Crystal clear waters stretch out before me, as far as the eye can see. The waves kiss the sand, the sound echoing off the forest behind me. The strip of beach between the trees and the water is almost white, glittering in the midday sun. The day is hot but a gentle breeze comes off the water, making it seem less so. I don’t remember the last time I was in such a peaceful place. I don’t remember the last time I was alone. Standing on the soft sand, it’s almost as though the world fades away.
Of course, I’m never really alone. The fire is my constant companion, and the dragon sleeping beneath my hair has rarely left my side since her birth. Still, I relish the few moments I have to myself. At least, until I hear footsteps in the sand approach. I turn, expecting to see Andrei, but the figure that approaches is much larger.
“Rōpata,” I smile at the heavily tattooed warrior chief as he walks closer.
His square jaw raises with a broad grin, “Kaitlyn, was it?” I nod. He glances around. “You’re alone. Are you not afraid?”
I scoff, turning back to look out at the horizon, “What do I have to fear?”
He follows my gaze, his voice wistful, “We all have fears, even the children of the gods.”
“I have nothing to fear here,” I reply. “My fears are far from here.” Something that is somewhat relieving, yet I can’t stop from worrying about it.
“In your own time?” He assumes.
“Ruaumoko worries you?” He asks, tilting his head to look at me.
I smirk, “No, not really.” I glance up at him from the side. “A nuisance, not a threat. There are worse things.” I wish lava was my biggest problem.
“I see,” He nods slowly. “Perhaps with the celebrations today, we can take your mind off of it. If only for a while.”
“I look forward to it,” I say half-heartedly. I have to admit, I’m not nearly as interested in their agriculture, history, or food as Andrei and the Halseys seem to be. “I would like to know more about your tribe’s magic,” I turn to face him. “Will you show me?”
He smiles, “Only if you show me yours.”
I glance at the forest, “I’m not sure your island can handle that, but I’ll try.”
His deep laugh carries across the sand and out over the water. “You are an arrogant little thing, aren’t you? How old are you, daughter of fire?”
I raise an eyebrow, “Do your people judge age by how many times I have seen the seasons, or how much blood I’ve spilled?”
Rōpata hesitates, the smile fading from his tattooed face. “You are much bolder without your friends around.”
I drop my gaze. He’s already got me pegged. “Yes, well… They don’t have the stomach for it.”
“Do you not think it’s a disservice to hold that back from them?” He muses.
I roll my eyes, “I think it’s a great service to hold that back from them.” I glare up at him. “Where I come from, shedding blood is frowned upon, even with good reason.”
“How will they become true warriors beside you if you do not bring them into battle?” He frowns.
“We’ve fought together before,” I wave his insinuation aside.
“So they are not worthy companions?” He assumes.
I gawk, “What gives you that idea? They’re fine companions. Violence and killing isn’t as common where we come from. At least, not in the same way. Killing people isn’t generally seen as an accomplishment. The laws of men and the laws of nature don’t align there.”
He nods slowly, “I see,” He frowns in thought. “But why do you keep them at arm’s length when you wield your tongue? Is that not keeping your true self from them?”
I chew the inside of my cheek, “Usually, what I would say offends the people of my time.”
“They should learn to accept all of you, daughter of fire, As should you,” He smiles softly. “I have never known a flame to bow to the whims of any other, regardless of their efforts.”
I narrow my eyes, considering his words. “A flame that burns defiant, finds itself burning alone.”
He smirks, “Burn the grass and you find fertile soil to grow crops. The earth, the wind, life… They do not abandon the fire, but shift with it. The elements of nature work as one with fire. Why should this be different for the people who wield it?”
I frown, “I’m not sure I follow.”
Rōpata’s massive hand claps my shoulder, “Be true to yourself and to your fire and you will grow ever stronger. True friends will stand by you. How can they be your true friend, if they do not know you, if you do not let them? I wonder how well you know yourself.”
“What?” I scoff. “Of course I do.”
His eyes sparkle, “Do you? If you hide away parts of yourself, how can you fully know? One must explore all parts of themself, don’t you agree?”
I rub my forehead. This is making my head hurt. “I… don’t know.”
He chuckles, “Think on it for a while. In the meantime, let’s take a walk. I will show you where our mystics practice their craft.”
I trudge across the sand behind the mountain of a man, back to the village. On the outskirts there’s a path leading through the trees to a cave. The air grows thick with the heat as we go further in. Most people would faint from heat like this, unable to breathe, but our elements make it tolerable. I hear faint chanting as we round a bend and come to a chamber lit with an ominous red light.
Four people sit around the chamber, mumbling strange words that the translation gimmick doesn’t seem able to comprehend. Their skin is carved with images of volcanoes, fire, and lava flows. Three men and a young woman pause their chanting to regard us, rising to their feet when they see Rōpata. They bow deeply, the reverence evident.
“Friends,” Rōpata’s voice echoes through the small cave. “Our honoured guest would like a demonstration. Please, show her what our people have learned.” The four look at me, their dark brown eyes filled with curiosity. I wonder if they’ve ever seen a white person before. I’m not sure when the islands were conquered, but judging by their expressions, I’m going to guess not yet. They don’t argue, however. It’s an order from their chief, after all.
The girl begins first, waving her hands in a fluid motion. She hums and chants as she sweeps her foot out, dancing in a circle. Movement at the back of the cave catches my attention as bright red liquid rises out of the floor and floats in a stream through the air. It seems to follow her voice, swirling around her in ribbons of red, yellow, and orange, marbled in the living magma.
The man closest to her begins to mimic her motions and chanting, causing the lava swirls to stretch away from her, still flowing from the back of the room. They start to dance with the man, and a few moments later, the second man begins. The last one joins in, and soon the whole room is glowing brightly, filled with ribbons of lava swirling around each of the four mages. I find myself mesmerized. Not only do they control the most volatile substance on the planet, but they don’t seem the least bit afraid of it.
“You look impressed,” Rōpata muses.
“I am impressed,” I reply simply.
He looks down at me, “Do your people not practice as such with the elements?”
I shrug, “Some of them. Not fire, and certainly not lava. They are afraid of them. They said it’s too dangerous.”
He chuckles, “It’s only dangerous if you’re afraid. Fear breeds uncertainty, which in turn breeds failure.”
I open my mouth, but I’m not sure how to respond. “That… doesn’t make sense.”
He grins, moving his hands and feet as he explains, “We come from the earth, breath the air and drink the water for life. Just as the air, the earth, and the water is a part of us, the fire too is something we all contain. What do you think keeps us warm? To be afraid of it is to reject a part of yourself. Rejection brings fear. You will never be able to control what you fear.”
I blink slowly, “So… The fear holds us back? Even though we’re all afraid of something?”
“Yes!” He laughs. “That is exactly right. Fear and danger are not the same. We can fear things; enemies, plague, death, other people even, but not oneself. It is just not right to fear oneself. The magic is a part of us, the fire is a part of you. Reject your fire and you bring danger.”
“So you keep saying,” I mutter, but I think I see his point.
He’s silent for a while, as we watch the lava dancers. “We should return. Your friends will be missing their fire.”
“Yes,” I sigh. “I imagine they will.”
“Kat! Where’d you go?” Andrei asks loudly as he comes running toward me in the centre of the village. It looks like some of the locals have dressed him up to look like one of them. I’m surprised to see they’ve managed to remove his shirt. Other than his pants, he only wears a band of leaves on his arm and a flower in his hair.
I gulp, focusing on his face with some effort, “Uh, a walk,” I mumble. Rōpata snorts behind me.
“Oh, I see,” Andrei stops in front of me, eyes glancing around nervously. “Well, I wish now that I’d gone with you. I found some women who offered to teach me to cook but they insisted that I change. Something about dressing appropriately,” His cheeks colour as he speaks. “But besides that, I’ve been preparing an amazing dish for the feast tonight! I think you’re going to love it,” He beams proudly.
I find his smile contagious, “I can’t wait.”
“You should contribute too, daughter of fire,” Rōpata muses, clapping my back. “Perhaps a show of your power?”
I turn slowly to look up at him, brow raised, “Really? That’s what you want?”
“We had a deal, did we not?” He shrugs with a smirk. “I will have them prepare an area for you.” I narrow my eyes, pursing my lips as I watch him walk away. Does he know what he’s asking for?
Andrei’s eyes grow wide, “Wow, you really up for that? I know how you don’t like being in the spotlight. Don’t feel pressured to say yes,” He assures, placing a hand on my arm encouragingly.
I sigh, “I think I already did.”
“I can tell him you changed your mind. Unless, of course, you want to,” He offers.
I shake my head and smile again, “It’s only fair. They did show me their magic already.”
“Really? What was it like? I can’t believe I missed that!” Andrei clenches his fist in frustrated disappointment.
“It would’ve killed you before you even got close,” I roll my eyes. “They work with raw lava in the mountain.”
He pouts, “It’s not fair. I hate being normal.” His whole posture deflates.
I step closer, resting my hands on his bare chest, meeting his gaze through my lashes, “Normal is not a word I would ever use to describe you, Andrei.”
He looks back at me with puppy eyes, “Yeah, well, you’re not the one that everything can seem to kill. I have no immunity. Sounds pretty normal to me.”
I purse my lips, tracing one of his scars with my finger. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but the only thing that’s managed to kill you so far was yourself.”
He frowns, looking at my fingers. “Your point being?” I feel his heart beating under my touch. It’s a little hard to resist, seeing him so barely clothed.
I lean to kiss his collar lightly, “My point is,” I kiss again, “You’re not normal.”
“Well… When you put it that way…” He chuckles softly. I feel his arms wrap around me. “So, did you need to go help him or something? I should probably get back to the ladies before they force me to change my pants.”
I smirk, tracing along the top of his pants, “I could help with that…”
“Kat!” He gasps. “We’re outside! And…” He pauses, “There’s people around.” He whispers nervously.
I giggle, “There’s lots of forest around too.” I leave a little trail of kisses along his jaw, teasing, “What’s your point?”
“You know my point, silly. What if someone finds us? That’d be…” He doesn’t finish his thought.
I look up at him, raising my eyebrows. “That’d be what? These are people we’ll never see again, five centuries in the past. Besides, I really doubt they would even care.”
“Sure, but…” His eyes slide sideways. He’s clearly too embarrassed.
“Yohoo! Anderey!” A woman’s voice sings from out of sight. I lean around him to see a pudgy woman dressed in the traditional garb, her black hair braided down her back. She waves with a large smile, her olive-toned cheeks flush. She stands near the fire pit where a bunch of food is laid out, and a few other woman stand around doing various things to cook.
Andrei groans, turning in her direction with a forced smile. “Great… They’ve come to find me,” He mutters. “Hey!” He calls back with a wave.
The woman seems elated by the response, waving for him to return. I glance between her and Andrei’s face. Her excitement irks me, and his reluctance to return makes it worse. I find my good mood sours as I look at her, and as our eyes meet her smile fades to worry.
“I guess I should go. Can we maybe… rain check on that forest idea?” He winks at me, brushing a loose strand of hair off my face.
I raise my gaze to his, and frown, “At least kiss me before you go.”
“Of course, m’lady,” Andrei leans down, cupping my face with his hands as he presses his lips firmly against mine. He lingers, longer than I expect him to, but not long enough to satisfy me. He smiles wantonly after me as he steps to the side to rejoin the women cooks.
I look to the woman again as he joins the other women by the fire. Her eyes are downcast and she turns back to the food. I smile to myself. Maybe a show of power will be good. Maybe it would teach the woman not to test me. The fire quivers in my chest, excited by the idea. I glance around the village to find several women whose eyes linger too long for my liking. Then I slip away, back toward the beach.
“Let’s give them something else to look at tonight,” I mutter to myself, or rather, to the fire.
On the beach, away from prying eyes and flammable materials, I roll up my sleeves. I unlace my shirt to tie it in the front, leaving the undershirt visible. I take off the shoes and leave them at the edge of the sand. Out in the middle of the ocean on this tiny island, it seems as good a place as any to practice throwing fire around.
Rōpata comes to find me as the sun hovers just a little ways above the horizon. Most of the sand around me has turned to an ice-like sheen of glass. The chief stares at it for a long moment before looking up at me.
“It is time to celebrate. We have an outfit for you, should you wish to wear it,” He offers with a smile.
I glance down at my boring English outfit, “Sure. Why not?”
In one of the huts I’m given clothes and privacy. A bright red woven tube-top and a skirt made of grass. It looks expertly made, but it’s a little itchy. A woman comes in when I’ve changed to put wreaths of leaves around my wrists and ankles. She then gives me a necklace made of shells. It’s surprisingly easier to move in than any of the clothes Lady Charlotte gave me.
Drums begin to play as I step out of the hut. The whole village is gathered at the centre, around a large table with various foods laid out across it. The chief stands at one end, and when he lifts his hand, they all fall silent.
“We thank the gods for this feast, and for bringing us these strange guests,” He announces, pointing to his left where Andrei, Charlotte, and Edward stand. “To honour the gods the daughter of fire will perform a tribute; a display of the gods’ might.” His eyes meet mine, and he nods.
I find an area in the centre of the village has been sectioned off, like a makeshift stage. I walk over to it, the villagers clapping and cheering. It’s still fairly light out so they haven’t lit any torches yet. I stand in the centre of the stage until they quiet down. As I look over the village, each torch or fire pit that I see is lit, one by one. It takes a moment before they start to notice.
I lift one arm, turning it slowly so my palm faces the sky. My fingers twitch, as though beckoning someone and flames rise from each finger. I do the same with my other hand. Then, I let the small flames grow, rising up well above my head. The torches around the village rise too, as well as the large flame they had been using to cook in the centre of the crowd. This makes several people gasp, but I’m only warming up.
I flick my wrists – the fires of the torches leap into the air. I wave to them, calling them to me. They swirl around me, blowing my hair and catching on the leaves of my outfit. Scoria, disturbed and intrigued, leaps off my shoulder to chase the flames, weaving between them. She gets a large gasp from the crowd, but as I pull the fire closer into a pillar around me, they fall silent.
Once I’m completely hidden from view, I let the fire take me. My body shifts into its elemental form and I imagine the finale. Pushing back the instinct of fear and caution, I command the fire to burst away in a flash, dissipating before making contact with anything, leaving just a hot blast of air. The people cover their faces, yelling in surprise. When they look back to me their mouths hang open. I imagine they’ve never seen a woman made of fire before.
“Mahuika…” One man in the front row says. Another man repeats it, and then a woman. It quickly turns into a chant as they clap and cheer. I look to Andrei, who’s wearing a wide smile. He’s impressed, though not nearly as much as the lord and lady next to him. They gawk, Edward’s mouth hanging open. When I shift my gaze to Rōpata, he grins and nods once with approval.
I scan the crowd, meeting the gaze of the younger women, and in particular the one who had taken a fancy to Andrei earlier today. Their eyes sparkle with awe. Maybe now they’ll think twice of coming after him.
Scoria squawks, landing on my fiery shoulder. I look down at her, rubbing her scaly belly with my finger. I’m a little surprised she’s not affected by the fire, but more impressed she didn’t just fall right through me. Curious.
By Krystyna Yates