Flame's Tongue (Mound of Gaia Vol. 3)

Anne Stagg
9 mins read
Published over 2 years ago
Chapter 2

The Curse of Harmonia

Part Two: The Curse of Harmonia 

“Don’t try to talk,” Sam insisted, helping Vera off the floor.

“Why not?” she croaked. The pain in her throat made her eyes water, but the place where Sam’s hand was on her shoulder sent a pleasant shiver through her body.  

“That’s why,” Evander said, mistaking her tremor as one of discomfort. He backed away to the other side of the kitchen. The distance he put between them stung. She was hungry for contact, like she had been locked away from the men she loved for years. 

Evander saw the hurt in her eyes and his fierce expression softened. “This thing almost killed you,” he said. “There’s no way I’m letting it get near you until we know how to neutralize whatever magic is making it tick.” 

Vera whimpered and the sound magnified the ache in her throat. Sam shifted into his hound form, the space around him crackling with energy. The wolf-hound that stood in Sam’s place was close to a meter tall at the shoulder and the wire-haired chaos of his grey coat was shot through with strands of black. Sam nosed at the gold paper and ribbon, then at the velvet box. Black wisps of magic clung to the wrapping and rose from the surface of the box like an opaque mist. Sam’s skin prickled with fear as his senses stretched out to investigate, his animal instinct urging him to put as much distance as possible between the box and his family. The cushion inside was stained with violent red light that pulsed in a steady rhythm, like an exposed heartbeat. The same light hovered around the two halves of the necklace in Evander’s hands and formed a ring around Vera’s throat. 

Sam shook off his hound-form and scrubbed at his face. The necklace, the paper, even the box looked innocuous to his human eyes. “The magic here is...” he bit at his lips, “This is beyond even you, love. The obfuscation spell on the box is Olympian-level power.” 

“What about that thing?” Vera whispered, pointing to the necklace.

“A curse, an ugly one. It’s all over you.” Sam ran his hand through Vera’s hair and she felt prickles of electricity following his fingers. She groaned and the pain in her throat intensified. Sam studied her, attempting to discern what the conflicting feelings that were coursing through her. He reached out to cup her cheek. When touched her, she lost control, nuzzling into his palm and licking at his fingers. 

Sam snatched his hand away like it had been burned. “Ugly is right, lust curses are the worst.” 

“Great fucking Gaia,” Vera swore, resisting the compulsion to shove her hand between her legs and stroke her clit until she came. She gritted her teeth, arousal and panic building within her in equal measure. “If we put that thing back in the box, do you think it’ll make a difference?” 

“We can try,” Sam said and brought the box over to Evander. The two halves came alive when they were set down, slithering and twining around each other until the necklace was whole once again. 

Sam snapped the box shut. “Any better?”

The yearning had receded and Vera sucked in a breath of relief. Evander strode across the room to embrace her but she stopped him with a glare.

“Don’t touch me. I’ve got to be able to think and I can’t do that if I’m gagging for your cock,” she commanded. 

The hoarseness in her voice had receded but the throbbing in her throat had not. Vera held her palm out flat and pantomimed writing. Evander retrieved a pen and notepad. She offered a weak smile when he placed them in front of her. Heat radiated off his body and it took a moment for her to harness the desire to rub her face against his cock. She was overcome for a moment by the image of writhing between both men, marking them with her teeth and the scent of her slick. 

“Shit.” She shook her head and motioned for Evander to back up. 

Had a vision after I got bitten = Hephaestus and Thetis? she wrote, then held up the pad.

“You mean, Hephaestus, the Daemon of the Fire Court?” Evander and Sam asked at the same time.

Vera nodded and started writing out what she had seen while she had been unconscious. It took time to get it all down on paper and by the time she finished, she was squirming in her seat. The scalding need to come had faded, but the underlying desire was still there, skittering beneath her skin. Sam and Evander were debating the history of the Fire Court, while she stared at the words she had written down. 

Vera’s mind was in disarray. The curse rushed through her veins, buffeting her with surges of desire that frustrated her ability to concentrate. Any thoughts that rose to the surface of her consciousness were swept away on a tide of longing when she tried to examine them in more detail. One image, stronger than the rest, emerged from chaos. She saw herself as a girl of thirteen, the same year she received Gaia’s consecration of blood. Vera flung the force of her will at the memory and clung to it when a wave of the now-familiar yearning coursed through her body. She found herself falling into the past, the curse’s power bested for a brief time. 

Vera watched the vision of herself pouting at the table where she received instruction from Lady Petra. The elder Votaress had decided it was time for Vera to begin to learn the ways of women. It was a rite of passage and a time of great reflection, but Vera saw the extra lessons and periods of meditation as pointless sacrifices. She had grown up in service to Gaia; to her, the mysteries were as commonplace as baking bread or riding a horse. She knew of sex and the difference between sacred coupling and sharing her body for love and pleasure. The former would be part of her future when she came of age and the latter was for older girls who giggled and blushed when they caught the someone’s eye. 

Her younger self stared out at the countryside from a window carved into the outer stone of the High Votaress’ villa. The recollection of Lady Petra’s warbling soprano was a comfort, “Learn this, child: love and lust are as powerful as the blood of a Gorgon, bringing life as easily as death, depending on the vein from which they are drawn.” The High Votaress had told her a cautionary tale of betrayal and vengeance. Vera pictured herself staring at the ancient scroll that Lady Petra had brought for her to study. There had been a drawing, illuminated in gold. 

There was sweet ache at her core and it grew stronger with every breath. Vera shoved the physical sensations to the back of mind and focused on the illustration. Whoever had prepared the scroll had captured the necklace’s likeness. Her eyes snapped open and she slapped her hand on the table and scribbled a message on her pad. 

We need to go into the Beyond. The Island of Lemnos. I’ve got to see Hephaestus.

The island of Lemnos was thrust out of the Aegean’s waters by the ferocious power that rumbled beneath the earth’s crust. Time had carved the crags and coves along its shores, where the volcanic rock met the sea. Hephaestus, the Daemon of the Fire Court, had once been an Olympian. Zeus, jealous of the son that Hera had birthed without needing his spend, had ejected Hephaestus from Olympus. Hera, ashamed of her son’s deformity, had not stopped her husband. The banished god had found refuge on Lemnos and made his home there. He had survived the diminishment of the older gods and now ruled the fire elementals in the uninitiated world and the Beyond. Hephaestus was as disagreeable and capricious as any of the elemental Daemons — after all, he had been mothered by Thetis — but he was honest in his dealings with The Mound of Gaia. 

Vera, Sam, and Evander traveled through the Sacred Passage and reached the shores of Lemnos as the sun was setting. She recognized the landscape from the vision that had assailed her when she had been captured by the necklace and she hoped the key to lifting the curse might be found here.

The scorching need that thrummed within Vera grew more intense when she passed into the Beyond. All magic was stronger there, including Vera’s curse. She fought to keep her mind clear, but it became apparent that the longer she was afflicted, the stronger her craving for release grew. Each time Sam or Evander brushed against her, she had to force herself not to drop to her knees and beg for them to take her. 

Vera led Sam and Evander from the beach up a dirt path that was pocked and pitted like the surface of the moon. Torches staked into the earth guided their way up to palace perched at the top of a hill. The marble and stone edifice looked out toward the sea, its pale columns gleaming in the moonlight. They were greeted by a long-limbed youth whose shoulders were just beginning to widen with the first bloom of manhood. He bowed as if they had been long expected guests, not visitors who came upon the Daemon of the Fire Court without notice. They were brought to a room on the lower level of the palace where they were given wine to refresh their spirits. Servants washed the dust from Evander and Sam’s feet at a wide basin of fresh water scented with citrus and thyme. Vera declined with as much grace as she could muster; she was plagued by visions of being kissed, licked, and teased by her lovers while these strangers watched her with hungry eyes. 

The youth returned and brought them to the receiving hall on the upper level of the palace. Tall windows allowed the breeze to cool the stone that had baked in the heat of the sun during the day. A brazier blazed in the center of the room and before it stood the crippled man from Vera’s vision. There were lines carved into his face and his dark hair was streaked with silver, but the awkwardness of his misshapen body and clubfoot were unmistakable. 

Vera motioned for Sam and Evander to stay behind while she stepped into the circle of light cast by the fire and bowed, “Hephaestus, Daemon of the Fire Court. I bring you greetings from the Mound of Gaia.” 

“Spare me your pretty words, witch. I know why you’ve come. I can see the flame of Harmonia’s curse on you.” Hephaestus’ voice was like the roar of a wildfire lashed by the east wind. 

She heard movement behind her and a quiet plead from Sam, cautioning Evander not to rush forward demanding an answer for Hephaestus’ insult. A calming breeze swirled around her and the burning tension within her slackened. It was the most solace Sam could give without touching her, and she looked back, sparing him a grateful smile before she addressed Hephaestus.

“I have come to petition for release.”   

“If you are after freedom from the madness I set on Harmonia for her whore mother’s infidelity, you will be sorely disappointed. The only salve to mollify the necklace’s curse is death.”

Vera reined in the flare of temper that threatened to scuttle the indirect diplomacy required when negotiating with one of the elemental Daemons. They were notorious for their hostile demeanor and rabid distrust of anyone who trafficked with the world of humans. This included the High Votaress of the Mound of Gaia, despite the blood oath she had taken to protect the elementals and maintain the safety of the Sacred Passage between the worlds. 

“The Mound of Gaia has served the elemental courts for millennia. We’re your allies. What kind of chaos do you think there’ll be when the other Daemons learn that you allowed the High Votaress of Gaia to go mad and die because you’re still nursing a wound that was taken when the world was new?”  

Hephaestus’ face darkened and both Sam and Evander stepped forward on either side of Vera. Evander’s hand had strayed to the hilt of his sword and the air around Sam hummed with energy. Vera was prepared to plead for peace when Hephaestus threw his head back and laughed. “You have a spark in you that is unlike any of those who have come before you. It would be a shame to see that snuffed out.” 

“Will you help me, then?” 

“I will do what I can, which is not much. The curse is not in the necklace itself, that is just a bauble to tempt the accursed to waken my little darlings with a touch. It is the serpents’ kiss that is deadly,” Vera started to speak but Hephaestus continued without allowing her interruption, “The curse can only be broken if the one who passed it to you is bitten, but to do that they have to willingly awaken the serpents.” 

“Will they suffer?”

“Are you going to concern yourself with the fate of someone who is trying to kill you?”

“I don’t walk into the future blind, if I can help it.” 

“There is no being, ancient or otherwise, who sees the end of their path with clarity,” Hephaestus rolled his eyes, “Yes, they will suffer madness and ruin. Does that alter your course?” 

“No. It probably should, but it doesn’t.”

“You would make a worthy adversary.” 

“I’m honored by your esteem. May I ask for one more kindness?”

“I am certain you will ask for it, whether I allow you to or not.”  

Vera sighed, “A truer word was never spoken. Who cursed me?”

Hephaestus’ lips tipped upward. His smile was cruel. “You don’t already know?”

“Should I?”

“The north wind has been full of whispers. A power is growing to challenge the Mound of Gaia’s control of the Sacred Passage. Have the Temple Oracles not told you?”  

Vera lost control of her composure for a moment as she struggled to keep her expression neutral. 

“They have not,” Hephaestus said, his voice full of certainty. “I have no great love of the Mound of Gaia, but without it, the Sacred Passage would be lost and the Beyond would fall further into the shadows. I will tell you, but you must give me something in return.” 

“If it’s in my power to give, I’ll gladly part with it.” 

Hephaestus hobbled forward until he was standing before Vera, their bodies separated by a hair’s breadth of space. He stared down at her, his eyes alight with craving. Vera drew on the power of her station and the magic that was bound to her in blood. The High Votaress would not be cowed into action. She could sense the calm that Sam sent her beginning to fade and clamped down on the surge of passion that curled inside her like a serpent waiting to strike. 

“A tribute,” Hephaestus raised a calloused hand to her cheek, “I will have a taste of what burns inside you.”

Vera nodded. A tribute would be exhausting, but it would also serve dual purposes. It would slake the thirst that plagued her, and bring them one step closer to ridding her of the curse, altogether. There would be no time to recover before she confronted her assassin, but that could not be helped. Needs must when the devil drives, she thought. 

She kissed Sam and stroked the blade of his cheekbone with her thumb, “I need your strength, love.” 

“It’s always been yours,” Sam said and Vera peeled away the layers of clothing he wore until his polished bronze of skin glimmered in the light from the brazier. His cock hung plump between his muscular thighs.

Hephaestus waved a hand and a litter of servants brought forward a golden chair with a stool on which he could rest the twisted wreck of his crippled foot. They placed his seat beside the brazier and hurried away, returning with a low couch that was set before the Daemon as if he were expecting a guest to pass the night with him.

Vera brushed her lips against Evander’s, the tingle of contact sent a jolt of excitement through her, “And your strength, will you give it freely?”

“Without question, my lady,” Evander’s smile was full of the love born from the trials the three of them had faced together. It warmed her heart. He laid a gentle kiss on her forehead.

Vera disrobed herself and Evander with efficiency. A servant in a knee-length chiton of white linen appeared to care for their discarded clothing and she chuckled. “It’s good to see the courtesy of your court hasn’t declined in these troubled days.” 

The Daemon shrugged, “Only imbeciles and pretenders employ discourtesy to beat their chests and prove their worth.” 

Vera led Evander to the couch and laid him on his back. She trailed her fingers over the rise of his pectorals, circling the dusky rose of his nipples, and flicking at them until the buds hardened. Lust raced through her as she scratched her nails over his abdomen. Raised pink lines appeared in their wake and Evander hissed, but his shaft was hard, shining at the tip. She dipped her head and sucked on his cock, letting her hand glide over his balls and then back up the length of him. She crawled onto the couch with Evander, straddling his waist, and Sam joined them, kneeling behind Vera in the space between of Evander’s spread legs. 

Hephaestus lifted a hand toward the brazier and beckoned. A tongue of flame soared from the fire toward the lovers, winding around them. Vera lifted her hips, and Sam’s hand snaked between her thighs, spreading her open for Evander’s cock. Sam groaned when he felt the slick dripping from her. Evander’s hands skated up Vera’s thighs and he shouted when she speared herself on his rod. The fever brought on by Harmonia’s curse gripped her and she writhed above him. Sam’s arms slid around her, slowing her movement, until she was undulating over Evander with the same slow, lapping rhythm of a calm sea when it kisses the shore. 

Evander had pulled Vera forward so he might mouth at her breasts while Sam sucked the rim of her ass, fucking her with his tongue until he could spear her with one finger, then two. Vera was panting, desperate for relief by the time Evander guided her back onto his cock and Sam worked his length inside her ass. 

Vera was full to bursting and Hephaestus called forth more ribbons of fire to twine around their bodies and lift them into the air. They hung suspended, encircled by living flame. They chased their completion, climbing toward the precipice together and when Vera threw her head back to howl through her release, a lance of fire flowed into her mouth and lit her from within, driving Sam and Evander to their own completion. 

They were lowered back to the couch with care, panting and exhausted. The three lovers untangled themselves with gentle hands and kisses while Hephaestus’ servants rushed forward with ewers of scented water and sheets of soft cotton. The youth who met them at the entrance of the palace reappeared, carrying a pitcher of wine and four goblets. 

Hephaestus poured the wine with his own hand. “I do not worry for your legacy. There is no question that your power will endure.”

Vera bowed, before sipping at the drink. The wine was spiced with cloves and honey. Its warmth spread through her, renewing her spirit and invigorating her tired muscles. Her eyes widened. Evander and Sam stared at their goblets with the same look of disbelief. 

“Yes, drink long and deep. My wine will sustain you through your trials,” Hephaestus presented Vera with a full wineskin, “The venom of my little darlings shall not disturb you while this wine runs through your blood, but do not delay. You must hurry to Thebes. There you will find Semele. She is who you seek.”