Vanya tried to swallow, but his throat burned from the smoke. Master King called it “incense,” but it stunk--some sticky-sweet something or other he found at an occult shop.
“Get on the altar.” King’s voice sounded more harsh than usual, as though his excitement made him want to yell at Vanya.
The stone surface burned with cold, and Vanya’s skin flinched from it. Already nude, his ass muscles threatened to cramp as he sat down. He tried to ignore the chill crawling up his crack toward his balls, and squeezed his legs together to protect himself.
“Now lie back.”
King’s hand whipped across Vanya’s face. It hurt, heavy and stinging, but more, the look in King’s brown eyes brought bile to Vanya’s throat.
“Don’t argue with me, boy. Lie back!”
King clenched his hand in the air, and pain erupted along Vanya’s skin from his neck to his balls. He smacked his elbow on the stone’s edge in his haste to lie flat. His begging for mercy got drowned by King’s chanting, and a rushing sound grew in Vanya’s ears.
Smoke from the brazier on the far end of the altar near Vanya’s feet filled the air. It billowed in a black cloud and boiled like a storm, writhing in midair. It slithered, snakelike, to the right and down toward Vanya’s body.
But when Vanya tried to move, his body lay like iron enclosed it.
“Master, please!” Vanya’s muscles cramped from the effort of moving, all to no avail. “Please, I can’t move.”
King continued without break, and Vanya caught enough of the Latin to understand the invocation called on the Element of Fire.
His stomach jolted. Not the Element of Fire. A fire elemental. Vanya panted and tried to clear his head. He’d studied enough to understand the ritual his master attempted. A mage could not summon and seal to themselves such a powerful supernatural creature without the magical discharge of a sacrifice. Frantic now, Vanya tried to follow King’s movement, and his gaze landed on the curved blade of King’s athame. Vanya swallowed around the huge lump of terror lodged in his throat. His master’s athame was an antique dagger, and a wave of dread swept through Vanya. King planned to offer Vanya’s life
as the required sacrifice.
Vanya threw everything he had into his struggle. He screamed over and over, but King didn’t stop his steady chant. Even Vanya’s terrified sobs did nothing to move him. Exhausted, Vanya lay against the stone with tears on his face and sweat drying on his skin.
“Ignatius, I summon thee.” King sounded triumphant and self-assured. He lowered a lit candle into an iron dish on the small altar in front of him, his gaze on the candle’s flame.
Then all hell broke loose.
The bowl exploded and took half the table with it. King shrieked and clapped a hand to his face, and blood oozed from between his fingers. The table toppled, moving slowly, and spilled all the carefully prepared objects every which way across the stone floor. The spell holding Vanya to the altar popped like a soap bubble, but King didn’t seem to be looking at him. Around them, the protective circle flared once before fading away.
Without warning, King snatched his athame and scrambled for the hidden door. He pushed it open and rushed outside without looking back.
Vanya stared after him for several long moments, trying to calm his breathing and to stay where King told him to lie. The stone’s chill sank into him, and he finally risked sitting up. King didn’t reappear.
“He’s not coming, lostling.”
Vanya’s head snapped around almost of its own volition, and he banged his chin on his own shoulder. It hurt when he bit his tongue.
Then Vanya saw what had made King run.
A figure stood about six feet tall, maybe a little more, the smoke billowing around him like clothing. A light dusting of black hair shadowed his chest, more like feathers than chest hair. It descended in an arrow toward his--
Vanya flushed. The stranger didn’t have a stitch on.
Yanking his eyes back up, Vanya tried to drag his gaze toward the elemental’s face but didn’t quite dare. A strong jawline ended in a gentle cleft, more like the gods drew a finger down his chin than anything more pronounced. Vanya’s fingers itched with the desire to touch him.
Vanya could feel the demand in those eyes and tried to look away. He wanted to move off the altar, to follow King to freedom, but his muscles had turned to noodles.
“How old are you, lostling?”
It took several times for him to find his voice. “Twenty.” It came out in a breathy whisper.
“Look at me.”
Please no. Don’t make me. Don’t take my soul.
His eyes didn’t obey him, and he found himself staring directly into a tawny-gold gaze. Large and expressive, they made the elemental’s face seem like the statue of a Greek god in its perfection.
“Where are we?”
Vanya swallowed. “Edmonds, north of Seattle. Um...in Washington State. America on planet Earth.”
An eyebrow arched over one of those odd eyes. “What is your name?”
Swallowing, he tried to get his voice to work. “Vanya.”
He grunted. “You’re Russian?”
Vanya shrugged. “American, now.”
The elemental cocked an eyebrow. “I see.”
“My m-master left, but I’m sure he’ll be back.”
The elemental laughed. The sound of it brought acid into Vanya’s throat, and tremors started in his limbs.
“He’s right upstairs--”
“Even you don’t believe that, Vanya.”
The elemental stalked around the altar, stepping out of the concealing smoke. His skin glowed in the candlelight like caramelized sugar, and Vanya fought the overwhelming urge to touch him. His treasure trail caught Vanya’s gaze again. Vanya flushed hotter than before, and his heartbeat thudded in his neck. Desire flooded him, tingling his nipples and tightening the front of his body.
The elemental smiled a slow, languorous smile. “We have to finish the sacrifice.”
Vanya jolted back so fast his ass skidded off the edge of the altar, and he tumbled backward. His head whacked the slate floor, and little black dots swam in his vision.
When the elemental knelt next to him, he screamed and tried to pull away.
“Hush, now,” the elemental soothed. “You know my name, don’t you?”
What had King said? Something with an I
. God... “Ignatius.” Vanya blurted it loud enough it echoed around the room.
Ignatius inhaled, his eyes fluttering closed as though with pleasure. His lips turned up in a smile. “Yes.”
Vanya made it to the doorway before the elemental caught him. Ignatius’s hands burned his arms, though it didn’t hurt. The heat sank into him and soothed his panic. The elemental backed him against the wall, pressing their bodies together.
“You are a virgin?”
Flushing, Vanya shoved him away. “It’s not like I had a choice. King’s spells keep--”
“His spells are broken, lostling,” Ignatius murmured, cupping Vanya’s cheek and gazing at him with those huge golden eyes. “Your innocence is the sacrifice. Not your life.”
Vanya stared at him, shocked into stillness. He watched the way the black fringe of lashes outlining Ignatius’s eyes highlighted them, making them seem even larger than they were. Smoke and fire made into flesh, the warmth of his hand sank into Vanya’s cheek.
As Ignatius’s smile grew from his eyes to his mouth, bringing an echoing one from Vanya, he knew one thing: King hadn’t intended for the ritual to turn out like this.
A. Catherine Noon & Rachel Wilder