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Light The Fire: A Reverse Harem Fantasy

By:Elizabeth Briggs

Chapter One


The giant brazier flared bright, beckoning me closer. I picked up a scrap of bark and a pointed piece of obsidian from the nearby pile as I considered the flickering flames, along with my future. While a man beside me debated what to write with a frown, I quickly carved my wish on the tiny bit of wood. When I was finished, I read the words once before sending the bark into the fire, where it blackened and curled almost immediately and soon turned to ash and flame. As the Fire God accepted my offering I bowed low and said a small prayer that he’d grant my wish and give me guidance, before I turned back to the celebration. Not that I expected him to answer, of course. But it was tradition.

The center of Sparkport was packed tonight with nearly everyone in the village crammed into its town square. Torches lit up the darkness, adults made wishes at the brazier, and children pranced across the dirt road flying red dragon kites in the air. Fire dancers performed on a stage nearby, their flames leaving trails of light as they twirled in time to the lively music. I moved through the crowd toward one of merchant stalls lining the road, brushing past people in their finest clothes who were dancing together or eating special treats.

The Fire Festival was one of the five celebrations in honor of the Gods and the Dragons, and here in the Fire Realm it was the biggest holiday of the year. My family had been preparing our bakery’s stall for weeks, while my sisters and I had spent months sewing our gowns. Mine was a flame red dress with a black lace trim that hugged my body in a way that turned a few heads. An obsidian pendant that belonged to my mother rested between my full breasts, and my blond hair had been tied up with red and black ribbon, though some wispy hairs had already escaped it.

I approached my family’s stall with its familiar scent of warm bread and baked sugar. My mother stood inside it, offering one of our signature mini volcano cakes to a child and her father. My older sister Krea was putting out more chocolate-coated flame cookies, while our youngest sister Loka was sneaking one of the fried crab cakes into her mouth. I arched an eyebrow at her and she wiped her mouth with an impish grin.

“Welcome back, Calla,” Mom said with a smile. “Did you make a wish?”

“I did. Has it been busy?” I asked, as I stepped behind the stall to join them.

"Very," Mom said. "We're going to run out of those volcano cakes before midnight at this rate."

"All because of Krea’s hard work,” I said.

"Thank you,” my older sister replied, ducking her head so her pale hair partially covered her face. “I had no idea they'd be so popular."

Krea was the one who had come up with the design for the tiny domed chocolate cakes filled with strawberry cream, then topped them with frosting to look like lava. She had true artistic talent, while Loka prided herself on finding the most delicious combinations of food—usually by tasting them herself. Together they would make my mother proud when they took over the bakery. And me? I could bake, certainly, but I didn't have the talent for making pastries beautiful like Krea, and I didn't have the knack for coming up with new recipes like Loka. I'd likely find myself serving customers in the front of the shop my entire life—or I’d be passed off to help my future husband with whatever his trade was.

I wished I had a talent like my sisters, but so far nothing had emerged. I was passably good at many things—sewing, baking, candle making—but an expert in none. Instead I preferred to spend my time reading, but books were in short supply in a small town like Sparkport and scholars were not exactly in demand here either. I had no idea what my future would hold, but now that I was twenty years old I supposed it was time it got started.

As I idly rearranged the boring cheese pastries I'd made—which no one was buying, since they could get them every day in the shop—a loud rumble sounded in the distance from the nearby volcano, Valefire. A moment later the earth trembled under our feet and the crowd murmured and paused until the ground stilled once more. After a few tense seconds, the music started up again and the festival continued on, as if nothing had happened.

"Another earthquake?" I asked, glancing at the tall, flat-topped mountain with its black slopes. Our town was situated in the shadow of Valefire, where the Fire God’s temple stood. We’d always respected the volcano, knowing it could awaken at any time, but none of us truly believed it would. Until last month, when the earthquakes had started to increase in frequency and strength.

"It's simply the Fire God showing his approval for the festival," Mom said.

Loka rolled her eyes. "The Fire God hasn't been seen for hundreds of years."

My mother clucked her tongue. "And this is his way of reminding us he's still watching over us, even if we've forgotten him and abandoned his temple. This is why we must celebrate him on holidays like this."

"And pray the volcano stays dormant," I muttered.

"The volcano hasn't erupted in many lifetimes," Mom said, waving our concerns away. "We’ve always had earthquakes here in Sparkport. There's nothing to be worried about. In fact, you should all go enjoy the festival tonight. I can handle the stall by myself."

"Are you sure?" Krea asked.

"Yes. You’ll make me happy by having fun tonight. The Fire Festival is for the young." She shooed Krea and Loka away with a smile. Loka skipped off immediately with a squeal, while Krea hesitated until her betrothed caught her eye and gestured for her to dance with him.

"I'll stay," I said, as Krea slipped away into the crowd.

Mom patted my arm. "That's kind of you, but you should dance too. Derel looks like he could use a break as well."

I followed her gaze to the stall across from ours, run by the local butcher. Mom waved her hand at Sucy, the wife of the butcher and my mother's best friend. Her son, Derel, stood behind the beef kabobs, lemon shrimp, and meatballs they were selling, which I had to admit looked delicious. Behind him, Derel’s father tended a large pig roasting on a spit, which would be served at the end of the festival to the entire village. We had a giant volcano cake prepared to go with it, filled with strawberries and cream.

Derel’s head turned toward me and he caught me staring at him. I quickly looked away and busied myself in the back of the stall, but the damage was done. It didn’t help that Derel was distractingly handsome either, even if I hated to admit it. He had the rich dark skin of his grandparents, who’d moved here from the Earth Realm, with deep brown eyes and gorgeous full lips. Not that I’d spent time much staring at his lips before. Definitely not.

My mother nudged me with her elbow. "Go on, dance with him."

I groaned. "Do I have to?"

"Yes, you do.” She clasped her hands together. “I do wish the two of you would get married already. It's all been planned out for you for years!"

"Yes, that's the problem."

"You’re lucky. When I was younger I thought I’d never find a husband in this tiny village. If your father hadn't moved to town I'd probably still be alone. I tried to make it easier on you and your sisters by promising you to others as children. Krea and Parin will soon be married. Next it should be you and Derel."

I rolled my eyes. "I doubt Loka will want to marry the man you chose for her."

"Well, I had no idea she'd prefer women or I’d have chosen her a nice wife.” She suddenly straightened up. “Oh, here he comes. Be nice." She shuffled away and busied herself at the stall next to ours by offering the chandler some cookies, leaving me to face Derel alone.

As he approached I felt a sense of dread, but also excitement. The Fire Festival made the night feel like anything was possible, even something magical. Like me and Derel getting along for five minutes.

"Care to dance?" he asked in the least convincing voice ever.

I gave him a sickly sweet smile. "With you? Not really."

"Trust me, I’m only here because my mother insisted."

I glanced at my own mother, who gave me a big smile and nodded eagerly. I could practically see visions of dark-skinned grandchildren dancing through her head. "Fine, I’ll dance with you. Only because my mother will never stop pestering me until I do."

He took my hand in his strong grip and led me into the square to join the other dancing couples. This dance was an upbeat one, and we switched off clasping hands and spinning and twirling until my heart beat fast and I was almost—almost—having a good time with Derel. It didn’t hurt that he was an excellent dancer either.

When the music slowed he clasped my hand and pulled me close against his toned body. "Is your mother pressing you to get married like mine is?"

"Always." Though arranged marriages had fallen out of fashion generations ago—much to my mother’s dismay—from the time Derel and I were born we’d been promised to each other, whether we liked it or not. And trust me, we did not. The worst part was that if we hadn’t been forced together at every opportunity and told how perfect we were for each other, maybe we would have gotten along and fallen in love in our own time. Now we would never know.

"Maybe we should just do it already to get them off our backs,” he said, as his hand slowly smoothed down my back.

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