For the Like a Spell anthology, we asked writers to challenge the traditional tropes and send us something new—original stories of magic users, interesting twists on the typical sorcerers and mages. The response was overwhelming and exciting, and we decided to publish four separate anthologies, using the theme of classical elements (earth, air, fire, and water) as the focus for each collection.
For the fire anthology, we’ve focused on stories portraying the love between men. When we thought fire, we thought of the passion and heat of men, the all-encompassing flames of their desires. We thought of the fire gods Ra and Vulcan, Agni and Xiuhtecuhtli. We thought about strength, ferocity, and power.
In “Passage, Performance, Passion,” Avery Vanderlyle explores what would happen if a Changeling wizard recruited an ordinary—but awfully cute—mortal male to participate in a sex ritual. The Changeling, Raavi, just wants to open a portal to find a gift his parents left him, but if he needs to get naked in a cave with a human in order to do so, who is he to argue?
In J. C. Williams’s “Here There Be Dragons,” we get a peek into David Maurey’s birthday celebration. David is a bit traditional and easily embarrassed, but that hasn’t stopped Callum from lovingly torturing him in front of all the other dragon handlers. The festivities continue at home, as Callum makes sure David’s birthday is one to remember.
In “The Best Part of the Power,” Ellis Sandry tells the story of two professors who geek out together and end up, well, a little more intimate than two respectable colleagues ought to be. Arin is young and freshly hired on to the faculty for his expertise in cultural thermatology, and Professor Brook is an experienced archaeologist, a member of the old guard. Arin has fantasized about the older professor, but he doesn’t actually think anything will come of it… until it does.
In “The Blood of the Mage,” Rhidian Brenig Jones reimagines the classic orphan-with-magic trope and turns it on its head. Yes, Leonas is an orphan, down on his luck, with no immediate future prospects, and yes, he has magical abilities that he’s been trying to hide. But when he meets Aleris, a startlingly handsome mage who looks much younger than he really is, Leonas learns that becoming a mage is a lot less about sitting in stuffy rooms bent over tomes and a lot more about mastering his body and harnessing his sexual energies for use elsewhere.
Lucien Grey shows us a lonelier side of a mage’s life in “The Prince’s Mage.” Phryne is blind, but he doesn’t need eyesight to see the beauty in Lysander, third in line to the throne and chained in a dungeon since adolescence. Phryne knows how to keep the demon inside Prince Lysander at bay, but when someone places a target on Lysander’s back, it’s the demon itself that Phryne needs to talk to in order to get some answers.
Finally, in “Fervidus,” Welton B. Marsland introduces us to Dunstan, a crotchety old wizard who’s too smart for his own good. When he finds out his apartment is under new management, he thinks nothing of it. But then the new landlord shows up to collect the rent, and Dunstan recognizes Martin Greenman, an “annoying little git” from his army days. Then he hears shocking noises from the landlord’s unit—right above his—and realizes that not only are they sex noises, but, worse, he’s… strangely intrigued by them.
Read on for a hot excerpt from “The Best Part of Power” by Ellis Sandry:
Dr. Arin Ward edged into the Senior Common Room of St. Anthony’s college and boggled. It was creaking with heritage. The room was full of old white professors—lined up like the Lewes Chessmen, and making him feel more than usually young and gangly. But Arin had worked hard to get to St. Ant’s, so he picked a path between the leather sofas and hailed the nearest academic.
He was a white-haired guy in weather-worn blue tweed. “Hello! I’m Patrick Brook. One of the old guard.”
“Arin Ward. Um, the enfant terrible?”
“Well. That doesn’t do either of us any favors,” said Professor Brook. His wry voice made Arin look at his face properly: thoroughly creased, jaw dotted with white stubble, but with eyes that twinkled. “Call me Patrick. Welcome to St. Anthony’s.”
Patrick’s hand, when Arin shook it, was warm and calloused, and the room felt immediately less hostile.
“I’m Archeology,” Patrick explained.
“I’m Cultural Thaumaturgy,” said Arin.
“Er. I haven’t kept up with the new fields, forgive me—what’s that?”
Arin tried to think of an explanation that was neither patronizing nor pretentious. “I read spells and look at their social setting.”
Arin was surprised when the Professor’s light-blue eyes lit up. “I approve of that! Not like those Practical lads over in the new block, have you met them?” Arin nodded. The School of Practical Power. “They take things out of context. They want Power to work like electricity.”
“And it doesn’t, does it?” Arin chimed in, forgetting nervousness. “It’s always part of a social context.”
“Precisely! The Practical lads call me up and say: that leather neck-piece you found for us—we liquidized it and stuck it back together, and now it doesn’t work anymore. Can you find us another one?”
“They do. And they’re so bloody well endowed!” Arin tried not to grin, and the Professor bit his lip. “Oh dear. With funding grants, I meant.”
Arin meant to say more, but a greentingling was creeping into their sinuses. Arin scanned the room—yes, some idiot was levitating a spoon. Head high, trembling, an accident waiting to happen.
“Oh, what an arsehole. Sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“No, you’re right. Tomfoolery. Give me a moment…”
The Professor raised his hand—strong and tanned, with tiny scars from thirty years of digging. And the greentingle leeched out of the air, and the spoon spun, sunk, and clanked back onto the table (to cries of annoyance from the nearby faculty).
Useful, thought Arin. After a long day studying Powerful words, when everything ached, could Patrick drive out the green fizz from your body? Use the heels of his strong hands to push the buzzing up and out of your neck muscles? Hard thumbs digging in, grinding in slow spirals….
Arin’s vision was cut short by Patrick’s head flopping back against the leather Chesterfield.
“Are you all right?”
“Ha. Yes. No. Migraine. Damping down Power sets it off, sometimes.”
“I know a charm for headaches. If you want to risk it.”
Patrick answered with his eyes closed. “Will it turn me into a toad? Go on, do your worst.”
Arin called the words to mind and spoke them. Tongue tingling, throat rubbed raw by the energy, Arin felt the charm snag on the points of pain in Patrick’s mind—his interesting, crinkly-complex mind—and dissolve them.
A look of blessed release spread across Patrick’s face.
“Thank you. Amazing. You see, useful Power! Not titting about with cutlery. Think what we could achieve, with your mouth and my hands! Oh good grief. I’m so sorry.” His cheeks actually grew pink. “I’m not fit for company, I’d better go home.”
Arin wanted to say: You don’t need to apologize, I was wondering myself about your hands, and my mouth. Seeing him with his head thrown back, smiling, had tugged at Arin’s guts.
* * * *
Later that night Arin looked up the Professor’s work. There were plenty of photographs of him when he was younger, triumphant in trenches, holding up famous amulets and torcs; he’d been one of the first archaeologists to specialize in Powerful finds. Others showed him standing outside the British Museum with a petition; he’d campaigned for the return of many objects of Power to their home countries.
Patrick’s pale eyes against his tan skin put Arin in mind of caramel ice cream. Where did his tan end?
Arin cut off the speculation. Beneath this flood of lust were some pretty knotty motives. Hero worship, office politics, the prospect of having power over a powerful man. It wasn’t a coincidence that desire had ambushed Arin at the first social event of a new job.
Arin resolved to enjoy Professor Brook frequently, and at length. But only in fantasy, and solo.
Arin allowed one hand to wander downward, fingertips rubbing sensitive spots through scruffy leggings. Picking up the fantasy again, Arin wondered: if one were to explore Professor Patrick’s body, would his brown wrists give way to pale arms, maybe gray chest hair, before the gold flush returned at the base of his throat?
My hands, your mouth, he’d said. A picture formed, of Patrick stroking Arin’s lips, carefully pushing two of his rough fingers into Arin’s mouth. Arin imagined greedily sucking and licking at them, and seeing Patrick close his eyes and smile, helpless with lust.
* * * *
The half-term break brought an agitated rapping on Arin’s office door.
Patrick was more than normally mud-caked.
“Arin! Make yourself useful!”
“Useful to you?” Arin set aside a stack of Tudor contraceptive charms and followed Patrick outdoors, along the cobblestone paths that wound between the university buildings.
“Useful to human knowledge! I’ve just unearthed something. Well, un-watered it. From the depths, it cried to me….”
“Where were you digging? Or diving?”
“A fountain in Somerset.” He sketched out the dig site with his hands: the converging sandstone hills, prop-holes and fire-pits. “You’ll love what I’ve found.”
The long wood workbenches of Patrick’s lab held many trays of liquid, like photographic developing baths. Even from this distance they felt tingly.
“Don’t touch anything.”
“You non-archeologists always want to poke things.”
Arin resisted poking Patrick, and instead leaned over a tray. It held dark rectangles the size of credit cards. Sheet metal, perhaps? Marked onto them were rows of delicate curved scratches. Water swirled and bloomed in the silt around them, as did a pine-colored fizz. Strong magic.
“They’re dozens of charms,” said Patrick. “Tossed into the spring.”
“Like in Bath?” The Bath curse-tablets were an early Powerful find. They could scour your skin off if you handled them wrong.
“That’s where you come in. They’re probably Tudor. Would you read them for me?”
Arin looked up in surprise. Handling unknown Powerful objects was reckless. But Patrick’s smile was pleading, daring Arin. “Oh, go on. I can’t read this style of lettering at all. Just do one?”
“Yeah, one blood-curdling curse won’t do any harm.”
“You’d be the first person to read it since it was made.”
Arin felt dizzy. Hundreds of years of water passing over the invocations, then Patrick plucking them out of the water, Arin reading them….
“I really don’t want to hand them straight over to the Practical lads,” added Patrick.
“Okay. I will. But not without protection.”
Patrick held out a hand. “I can—well, damp us down a bit. May I?”
Patrick’s deft, rough fingers curved around one of Arin’s wrists. The Powerful agitation in the air stilled immediately. But of course, now Arin’s nerves were twanging for other reasons.
“Just one,” Arin insisted.
Arin looked down into a tray and peered at one of the tablets. It would be best to read it one word at a time, Arin thought. The danger of written magic was that it jaunted along and pulled you with it. It wanted to be spoken. You could easily become the mouthpiece of an ancient intention.
“Fine Robin!” Arin read aloud what seemed to be a title. Then lines of verse: “Who list to best him surely fails.”
Where Patrick’s hand met Arin’s wrist, magic began to writhe and prickle.
“And should not o’er his deeds repine.” Damn, the rhythm drew you in. Arin paused, panting a little, hot in the face.
Patrick tightened his grip. His stilling influence felt like cool water running through Arin’s veins.
“True wisdom join’d with Godliness—” The words were rolling round the room, now; it was impossible to speak quietly of Fine Robin. “And wit that wine may not oppress.”
Patrick’s palms, and Arin’s arm, crackled with green fire. Arin felt the floor roll, gently, like the fluid in the sluicing trays.
Patrick pulled up a stool. “Bugger, I shouldn’t have asked you.”
Arin didn’t want to be coddled. “I’m fine.”
“Still got all your fingers? Probably not a curse, then. What was it?”
Arin thought of luck charms, health charms, supplications for forgotten Gods, and dismissed them all. “Not sure.”
“Who was Robin?”
“I don’t know.” It seemed very stupid not to know. Patrick clearly shared Arin’s embarrassment, as he moved over to a computer and cranked up a specialist database.
“Bingo! I’ve got some leads. Could you….” As Patrick read out Dewey numbers for library books, Arin hastily scrawled them in a list along one arm, a habit left over from student days.
Within minutes they were marching together along the path to the library, interrupting one another and grinning.
“I’ll take tomorrow off. Go to the British Library if I need to,” Patrick offered.
“I don’t want to tread on your toes, but—do you think I can write an article on Robin?”
“Well. I’d want to do that as well, of course. Maybe we—no, I’m being silly.”
“We could co-author something?”
Patrick held out his hand. When Arin took it, they were suddenly both laughing and Arin was seized in a brisk, hard hug. Tweed scratched against Arin’s neck, and Patrick smelled deep and sweet, like rolling tobacco.
“Brilliant,” Patrick murmured, close to Arin’s ear.
“An article on Robin.” It felt good just to say his name. Rich and full in the mouth. “Fine Robin,” repeated Arin. “Wonderful Robin.”
It felt too good.
Patrick looked quizzical. Then he said, very deliberately: “Marvelous Robin. Oh, bollocks,” Patrick said. “That’s the spell, isn’t it?”
The charm-tablet had told them it was good to know and admire Robin, and they’d both been beguiled.
Arin was suddenly aware of standing too close to Patrick.
“I think it’s a praise song,” Arin said, stepping back. “A kind of compelling charm. Henry VIII used them a lot.”
“I really fell for it, didn’t I?” Patrick was clearly regretting their experiment, probably thinking he’d behaved stupidly: a famous professor, offering to author a paper with a total novice!
The quad was suddenly cold and gray.
“Wait. Look.” Patrick caught Arin’s eyes. “Thank you. For keeping me company while I was bamboozled by a bit of Renaissance PR. Hang on.”
Patrick placed two of his fingers on the bridge of his nose. Slowly and methodically he slid the fingers up over his forehead, back through his white hair, all the way over his head and down the back of his neck. Then he shivered, shaking himself like a dog drying off.
It was utterly mystifying and definitely sexy.
“Ah! Got it out of my head. Do you—would you like me to…?”
He gestured. Arin nodded. Patrick leaned over carefully and put his fingertips on Arin’s brow. He pushed them up and back through Arin’s hair, driving out the sparks from Arin’s scalp, until the tingle dwindled to a spot at the nape of Arin’s neck and Patrick flicked it away.
Yearning grabbed Arin: lean into him, hold him for longer. But resisting only took a moment of clenched hands, and in the next second, Arin’s mind felt spring-cleaned. “Thanks! Wow.”
Patrick put his hands in his pockets and looked up at the sky. “I shouldn’t ask. But do you want to read the rest of the tablets?”
He wasn’t regretting it.
“We need to be safer,” Arin said.
“I could arrange that.”
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