Daniil LaChance grew up hard on the streets of the city-state of Allistair. A chance meeting with the shapeshifting Flame known as Knife changed that, though, when Knife took Daniil as her apprentice. The promise of initiation as one of the sexual mystics of the goddess Pelin turned Daniil’s life from one of poverty and desperation to one of magic and mystery—and made possible the renewal of a love affair that has lasted many lifetimes.
This opportunity has come in dark times. Mob violence and murder sparked by the resentment of an aggrieved merchant threaten to literally drown the Flame, extinguishing them from the face of Uos. The Emperor stands aside, allowing the killings to go on for his own political gain, leaving the few surviving Flame to provide for their own safety. Daniil and Knife stand alone in the face of a world incensed to genocidal violence, desperately seeking a way to insure the survival of their kind.
Knife has a plan, complex and risky, but there’s so much that she’s held back from her apprentice that Daniil doesn’t find it easy to trust his mentor. And so Daniil finds himself torn between initiation as Flame and risking horrible death at the hands of the mob, or hiding in miserable safety in an identity he has always known is not his true self. (M/M, F/F, M/F)
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Knife frowned. The distance between affiliated and unaffiliated loomed once again, stretched before him like a canyon. “Omnia, how could I judge you unless I’d been through such trials myself? Would you like to see my slavery papers? I still have them—all of them—a legal record of the buying and selling of my personhood. Did you know the crown ruled that they owned my soul, rather than my body? I, who so carefully bound myself to them for generations, was caught in my own web.” He caught his breath, a memory overtaking him with vivid thoroughness.
“What?” Her expression was curious rather than defensive.
“Just…” He licked his lips, feeling as if he’d come face-to-face with a bloated corpse in his own pantry. “Emperor Konstantine’s youngest son used to lead me by a collar and chain, like a pet cynodict, to his favorite taverns and smoking rooms. He liked me in female form with bisque-colored skin and a sizable bust, dictating my precise features nightly. He and his friends… well. They were quite inventive in their humiliations. Not simple rapists by any means. There was a game they devised with hot needles and ice, both of which have quite—different—effects on Flame. I’d thought I’d witnessed and experienced just about every torture designed by men, if not gods, in my tenure of lifetimes. Not so, I discovered. It was the mental subjectivity that was the hardest, though, not the physical.”
“Yes.” This time it was Omnia who took his hand. “I can relate.”
“My point precisely.”
“It took a while to find a way to eliminate each of the young men in question, enslaved as I was.”
“You killed them?”
“Some of them. Others… I had to be a bit more creative.” He shut his mouth, disliking the memories her questions had evoked.
Her hand was warm. Knife focused on that, enjoyed that warmth for all it was worth. Soon enough he’d be undergoing a trial he’d never experienced before. A cold, calculated retreat into darkness and lucid mud. Knife shuddered.
In response, Omnia leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He captured the back of her head readily, the texture of her hair running through his fingers, and kissed her on the mouth. Her lips were just as warm as her hand. Knife nuzzled her close, relishing her nearness.
She opened to him like a blossom, helping with buttons and hooks. He peeled her slowly, gently, savoring the anticipation. Omnia’s eyes were soft and hungry. She’d been in prison for years, boxed in without relief. While Knife’s quiet gifts had probably curbed any proclivity to outright rape—the hint of protection of a wealthy, unknown benefactor could go a long ways, he’d discovered over the years—she’d certainly had ample opportunity to take a lover among the guards. Yet she’d said nothing of any such relationship in their correspondence. Knife could appreciate her caution. Apart from pregnancy, illness and stigma, there was danger in such an unbalanced state of affairs. In any case, she seemed to have no hesitation in her movements. No trauma buried in her eyes. It was well.