By the time the sun had set, Garrik had had enough of breathing exercises, and his failure to master even the simplest one had him prickling at the Wytch Master’s every comment.
When Ilya calmly suggested he start again for perhaps the hundredth time, Garrik’s irritation finally bubbled over into anger. “Enough! What’s the point of this? How is this going to teach me to control the shift?”
Ilya said nothing, but regarded his student with an expectant expression, as if waiting for him to continue.
“Breathing is simple,” Garrik tried to explain, “and… and I don’t even have to think about it. Shifting is… it just happens. I can’t stop it.”
“But you can stop your breathing.”
Garrik stared at him helplessly. “It’s not the same thing.”
“It is very much the same thing. The difference is simply a matter of degree. Both your breath and the shift are within your control.”
He had nothing to say to that. How did one control something that was so utterly beyond control? Garrik wasn’t the one causing the shift — it was happening to him, whether he wanted it or not.
“Begin again,” Ilya said in that infuriatingly calm voice.
That cool air of superiority sent a surge of white hot fury coursing through Garrik.
As before, the shift began without warning. One moment, he was drawing breath to fuel a caustic tirade, the next he found himself in the grip of unspeakable pain. His anger turned to acidic fire racing through his blood, and his flesh began to stretch and tear.
He was dimly aware of his body changing shape and lifting into the air on wings of flame. Everything was fire, inside and out. Garrik burned, and so did the darkening sky.
Lost to the raging fire, Garrik forgot everything until a quiet song of ice wound its way through the inferno of madness. It was the only thing in the world that wasn’t made of flames, and it riveted his attention as it moved through him, dousing the fire, freezing the madness. Garrik clung to it, knowing the cold was the only thing that could save him.
A breath of icy vapor ghosted across his burning skin, and huge frost-rimed wings wrapped around him, smothering the flames in their dark embrace.
The ice took the pain with it, and when Garrik came back to his senses, he was lying on the cold stone of the watchtower roof. There were arms around him, and a warm, male body pressed against his back. With a start, Garrik realized that he was naked and so was the man who held him.
His body responded with shocking swiftness, and Garrik turned over and pulled the man to him. A different kind of heat surged through him as his mouth moved over warm flesh.
The man in his arms responded to his touch, arching against him and turning his face to meet Garrik in a heated kiss. Garrik’s hands moved to explore slender limbs, narrow hips, and long, tousled hair—
The man tore his mouth away from Garrik’s and let out a needy whimper. Garrik caught a flash of pale eyes in the moonlight and a glint of copper hair.
It was the Wytch Master he held in his arms, the Wytch Master who writhed and moaned at his touch.
Garrik jerked back, shoving Ilya away from him. “What in Aio’s name—?” His voice sounded rough and harsh in his ears.
Ilya stared at him with wide, stunned eyes for a long, frozen moment before turning away and rolling gracefully to his feet. Before Garrik could say a word, Ilya turned on his heel and strode toward the stairs that led down into the watchtower.