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Authors: Anna Sanders

Fire Licked

BOOK: Fire Licked
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F
IRE
L
ICKED

A Fable of Lust

Anna Sanders

Copyright © Red Iris Books 2012

Published by Red Iris Books

 

DRUMBEATS PENETRATED THE HEART OF the jungle, rippling throughout the trees and echoing off the mountains. Beneath the canopy of trees was a vast clearing inhabited by a village. The setup of homes and vans looked very temporary. And the vehicles and tents completely contradicted the ancient ritual taking place there amongst the terrain.

Bandits. Animal folk. In the midst of a very rare recreation.

Men were bare-chested, their faces painted, some hidden by masks. Women were clad in age-old dresses made of barely any cloth, their bodies also gleaming with multicolored make up. They danced together to the percussion. Jumping over bonfires and undulating as their hands lifted to the sky, chanting and uttering piercing cries and lilts.

The only ones who remained still were the chief and three ladies beside him. The chief was regal in his high-backed wooden throne, his garb of the highest caliber. The women beside him all wore long white robes with varicolored necklaces of shells and beads. Their heads hang toward the ground as the festivities continued about them.

Songs and tongues grew louder when a tent opened and a large man emerged. He wore only a grass skirt and a bone wreath that covered most of his face and head. His staff was decorated with rattles and chains. He shook it menacingly and walked directly to the leader of the tribe.

“Alpha, the heavens have given me the gift of sight. They have opened and shown me the tide to come.”
His voice boomed over the continued vocalizations.
“In order to appease the Land Gods, we must send them a willing offering.”

The pack grew frenzied with his news. The dancing became more elaborate, the drums quicker, the bodies twisting in arrays of colorful flesh.

The priest held up his staff, shaking it in a design toward the sky.
“I have been given the power to choose for them. I will do so now, at your direction.”

The alpha nodded quickly.

The priest waved his staff dramatically and the people stopped and stared, silence instantaneous among them.

All that made a sound was the rattles, chiming almost bell like in echoes. The priest shook them faster and faster. He swung them around his head, toward the surrounding crowd and then to the alpha. He approached the altar slowly with his staff before him. The closer he got to the three women the more his body convulsed. Soon he was foaming at the mouth, his eyes rolling in the back of his skull, intoning in a garbled mess. Still he walked on.

When he was three feet from the women with their downcast heads, he let out a loud shout and fell in spasms to the ground.

Again, all was still. Then, from the pile of crumbled man, the staff pointed directly to the woman in the middle.

“You!”
His voice had changed to a menacing roar.
“Your path to Cherufe starts now!”

IT WAS KNOWN AS THE 2011 Puyehue-Cordón Caulle eruption. And it would be unforgettable.

June fourth. Inhabitants around the Southern Hemisphere watched with heavy emotion as ash clouds spread across the skyline. Many cities were forced to evacuate due to an impending complex volcanic explosion. Hundreds of international and domestic flights were canceled, causing traveling chaos and wide panic. As many as 3,500 civilians were evacuated.

An estimation of one hundred million tons of ash, pumice and sand were ejected into the tropical air with the power of seventy atomic bombs. The only people who stuck around were news casters eager to make their mark on the historic event, and even then, they kept their distance and took specific health measures. Only the brave remained.

Well, them and Isidora.

Puyehue National Park, located in the Andes of Ranco Province, Chile, was unrecognizable amongst the layers of mayhem.

Isidora was in on the coast line of Puyehue Lake. The air was so bloated that her lungs struggled. As a bandit, she was able to better endure, but there was no telling for how much longer. She was covered with soot and her sacramental garb weighed her down. Everything around her was shaded with dark gloom. The peak of the volcano cluster sparked with angry vengeance, bespeaking unimaginable destruction once it finished coasting down into the jungle. Any wildlife that did not manage to escape was already dead from asphyxiation. Isidora knew that she would be next. Shortly.

Her coughing was drowned out by the popping sounds of the cackling lava as it bubbled and frothed over the mountain range. Isidora slumped further to the ground in a pitiful attempt to catch her breath. It would not work. But she found comfort deep inside that soon her agony would be over, once the Cherufe came for her.

They might find her already dead, but it would be over.

The curtains of her hair collected grime as she dragged herself to the closest tree that she could find. She pulled herself into a seated position with the view of the mountain path in her wake. Weakness took over after that, and the fog of destruction blinded her. She would rather be devoured whole by the Cherufe, the soft parts of her person consumed and burnt at once, than endure the never ending rain of fire.

But she was their tribute. Her life was theirs to have.

As it was, there wasn’t much of her left for them to enjoy.

For countless minutes, Isidora breathed in the residue of the mountain. Her lungs were aflame as they battled the ravished area in search of any oxygen. Her mouth was dry from the heaves, tongue caked in debris, and Isidora choked for the umpteenth time.

It will be over soon
, she promised herself. The pain and fright wouldn’t even bother her in the afterlife. She would be no more, and happily so.

In the midst of her prayer, Isidora imagined she saw a figure approaching her from the distance. A being of fire. It was a man, with severe black wings and bare chest. His stature was imposing as he walked easily through the fiery air.

Cherufe. He was coming right to her.

The fire god eventually towered above her. Spreading the magnificence of his midnight wings, he shielded her from the destruction.


Cherufe,
” Isidora whispered in her native tongue. “
My life for the pack, Cherufe. My offering for their suffering, Cherufe.

If her mind wasn’t playing tricks on her, she could have sworn that the fire god cursed, “For fuck’s sake.” And in English.

The last thing she was aware of before unconsciousness stole her was being lifted against his body. And his skin, it burned a lot like the magma that promised to sear her person.

She whimpered in pain before everything vanished.

HELL DIDN’T HAVE PILLOWS.

Isidora’s eyes flashed open. One quick scan of the room told her that she was out of at least one nightmare. The easy rise and fall of her chest indicated that fresh air was filling her lungs. She took a moment to luxuriate in it, but too deep of a breath put her into a fit of coughs. Her bruised insides were not ready for that.

“Are you alive?” A deep voice rumbled from the corner.

Isidora wiped at her eyes, removing what felt like nothing more than sleep crunches. The action showed her that she was still very much alive and intact, and from the feel of it no longer covered in dirt. The question was, how?

Looking to who would most assuredly have answers, the bandit turned her head to the corner. A broad man stood beside a tripod with an expensive-looking camera. The mostly empty room was slightly shadowed, though the feeble light coming from the wide open window showed what could be daytime. Inside she could see nothing but a wooden dining table with two chairs, the bed that she was in, and a bathroom off to the side. A hallway looked as if it might lead to another opening, perhaps a kitchen. There were no decorations on the plastered walls and no real evidence of permanent life at all.

“I’m talking to you.”

The big man was golden haired and blue eyed. A fit body and long legs, draped in black clothing. His arms were crossed and his attractive face was irritated. He looked like a modern day man, the type that she was unused to. The silky, carefully-crafted hairstyle he sported reminded her of something she had seen from a billboard once.

But were Fire Gods so human like? Or so handsome? There weren’t accurate descriptions of them because usually the women who saw them were dead. So once he killed her, she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone how impressive he was.

The thought was not exactly comforting. Wasn’t he supposed to cook her flesh in the magma currently sliding off the mountains? Why would he prefer her in what looked like a gutted apartment?

She wasn’t sure if it was proper answer him, but since he had addressed her directly she cleared her throat. “Yes.” Her English was heavily accented, but not garbled like a lot of her pack members. “I am alive.”

The God’s shoulders sank slightly. “Good. You were scaring the shit out of me.”

She
scared
him
? Isidora frowned. “I’m sorry. But, how do I scare?”

His voice was clipped with annoyance, as if she should have known how. “You weren’t moving. For, like, an entire day. I thought that your suicide attempt had succeeded.” He arched a brow at her. “That is what that was, right? I mean, you’re a bandit. From what I remember, you creatures have amazing speed. You could have swum to the other side of the shore in sixty seconds. But you didn’t even try.”

“Um. You mean to say, I could have left?” This confused her even more.

“What were you thinking? Hell, you’re lucky that I was around. Otherwise… well, you wouldn’t be.”

This conversation was making her head spin. “Cherufe? You make no sense.”

He crossed the room to stand closer to her. “What aren’t you understanding?”

“I thought that you wanted me there.”

The Fire God’s eyebrows were very good with that arching thing. He could do it with both sides. It was almost comical. “Why in the
fuck
would you think that?” he hissed. “That was a goddamn volcano! I mean, for chrissake, lady. You do know what a volcano is, don’t you?”

Isidora sat up. “What? But, Cherufe…”


And why do you keep calling me that?

“You were supposed to accept my tribute,” she accused. “And you refused? Why do you do this? Did my pack anger you?”

“I’m starting to think that you were expecting someone else.” He stared deep into her eyes.

She flinched as if he were touching her, his stare was so intense. “Listen. If you did not accept my tribute, another Cherufe could have done so. Don’t you understand?”

“I cannot say that I do.” He still stared at her, squinting and turning his head slowly in different angles as if trying to decipher a secret code.

“So…” she said slowly. “You should have left me there.”

He instantly jerked back. “And you’re telling me that you really
wanted
this?”

No.
Isidora shook the denial away and avoided his gaze

“You’re telling me that your pack wanted you to die there? For some weird ‘tribute’?” The last word was said within air quotes.

“I am but part of a bigger whole. The pack’s need for survival surpasses the need for mine—”

“Horse shit. It wasn’t the pack dying out there, it was you. Doesn’t that thought plague your pretty, stupid head?”

Isidora fumed. “You are no Cherufe!”

“Not even close, lady.”

“I was meant for Cherufe!” She waved her hands in the air in the throes of vexation. “I was left to appease him so that he could stop the earthquakes and destruction!”

“…and I suppose your alpha told you this? That some big foot was going to sweep you up in exchange for the eruption?”

“Yes!”

“Why didn’t your priest or warlord stop him instead?” he asked.

“Only a woman can sate Cherufe,” she explained.

“How convenient for your alpha.”

“Who
are
you?”

He reared his head back. “Hi. I’m the guy who saved your ass. You can call me Cris.”

NOTHING GOT CRISTIS’S BLOOD BOILING like religion did. Maybe it was because he was a soulless demon. Who knows. But what he did know was that blind belief lead to a multitude of bullshit.

Like this prime case sitting on his bed.

She was a
pretty
prime case, and that’s what bothered him even more. The bandit had black eyes with thinly arched brows. Tumbles of thick, curly hair. A tilted nose, curved lips, and small ears. Her cheekbones were round, giving her a cherubic quality compared with the grace of her curvy body. Throw in the Latin quality, along with that fiery personality and lightly dusted sun-kissed skin, and you had yourself one appealing treat.

So why would someone tell this young thing to throw herself into molten hot lava? And why would she agree?

One word: religion. Bandits were shapeshifters and avoided society, so their culture was ass-backwards. When the enlightenment age started, most packs had no fucking idea—they thought their “old ways” kept them safe.

BOOK: Fire Licked
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