Flame's Tongue (Mound of Gaia Vol. 3)
Flame's Tongue (Part 1)
There is a world just beyond our own where ancient beings of myth and magic live and breathe. Vera Desailliers, a powerful sorceress, and her lovers, Sam and Evander, must balance their love for each other with their roles as leaders of the Mound of Gaia, the order that has sworn to protect both our world and the Beyond.
Part ONE: A Gift
Weak morning light filtered through the bedroom window. It painted everything in the pale, washed-out hues of winter. Vera Desailliers woke like a diver kicking toward the rippling sun on the surface of the water, warming as she floated toward consciousness. The voices of her temple sisters in the Mound of Gaia rose in a ceaseless current. Vera’s consciousness stretched out beyond the echoes of their thoughts, reaching out for her lovers, Evander and Sam. Her lips curled into a smile when she brushed against their minds. Sam was concentrating, his thoughts were vibrant, like the rich taste of dark chocolate whose flavor has been brightened with a dash of cayenne. Evander’s thoughts were amorphous — he was daydreaming. Threads of love in shades of bright golds and coppers spun around a memory of the three of them curled together, their bodies loose and satiated after making love.
Sam and Evander were at Out in Print, the bookstore the three owned, giving her a rare day off. There was blessed quiet, save creaks and groans of a house that was well past its centennial. Vera stretched her arms above her head and pointed her toes. She rolled onto her back and snuggled into her pillow, letting the cooler air of the room chase her beneath the comforting weight of the duvet. Her mind drifted on calm seas, the voices of the sisters and her two lovers fading to white noise, with only flashes of memory and impressions breaking through from time to time. The image of Evander’s head thrown back, his full lips bitten red, mouth hanging open, appeared for a moment and then dissolved. Desire stirred within her and she let her hands drift over her bare skin. She grasped her breasts and teased her nipples, thumbing over the hardening buds with one hand, while the other slipped along the seam at the juncture of her thighs.
She tumbled into a fantasy as she stroked her clit, circling the pearl with the tips of her fingers, and then stirring the delicate skin of her labia with a firmer touch. Vera imagined her body on display, high on a marble dais. She was draped over a nest of pillows that were covered in silk and fine cotton. Moonlight poured through an oculus in the apex of a domed temple, bathing her nude body in silver. She was incandescent, the living embodiment of Gaia, her breasts and the curves of her hips rolling like the lush hills that surrounded the temple. Evander crawled toward her. He was naked, his length hard, jutting away from his body. His movements were deliberate, muscles rippling beneath his skin like a jaguar stalking its prey. There was a ferociousness in his eyes and it thrilled Vera that he looked seconds from loosening the reins on the tremendous power in his body.
She lay on back, legs spread wide to receive his manhood like the earth receives the blessings of rain and seed in the spring. Evander stopped to kiss the tops of her feet and then prowled up the length of her legs, panting and drunk on lust. When Evander reached the cradle of her womanhood, he spread her outer lips with his fingers and licked a slow stripe across her clit, sucking on the tender skin. She moaned, her mind so focused on the fantasy that everything else fell away.
Evander traveled up the length of her stomach to her breasts, nipping at her skin, and chasing the sting with gentle kisses. He palmed her breasts, lavishing her nipples with his tongue, until she was trembling beneath him. He surged upward, swooping in for a kiss and letting her savor the tang of her slick on his tongue. Vera chased that flavor when he pulled away, reaching out to catch him. Evander pinned her hands above her head and she relinquished control. She stared down the length of her body, dizzy with anticipation as he guided his shaft to her opening, rubbing the tip of his cock against her before he sunk into her body with a growl. He moved over her like the ocean strokes the shoreline and she rose to meet his hips. Vera’s thighs quaked and she shook. Her orgasm burned through her and left her panting in the aftermath.
The heat beneath the blanket was stifling and she kicked off her covers. She traced her fingertip around her clit, loving the shocks of too much, not enough. Vera did not indulge herself often — time was a rare commodity in both worlds— but today she allowed herself the luxury, making her way to the shower when the chill in the room started to creep beneath her skin.
“Eau chaud,” Vera called out, as she trotted into the kitchen, stirring the air with her hand. The power of Gaia was never meant to be used in the service of mundane tasks, but she loved to indulge her rebellious nature. She could still hear the chiding of Lady Petra — Magic is a higher calling, child. Every sip you take from this cup must be replenished. Lady Petra had been the High Votaress before Vera ascended. She had been Vera’s mistress and the closest thing to a mother she had ever known. There were times when Vera could still hear the reedy breathlessness of the old sorceress’ voice and feel the dry rasp of her lips pressed to her forehead.
Lady Petra’s warnings had gone unheeded. The infinitesimal amount of power lost for the sake of convenience was not missed. The old ways that were steeped in secrecy belonged to the time when women were burned at the stake for moldy bread and ruined crops. The Mound of Gaia needs to evolve, she thought as she flicked a finger toward the sound system.
“Musique d’amour,” she commanded and started to sway when a man’s mellifluous tenor poured from the speakers. The lyrics wound around an easy beat and soon she was dancing through the kitchen, directing a symphony of ingredients to make her breakfast. A bowl of plump, finger-staining blackberries and yogurt floated to the kitchen table. The berries were drenched in honey harvested from the bees kept in the temple apiary. A plate laden with two thick slices of toasted bread followed. Each piece was bursting with nuts and seeds and slathered with butter. She held her hand out and a mug floated toward her. Curls of steam rose from the surface and Vera was enveloped by the citrus snap of bergamot and the malty smokiness of black tea.
The song faded and a slower tune started. Vera walked across the kitchen, her step light and effervescent. She sang along with the music, uninhibited, but the song died in her throat when she reached the table. A box wrapped in gold and tied with a white organza ribbon sat in the middle of the table. She shivered, approaching the table with trepidation. Vera was certain it had not been there when she had come into the kitchen. She picked up the spoon next to her breakfast and poked at the box. Nothing happened. She rolled her eyes at her own paranoia. Just because you didn’t notice it when you walked in, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there,she thought. You’re letting Ossa’s ridiculous warning get the best of you. Vera dropped the spoon and picked up the gift.
“What did you fools do?” she said aloud, overwhelmed by Sam and Evander’s thoughtfulness. Vera’s phone trilled. She smiled when she saw Sam’s name. “You two are ridiculous.”
“Hello to you,” Sam laughed, “Evy and I have a bet on whether you’ve crawled out of bed yet,” his voice dropped to a whisper, “please tell me you’re still huddled under the covers or I’m going to be cleaning the bathroom for the next month.”
“Looks like you lose, mister.” She pulled one end of the ribbon and it slithered loose from its simple bow. Sam groaned and Vera heard Evander cheer in the background. “I swear, it’s like the two of you are still fifteen.”
“And you’re so evolved? We’re not the ones who buck the rules whenever no one’s looking.”
“I have no idea what you mean.” She peeled back the gold paper to reveal an oblong box of midnight blue velvet. She felt a quickening of passion at the base of her spine and snapped the box open.
“You do know I can feel it when you use magic, right? The elders imposed the moratoriums for a reason,” he scolded.
“Oh, Sam.” Vera was breathless. A necklace was nestled on a bed of white silk. The piece resembled two vipers twisted together, their bodies wrought in pale gold. Each snake’s spine was inset with gems that glowed and shifted colors when they caught the light. Their eyes were black and glimmered with life. Each serpent’s mouth clasped onto the opposite’s tail, locking them together. Vera picked it up and let the spiral of chains run through her fingers. A jolt of lust resonated deep within her core.
“Oh, what? What’d I do?” There was a hint of concern coloring Sam’s voice.
“Vera, what’s beautiful? You sound weird, are you alright, love?”
“The necklace you and Evy left for me. It’s beautiful.” Her voice came to her from far away, like she was floating outside of her body, watching as she was lulled into a state of careless arousal.
“We didn’t leave anything for you –”
The man on the phone was panicked and his words slurred together into an unintelligible babble. Vera could no longer remember his name. She was burning. She tried to call for help, but the only sound she could make was a needy moan. Two sets of black eyes flashed at her as the snakes came to life and slithered up her arms. They twined together around her neck and sunk their golden fangs into Vera’s throat.
Vera woke to the thunder of waves. She pushed herself upright. It was just past sunset and the flat, rough patch of rock where she lay was still warm from the sun. An easterly wind stirred the ocean into a froth of waves and foam and a thin line of fire hung above the horizon. Stars glimmered in the darkening sky. The crags of coast stretched miles in either direction. Her hand flew up to her neck and she felt the strands of gold fastened there. She ran her fingers along the chains, but found no latch where she could free herself.
The air was heavy with the scent of brine, threaded through with hints of thyme and barley. Panic bubbled beneath her breastbone and Vera willed away the fear that threatened to overwhelm her. She focused on the rush of wind that swept in from the ocean. Everything in the Beyond spoke, and if Vera had been brought to the Beyond, she knew the air would be suffused with song, and so, she listened for the telltale chorus of elementals. There was a faint echo in the rush of the wind and the crash of the waves, but the sounds were muted and far away. It sent a chill through her and she rubbed at her arms trying to coax warmth back into her limbs. Ossa’s quip came back to her – The wind is full of secrets, but I shouldn’t have to tell you that, should I, dear? There were whispers all around her, but the voices were faint, unintelligible.
A fire blazed to life on the beach not far from where she stood. She could see two shadowed figures huddled together in the circle of light.
“Nothing ever came from standing still,” she said aloud and felt a shift in the chains around her neck, like the vibration from her voice had woken the serpents. Sticking with silence, not a problem, she thought and set off toward the fire.
Vera picked her way over the uneven terrain, moving with a determined stride. Scrubby little bushes grew out from between the rocks. The changing landscape forced her to keep her eyes on the ground as she walked, but each time she raised her head, her destination was further away. Time stretched out while she walked. Her thoughts were shrouded, like the whole of her life had been wrapped in layers of muslin. She knew she was not supposed to be here, but she could not remember where she was meant to be.
The next time she stopped to gauge her progress, she stifled a shout. There were two people huddled together not two meters from where she stood, and yet they betrayed no awareness that Vera had appeared beside them. Their attention was on the fire Vera had seen in the distance and the pair of lovers who embraced in the circle of light that the flames threw onto the sand. Vera recognized the spies at once – the man was Hephaestus, Daemon of the Fire Court. He was broad-shouldered, with hands as big as bear paws. He leaned on a crutch of rough-hewn wood, one hip cocked higher than the other. His feet were bare, one healthy and strong, and the other a misshapen club.
His companion was Thetis, the Daemon of the Water Court. Her wide mouth was fixed in a brutal smile, her skin, black as volcanic sand, glistened beneath the moon. A bird cried out. Hephaestus and Thetis turned toward Vera. She held her breath, unsure if the glamour that was masking her presence would continue to keep her hidden. Her tension eased when the Daemons looked past her and into the night, their gaze passing through Vera. Thetis and Hephaestus returned to their spying once they were satisfied they had not been found out.
The couple that the Daemons were watching were nude, their bodies entwined. The woman looked like she had been carved from the palest marble, with a tumble of ebony ringlets that cascaded down her back. The curves of her breasts were like an artist’s rendering. She was perfect, a woman at the height of her physical beauty. The man, whose skin was coarse and browned from campaigning beneath the pitiless sun, bent and took one of her breasts and then the other in his mouth. Vera found herself craving the sensation of lips tugging at her nipples and imagined herself in the woman’s place. The woman groaned as the warrior’s cock brushed against the nest of curls between her thighs.
“Do you see how this whore discards your gifts, Hephaestus?” Thetis said, her voice laden with bitterness, “And what of your brother?He demands the fruits of your labor for his army and repays you by bedding your wife.”
Hephaestus snarled, the growl rumbling in his throat. Vera could see the muscles in his jaw tick. A wave of vicious rage swept through her and even though the anger was not her own, her mind sharpened and fury crackled across the surface of her skin like lightning.
“I want no part of this,” Hephaestus said, turning from the lovers and hobbling toward the darkness. He passed right through Vera like a specter.
“They despise you.”
“I will not hear it.”
“Zeus made them hate you, all of them, even your own mother, Hera. But not me, my beloved. Did I not care for you as my own child when Hera let him banish you from Olympus?” Thetis asked.
Vera recognized the silken calm in her voice as the poisonous soporific it was intended to be. The Water Daemon was pursuing revenge, using Hephaestus’ own vanity and anger as a tool. She was riveted by the scene unfolding before her.
“There will be a child from their rutting,” Thetis added. “Do you plant to give succor to a babe born from Aphrodite’s deception?”
Thetis and Hephaestus began to disappear, the borders of their bodies shifting and dissolving like a mandala being swept away by the wind. Vera grasped at the image, trying to make out what the Daemons said even as they faded into shadow. There was an intense pressure in Vera’s mind, a constriction so fierce that she called out. The golden serpents came alive, squeezing her throat. Her cries began to falter as the chains tightened around her neck, but then between her whimpers, she heard someone calling to her.
“Vera, love, wake up.”
The wind whistled in her ears, flowing over her, while she starved for air. Each inhalation grew weaker than the last, and her vision waned.
“Vera, come back to us. Follow my voice. I know you can find your way back.”
She closed her eyes and tried to follow the bright tenor, ignoring the suffocating burn in her chest. Sam. The name appeared in her mind, and with it came the memories of waking in her own bed, of her lovers, and the strange box she had discovered on her kitchen table. There was a ripping pain, like a wild animal was tearing at her throat. She was sure she was dying, but Sam was pleading with her to wake up. She made one final attempt to breathe.
Air rushed into her lungs and her eyes flew open. She was in her kitchen, on the floor. Sam knelt beside her, tears on his cheeks. The two halves of the necklace hung limp from Evander’s fists. The serpents’ jeweled eyes were lifeless.