From the Adventures of Grant McSwain, Hero of Countless Tales, Harrower of Cold-blooded Villains, and Handsome Bachelor
accompanied as always by his hapless assistant, Teagan O’Daire, the Ginger of Galway.
Teagan blinked several times, trying in vain to clear away the stinging smoke and the fog of unconsciousness.
I’ve been drugged.
She moved to rub her eyes, but her hands stayed behind her back and coarse rope dug into her wrists. The crackle and heaet of a nearby bonfire flooded her senses, along with a sweet smell and sizzle like bacon.
Feral boar, perhaps? Do they raise swine in the mountains of Uruguay?
A chilling sense of foreboding told her no. She tugged on the rope, hoping for some give in the restraint. But she remained firmly held against a thick tree trunk.
“You’re not going anywhere, Teag,” Grant said. His dejected voice provided a small sense of comfort. She thought she could make out his bulky form, kneeling between two tribesmen’s spearpoints.
The tribe came into focus as tears from the smoke cleared Teagan’s vision. Several men in animal skin loincloths chanted around the bonfire. They wore carved bone jewelry on leather straps, and carried sharp spears that glinted in the firelight. Nearby a few men and most of the women tore at pieces of steaming roast meat laid out on a large round table. Like many tribes Teagan had read about, the uncivilized Aktuacha left more skin exposed than covered.
Grant’s wide eyes and red cheeks caught Teagan’s attention. He turned this way and that, as if unsure where to look.
“Surely you’ve seen a woman disrobe,” Teagan said, trying not to laugh. Their uncertain situation and the hostile growls of the Aktuachans should have stifled every bit of humor. But perhaps because of the danger they faced, Grant’s embarrassment at something so natural struck Teagan as hilarious.
Then she felt the breeze across her skin in places she ought not.
“Where the hell is my shirt?!”
“I think they tore it apart fighting over the fabric,” Grant replied.
“And where is Juancarlo?” Their guide claimed intimate knowledge of the mountains and assured them he could help find Vallarte’s gold mines. Moreover, they had to beat the twins dispatched by the German Kaiser before the desperate Weimar government could claim the treasure. This was an unacceptable delay. “When we get out of here, he’s dismissed for certain!”
“I think they’re tearing him apart right now.”
The aroma of pork. The sizzling fat.
Teagan vomited, involuntarily straining against the rope.
One of the tribesmen rushed toward her, shaking a bone fetish atop a staff decorated with feathers… and long red hair.
Teagan couldn’t reach her head, so she shook it back and forth but felt nothing on her bare shoulders. The slight breeze cooled her scalp far more than it had a right to.
“Oh my God, did they–”
“He thinks you’re a fire demon,” Grant explained. “Taking your hair gives him your power. Killing your consorts is necessary since we’re tainted by your presence.”
“I… oh God, what happens after that?” Horrifying thoughts swirled in her imagination.
“Well, frankly, I don’t care. Because I’ll be dead and eaten. So let’s stop that from happening, right?”
Teagan struggled once more with the rope, and felt objects in her trouser pockets and belt pouches. They hadn’t taken all of “the demon’s” possessions, just her dignity and pride. With careful effort, her long fingers reached into a pouch near the small of her back, drawing out a pair of metal cylinders.
“I’m sorry, Teag,” Grant said, voice cracking. “I can’t think of any way out.”
“I can.” She held the cylinders, one in each hand, and rubbed them together in motions as sharp and swift as the bonds allowed. “They want to call me a fire demon? I’ll oblige them.”
Bursts of pain and heat shot through her arms, but she let the fury urge her on, smashing the flint and steel together.
The tribe’s shaman approached again, taunting Teagan with the red hair fetish. Behind her back, the dry fibers of the rope loosened with a snap, then came apart.
She held the smouldering rope aloft in blistered hands, then kicked the shaman’s staff into the bonfire.
The man gasped and fell back, and the rest of the tribe followed his lead.
The fire demon they feared snatched a burning branch from the flames and howled with rage, dashing around the tribal village. As she passed thatch huts, she set them alight. When anyone came close, she shook the coil of burnt rope and makeshift torch at them with crazed eyes.
The forest and clearing glowed orange in the light of many fires, and the tribesmen fled Teagan’s wrath.
She dashed to her pack, next to Grant’s, and grabbed a fresh shirt along with her knife. Her curiosity burned for a moment, and she almost pulled out the compact mirror to assess the damage done to her luxurious mane. But there would be time for that once they were free.
She raced over to Grant and watched him rise to his feet, blowing on seared skin where he burned off his rope.
He stared back at her, and she became self-conscious, turning her back on him while throwing on her shirt. “I thought women in states of undress discomfitted you!”
“Not often,” Grant said. “And I’ve told you before, you don’t have much to be embarrassed about.”
Teagan whirled, mouth agape. “I do have a knife, Grant!”
He raised his hands in surrender and laughed, his wide smile disarming her anger. “Only jesting, Teag. I’m not one of these foolish savages.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know better than to infuriate a fire demon!”