So Quentin stabbed his own hand with a pointy stick, and stuck his palm to the stone carving. Warmth ran up his arm, arching his back. He started to scream –
And it was over, and they were inside the temple.
Which was … underwhelming. “Smells like an outhouse in here.”
“Jeez, look at all this trash.”
Julia was holding a hand over her nose, as if that would help.
“Someone’s been holed up here a while.”
“It is customary to bow, Children of Earth,” said a deep voice from the depths of the temple. Cave. Thing.
Quentin startled, turned, and bungled a curtsy. Julia managed a more straightforward bow, always graceful.
It was Ember. He was large, well over six feet tall, maybe close to seven, with massive horns on his head, curling like a ram’s, furred legs with hooves that clicked on the stone floor, and the large, overflowing gut of a god of abundance, fertility, and good harvests. Quentin had memorized the illustrations, but they didn’t quite convey the sheer presence. It was a god. An actual god. His spine quivered.
And then Ember spoke again. “Have you brought me little cakes?”
“No?” Julia said, as if asking a question.
“Uh, we didn’t really know that we were supposed to,” Quentin stammered, feeling a pang of disappointment at the question.
“Oh,” Ember sighed. “And I am so tired of eating mice.” Then he waved a hand, as if to dismiss the slight, and chuckled. “No matter. And you are?”
Quentin stepped forward. “Uh, I’m Quentin Coldwater, and this is Julia Wicker.”
“Huh,” Ember said. “Spank my cheeks. You’re usually dead by now.”
Quentin looked at Julia, who raised a brow in question.
Ember continued, “He kills you, and I’m left to hide here like an animal in horrid, arid, cake-deficient Loria, but you’re here!”
“What happened?” Quentin asked, brushing past that revelation. “What are you— what are you doing here?”
“He lured me into a trap, of course.”
“As you call him, yes. He snared me and my dear brother, Umber.”
“Wait, Umber’s a captive, too?”
“Yes, in his own temple, I presume. It’s unseemly, all of it.”
“I’m sorry,” Julia said, “I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but how could a Magician get the drop on you?”
“Fillory’s magic belongs to no one, not even a god,” Ember said defensively. “A Magician with enough determination can harness its forces and make haggis of any one of us.”
Neither really knew what to say to that. They’d come here for help, and to find that the Beast had defeated two gods of Fillory was … well, disappointing.
“So now I just wait till he is slain and I can be reunited with my dear brother,” Ember continued. “I’m so fucking bored, Children of Earth. I’ve had sex with every nymph in the kingdom.”
Quentin took a breath. “Well, we’re here to help.”
The god gave him a speculative look. “But you’re not a nymph.”
“No, I’m—” Quentin looked at this god, this literal god, standing on the other side of a temple that looked like a cave and smelled like a pigsty, and snapped. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Ember drew himself up, demanded, “Pray pardon?”
“What are you doing here?” Quentin pressed. “You’re just going to let the Beast trample the shit out of Fillory?”
“You think that I want to be here?” Ember said, and he sounded desperate. Pathetic.
“I think you’re being kind of a whiny bitch.”
“Q,” Julia said, touching his arm. “Maybe don’t insult—”
“No,” he snapped. “Does he care or not?”
He waited, breathless – and Ember answered.
“You’re right.” Ember sighed. “Years trying to outwit him. Greatest failure, deepest shame. And now he is prepared for anything I do. It’s not I who can defeat him, not directly.”
This was what Quentin had been waiting for. “I’ll do it,” he said. “I volunteer. I’ll kill the Beast.”
Ember didn’t answer right away, and Quentin continued, “I love Fillory. I don’t know why. But I am supposed to be here, I’m supposed to fight for it.”
Ember peered at him. “Can you be the champion we’ve been waiting for?”
“I want to be,” Quentin said, sincerity and nerves equally clear in his voice. “I’m ready to be. I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Ember stepped forward, one hoof clicking on the stone floor. “You love Fillory. And you never stopped. Never stopped.” He paused, looked at Julia. “Not like this one.”
“Maybe in college,” Jules stammered, “but now I totally—”
“Yes, you see? Stopped. But you never did,” the god said, stepping forward again. One big hand came up and cupped the side of Quentin’s face. “Only the best and the purest can face the Beast, and that is you.”
“Right, okay,” Quentin said, trying not to shrink from the touch. Hotter than human skin, and the hand so large it covered the side of his face, his ear, the fingers curling around the back of his neck. “So, here’s the thing, I can’t really touch the knife that can kill the Beast.”
“Yes, you need my strength. I will infuse you with my essence.”
“Th-thank you,” Quentin stammered as Ember just looked at him, doing nothing further. “So, um, how …”
“I’ll need to bestow it, of course,” Ember said, and leered. “Do you prefer oral, or anal?”
“Your bestowal,” Julia said slowly, “is your … semen?” She glanced at Quentin, incredulous. “Seriously?”
“Yes,” Ember said cheerfully, “my Bestowal, my Largesse, the seed of my power.” He leered at Quentin again.
“Um, I,” Quentin managed, but when his mouth opened, a larger than human thumb slipped inside, pressing down against his tongue and pushing in to just touch the back of his throat. He gagged a little, trying to pull back but held effortlessly in place by Ember, whose mouth twitched into a considering moue.
“Well, not oral,” Ember said, and laughed heartily at his own joke.
If this were a television show, then the camera would cut away, fade to black, maybe the audience would laugh and a commercial would break the tension. But this wasn’t a show, and there was no camera, and so Quentin was just stuck in this terribly awkward moment. “Um. I, uh,” Quentin stammered, feeling Ember’s hand hotter than was really comfortable on his skin.
Then Julia’s hand was on his arm. “Can we discuss this for a moment? Among ourselves?”
“Very well,” Ember said, stepping back. “I’ll be waiting.”
And if his voice was almost flirtatious, Quentin did not want to think about it.
“You don’t have to do this,” Julia said as soon as they were out of earshot (though what exactly would a god’s hearing range be? For all they knew he could hear every syllable. Quentin broke into a light sweat.) “We can find another way, you can just say no,” she continued, both hands on his shoulders as if to pin him down.
“No, I can’t,” Quentin said earnestly, placing his hands over hers. “You know I can’t.” He glanced to the far side of the temple/cave, where a god waited impatiently to fuck him. “We need that knife, and if this is the price …” He shrugged, his eyebrows creasing. “I have to pay it.”
She held his gaze for a long, uncomfortable moment, then nodded. “Okay, so we’re doing this.” Her mouth slanted to one side, and she pressed her lips together. A giggle broke free anyway, and Q felt one rising to meet it, and then they were both laughing helplessly. “A god,” she sputtered.
“How is this my life?” Quentin managed between giggles, leaning into Julia’s shoulder a little.
She sobered. “Have you, um, you know …”
“Oh my god,” he snapped, “I’m not a virgin.” His chin tilted up, as if asking the heavens, “why does everyone think that?”
She nodded quickly, as if to placate him. “Okay, okay, you’re experienced.”
“But, um,” he admitted sheepishly, “it’s been awhile.”
“Clock’s ticking,” Ember called from across the cave. “So to speak.”
Julia glanced over at the god, back to Quentin. “How are you planning to do this?” she asked Ember.
“Bend this one over,” he said, gesturing to Quentin, “and pierce him on my, well, spear, shall we say. The nymphs seem to like it.”
“Um, Jules?” Quentin said, voice high with sudden panic.
She looked at his wide eyes, back to Ember. “Not a fan of foreplay?” When the god just looked confused, she nodded in a resigned fashion. “I’d better handle the prep,” she said.
“Hm?” Quentin asked, his eyes fixed on the altar like it might jump up and bite him.
“It’ll be okay,” she told him, patting his thin shoulder. “I’ve got you.” Then she asked Ember, “Do you at least have any lubricant?”
Another puzzled look, and she sighed. “Okay, magic it is.”
Somehow that cut through the white noise that had taken over Quentin’s brain. “You know sex spells?”
Julia looked just slightly shifty. “Not exactly, but Marina said this was really handy if you were in a tight spot.”
“Hedge magic?” Quentin demanded. “Oh my god, Jules, have you even tested this spell?”
“Yes!” She said instantly. “Well …”
“Well, what?” Quentin’s eyebrows went flat.
“I saw it done, once. But I definitely remember how to do it.” When Quentin still hesitated, she smacked him lightly on the arm. “It’s not like we have a lot of choice, here, Q!”
“Okay, okay.” He braced himself, shoulders drawing in as if to ward of a blow. “Do it.”
It started with Popper 39, but, nervous, he squeezed his eyes shut and didn’t see the rest, just listened to Julia’s whispered Aramaic and tried to follow along, mostly as a distraction. But his Aramaic had never been the strongest, and he caught only a few snatches, he thought, words he’d heard associated with spells for drought, or crops, or something.
He felt a strange warmth at his center, then a wetness between his thighs that made him yelp and try to lurch away. But it was as if he were bound fast, and he couldn’t move, couldn’t even squirm, as the heat intensified to a burning, and some mysterious liquid soaked right through the seat of his jeans.
Then it was done. He staggered back a step, and looked at Jules. She looked concerned, and Quentin felt his face heat and flush.
“Enough of this,” Ember boomed, “we must begin.”
If possible, Quentin flushed a little more. “Yep,” he squeaked, cleared his throat. “Good to go, here. Thanks.”
She nodded, still looking concerned. “I’ll be right here. Call if you need me.”
He should have felt shame at the idea of being on exhibition, or at least overheard, but instead he felt … safer. Comforted. “Thanks, Jules, really.”
And then it was time.