until he rested with only the thick wad of flesh at his base outside of me, its bulbous meat still half of the size it had previously been. Feeling its kiss against my already distended hole, I thrilled to consider accepting it too, that fascinating protuberance swelling inside me…

The pain, ever fleeting with an appropriately gentle lover, was giving way to the satisfying ache of limbering muscle. The marquis' tender caress of my ribs and reassuring susurrations lulled me further, and I offered him a nod to truly begin. A moment longer he rested, his buried shaft pulsing gently, adding to the liquid fire within my depths. Then, a slow retreat, stroking my passage, allowing it to settle briefly, before smoothly reversing in an equally deep plunge. I grunted, the returning stretch reasserting his dominion over my body, my walls forced aside to accommodate his manhood.

Moments slid by, my mind drifting in the easy rhythm of body sliding into body, the marquis' maintaining utmost control of his thrusts to gradually accustom me. It felt incredible. The warmth of him soothed with each cautious motion. His exotic texture and shape pressed into me in completely new ways, even as the girth of his member spread me greater than any I had previously had the pleasure of accepting. I could feel the restrained power in his movements, muscles honed by both natural bestial strength and daily regimen.

Had he wished to, he could have simply bent me over and had his way with me. Yet, I was being treated as well as his most prized possession. Indeed, I felt so: claimed by him in both body and name, his steady drive into my depths one of inexorable mastery, but tempered with his graciousness. It was not an unwelcome emotion. Far from it! For in that moment, I was utterly his, and to be so cared for was a feeling I had not experienced in a long time. It was my pleasure to give myself to him, and the moan that left me as he pressed in deep—testing my entrance with that thick bulge at his base—was one of wordless confession to this fact.

He answered me with another deep growl, and his pace began to increase. He remained smooth, but a touch of force and increased fervour marked the motions of his hips. My untouched cock bounced, smacking my belly lewdly, and I hugged my knees tighter so as not to prevent his rutting, gasping with each new thrust. His hands fell to my hips, increasing his hold on me, even as he leaned forward overtop me, gazing into my eyes with feral intensity.

"Your face betrays you, my young lord," he grunted. "Are you certain this is not the role you prefer?"

"Both have their delights," I replied between panting breaths. "Yet the fulfilment of another man inside you is difficult to describe."

"Indeed? Perhaps you must needs educate me in this matter."

"If you would wish it, my Lord, though I confess to such delights being far from my mind at this juncture."

He chuckled, and stole my breath with a firm drive of hips, a most obscene wet smacking sound emanating from our union. Before he withdrew for another attempt, I felt my abused rear loosening further, beginning to give way before that orange-sized bulb. Without breaking his current rhythm, he hunched over me, shifting his knees forward to tilt my nethers up slightly, and lowering his neck at what seemed an impossible angle.

"Allow me to treat you to such a delight regardless."

I surely gaped like a fool while he curled his head down in a manner which must certainly break an ordinary man. Then, even while his continued rut bounced me upon his turgid staff, he engulfed my flopping member into his muzzle. I gasped and swore as sweltering damp velvet enclosed around my sensitive length, more than half of it fitting neatly into his maw without so much as a scrape from those needle fangs. He merely held it, his own motions serving to thrust me into his oral ministration, even while he ploughed my depths more thoroughly. My grip upon my knees slipped, arms feeling weak both from strain and from the euphoria rioting through me, wordless cries escaping my throat. The marquis' pace faltered a moment, then redoubled as I wrapped my legs about his waist, pulling him to me like the most wanton of whores.

I shuddered, struggling to restrain myself while a profound ecstasy swelled within, centred upon my loins, that familiar rising tension demanding that I unleash all semblance of control. This fantastic dual assault on my sensitive regions was unlike anything I had ever felt, and my desire to dive deep into the beckoning pool of bliss with my incredible lover roiled within my chest. I may have babbled something—a senseless declaration of love, or perhaps a mere cry of raw passion. The marquis' plunges were hammering at that hidden place buried within me—that glorious inner organ which granted incredible thrills when engaged—and each hunch of his loins tested the ever-weakening resistance of my passage to take all of him.

A soft vibration thundered down the straining length of my cock. Wet, pebbled muscle slathered across my turgid head. My sack tightened, and with a mixed groan of grateful release and chagrin, my control failed. Seed gushed forth into the marquis' welcoming maw, the sheer pressure of my ejaculate surely spattering the back of his throat. Yet, he must have been prepared, for he did not so much as sputter, and his eager pounding did not cease for an instant, that deep-probing member stimulating my hidden pleasure spot. My hips jerked in spastic reaction, seeking to hilt within that suckling muzzle, even while he swallowed my spurting offerings. The wild motions had the added benefit of complementing his, seeking to fully drive him into my clenching insides.

As my glory waned, those uncannily powerful bursts fading to a trickle, I was consumed by the need to have my lover reach his peak. His eyes were upon me, mischief twinkling in their crimson depths even while he continued to hold my still-hard manhood between his lips, gently sucking it clean. Chest heaving and damp with sweat, I tightened my legs about his waist, adding my strength—admittedly faltering as it may have been in that moment—to his, tugging him to me.

My member fell from his maw, a growl most ferocious leaving him. I saw something change in his gaze—a shift from caring lover to lustful beast in need of release. Then, he was atop me, arms encircling my waist and cinching tight, raising my rump from the bed completely! As one we sang out our desires, his firm and controlled movements giving way to a frenzied rutting. I was his, completely and utterly, and he would breed me to mark me so.

Somehow, my cock remained hard, likely due to the unrelenting battering of my inner place, and it bounced against my stomach with bawdy smacks. While I felt utterly helpless in his grasp, it was a sensation most gleeful—to be completely under the mercy of a mighty and benevolent lover, who avails themselves utterly of one's body… There is no experience quite like it.

I felt my entrance trembling, resisting the final inches of thick flesh attempting to ram inside me. That simply would not do. I pulled in time to his powerful thrusts, my ankles locked around his gyrating buttocks, and he was quite suddenly buried entirely! Breath flew from me as my rear protested the oversized intrusion, even while the ecstasy of having all of him within joined the strange delight of that heated firmness rubbing and filling me so completely.

At once, the heat grew, liquid gold bursting forth to warm my cockles. One mighty stream after the other, seemingly without ceasing as if a fountain spurted its bounty deep inside me. He shuddered, enraptured in his release, his tails spreading behind him like a most majestic fan. A series of small, bestial grumbles marked his satisfaction, even while his hips continued to work, unable to achieve much motion but as if to saturate me most thoroughly. Wondering at the incredible offering, my hand fluttered to my belly, which gurgled in response. Stars above, at that rate, it seemed he would swell me like a waterskin! The stretch of my abused rear did not prevent me from clamping down upon him, coaxing forth more of his welcome seed, and a pleased rumble.

He settled over me then, gently lowering me down, all tension leaving him. My gratified sigh joined that of the marquis, his chest heaving from his efforts, while I sank back in languorous contentment. We lay, tangled, my spread thighs loose around his hips, my softening cock drooping to the stickiness of my belly, while the marquis rode out his lengthy peak, those powerful spurts flagging after a moment, but his engorged bulb keeping us most firmly engaged.

"Forgive me, my young lord," the marquis murmured, his tone soft with both languor and contentment. "We may be here some time. A certain… anatomical feature of my species, you see."

"I did indeed take notice," I said, my own voice rather breathless, but managed to grin devilish at him while offering another squeeze, earning a grunt and a fresh spray of lordly progeny. "You have put me through my paces, good sir. I trust my performance did not disappoint?"

For a moment, he seemed about to question after my well-being, but then he chuckled, shaking his head. "Were this an examination, you would receive top marks, my Lord Gravely." He shifted, and more of his weight rested on top of me, burying me in his warmth in a manner most protective. My chest welled with joy, and I found myself embracing him, our twined bodies pressed tight.

"Please, sir," I said, overtaken by emotion, my words hesitant. "Call me Edward. I would like to see us as past formality."

"We may very well be," the marquis murmured, even while another gout of seed graced my depths, and his grip around my chest firmed. "A curious side-effect of having one's cock buried in another man's rear."

The offhand comment broke whatever tension lay in the air, and I laughed, shaking the two of us with my mirth. "Sir, you are a gentleman to be sure, but you are also a rogue when it suits you!"

"A charge I am most guilty of." He nodded, his expression grave. Then, softening, meeting my eyes, he said, "It would also please me, Edward. This does not alter our former agreement, you understand, but I believe you are correct that this dalliance strengthens our bond." He hesitated, glancing away, and I thought to speak, but his sudden shift turned my words into a huff as his sheathed staff probed about within me. Almost too soft for me to hear, he said, "I would tell you my name. My true name. One unused so long I had nearly forgotten it."

My breath hitched. "If it please you, my Lord."

Turning back to me, he offered a faint smile. "It is…"

And I will not pen it here. For what he shared with me in confidence that eve, is a treasure too precious to sunder with pen and ink. It is one I hold dear, and not one to be squandered.

We lay together for the rest of that night. I learned more of his wiles, and he in turn learned something of mine. He had me again, a lusty affair of him pinning me from behind, and punctuated with bawdy moans that surely the servants heard (mostly my own). I did not return the favour, though he did suggest it, choosing instead to maintain that particular pleasure for a later date, which the marquis agreed would surely come to pass (and likely soon). By the time we collapsed to the sheets, mutually exhausted, every muscle of mine sore in that oddly satisfying way (especially that of my poor rump!) and fouled with sweat and other fluids, it was well into the deep of night.

It is difficult to describe my emotion upon waking next to him. I woke first, and took great delight in observing his somnolent form, peaceful in the way only a sleeping creature can be. It became quite clear to me in that moment that I, at least, was smitten. I did not dare to say so when he woke, for this new juncture in our relationship was yet tender and fresh, like a spring sapling poking above barely thawed soil. Yet, there is a tenderness in his eyes when he looks at me now, and I suspect that he may be experiencing feelings for me which extend beyond friendship. In time, we will approach this matter. We will do so together, for no man is an island.




21st of June, 1695


My dear friend Matthew.

I write to you with splendid news, but I fear some of which you may find lamentable. It is difficult to express the joy I felt to receive your letter, only to have it sour at the words within which begged me to abandon my 'fool's quest' and return home. Yet, even while your regurgitation of my father's wishes pained, it still did my heart good to hear of your triumphs and success, and the news of your coming child! I know how much you have yearned for one, and I wish you nothing but the greatest of happiness.

But I shall not torment you my friend with the dangling hint of my own announcement. I fear that this shall be the last correspondence you receive from me for some time, as the marquis and I prepare for a journey! He determined that, in order to strengthen me into a true man of title, I should see more of the world, and he has booked us passage on a ship to the exotic region of Rojesh!

While my nerves admittedly prickle at the prospect of such a sojourn to a land so foreign, I am soothed by the knowledge that the good marquis shall be my guide. Not even the promised sweltering jungle heat or strange creatures and customs of the land shall scathe me with him at my side. It promises to be an excursion most memorable, and my imagination runs rampant in anticipation!

My friend, there is much more I wish I could say to you in these words. There are things I have learned, ways I have changed. Suffice it to say that I am a different man than the one that parted ways with you a year past. The marquis has had a profound impact upon me, and I know now that I am worthy of the right to our family seat. I know how I blustered and postured before, yet my father had some right in calling me a useless dandy, and in my deepest heart I knew that he spoke a measure of truth. A truth which plagued me until the marquis' tutelage and guidance turned it to ash.

One day, I will return home, and prove that these are not mere words on page. I will return and claim my birthright. I suspect even my father—dour man that he is—would be pleased at the man I have become. I have written to him too, both to mend the fading bonds between us, and to inform him of my pending journey. I do not know how he will receive it. Do speak to him on my behalf, would you? I am certain that, secretly, he grieves at my absence, though he will never admit it.

For now, I shall remain with the marquis. He is a man unlike any other, my friend, and I will not be parted from him. He calls for me now, and I must ready to take our carriage to the docks.

I believe I shall be at his side for a long time to come.


Yours, truly,



Chapter End Notes:

Like the story? Hate it? Please consider leaving a comment to let me know! Want to see more like this, and maybe help support? Come check us out at

Artwork by the wonderful CanadianBacon available here:

No comments posted
No reviews posted