Wave after wave of vibrating violent, nearly physical repulsion pressed against her. Her fine brown hair spread wild in static expansion. The dry, biting heat billowing forth from the volcano swept her sweat into salt crystals. Her throat was parched beyond madness. The pumice stone beneath her tongue continued to tear fine new wounds. The nerves from her now lidless eyes screeched in searing pain.
Cecilia had practiced this a thousand times, in the cold cellar dark. Ever since she found that wanderer’s scroll, this was all she had dreamed of. She had learned to measure her steps. She had learned to move in perfect precision. The ritual was quite specific.
Eventually, she left her lord’s manor and struck out across the wicked world. She’d survived it thus far, but sometimes only just. She had grown wary and wild and quick with a knife. She smiled more often then than as a slave, but her grin grew more vicious by the day.
Now, she drew carefully close to the low altar, to the red lit edge. The uncanny heat lapped up her naked legs and lower back. One more backwards step, her ankle caught the sharp edge of the black iron altar. She’d been an inch off in her tread.
Cecelia tilted back. Her heart stopped. The cruel altar cut into her. Heat raced to embrace, as she teetered naked past the edge.
Somehow Cecelia caught herself and stood straight. She desperately needed a steadying breath but there was none to be had. Slowly she sat back on her heels, fighting the swirling spots before her eyes. The altar cut and burned into her thighs, but pain was then beyond meaning.
Next she sent a searching hand behind her and found the leaden scepter. It was cool in her grasp, the only thing untouched by the unholy heat. She held the rod on high and screamed the name of her one true god with rasping and ravaged lungs.
She heard her own voice echo strangely in her mind as though her own prayer had reached her. The ritual was complete. The tight sprung potential of the volcano snapped. Exploding orange violence swept forth in seething ruination.
She emerged again, with embers for eyes. Cecelia observed the destruction she’d wrought on that distant blackened wilderness with amused disdain. Pale gray ash fell from the sky like soft acrid snow. She summoned fire to cloak herself for the simple joy of her perfect control.
She smiled deeply, wrinkling the skin near both unblinking embers. She would never more be a slave.