The urge to leave now was as strong as the one that had brought her here. By all appearances, those men had been locked up for some time, and she didn’t want to be standing there when they broke free.
She reached the sunlight and jogged down the winding path, eager to put distance between them. She wasn’t much of a jogger, but she was healthy and managed a mile before slowing to a fast walk. Feeling safer, she hurried along, wondering who those men were and why she’d felt compelled to help them. Not that she was cruel by nature, but the whole day had been bizarre. The jewelry, the cave, the man eating rocks…it was difficult to process.
She hit a soft spot on the trail and her foot sank up to the ankle. Startled, she lurched, nearly going to her knees. “What the…? There’s no mud out here.” They hadn’t had rain for weeks, and the rest of the path was hard dirt.
“Hello, dear.” Three women were ranged around Cara’s expanding mud hole. Bewildered, she struggled, her feet sinking a little more as the mud sucked at her shoes. “Hey, could you help me? I’m stuck.” She stuck out a hand in expectation.
It was ignored.
“We are helping,” a tall Polynesian woman said. Dressed in a short-sleeved red blouse, jean shorts and hiking boots, she seemed right at home. “I’m Destiny, by the way.”
“Providence,” the statuesque black woman introduced herself. She sized Cara up as if considering her for an important position. She wore a knee length white skirt with tiny pleats and golden sandals that laced up her calves; definitely not hiking apparel. Her top was an artfully tied white scarf that left one shoulder bare, and heavy linked gold disks circled her neck and wrists. A gold cord bound her hair, holding it back from her strong face. “We are the judges. Well done on setting the prisoners free.”
“Yes, well done. You may call me Fortune,” a pretty Spanish lady said, brushing her long, wavy red hair over her shoulder. “I see you’re wearing your wedding jewelry. Excellent. We can begin now.” She took a pouch out of her peasant blouse and a bottle from the pocket of her long green skirt. She took a handful of herbs and sprinkled it over the mud. “Blessings of sage for wisdom, rosemary for strength, wisdom and fidelity…”
“Is that for her or him?” Destiny quipped. “Because “playboy meets former human” sounds more like the plot of a naughty joke than a love story.”
“Tony Stark was a playboy, but Penny turned him around,” Providence argued, referencing the Iron Man movie.
“Do you mind?” Fortune growled. She cleared her throat. “And orange thyme, for refreshing courage. Destiny, you have the oil?”
“Of course. Destiny took a water pistol out of her pocket and squirted oil at Cara’s head.
“What are you doing?” Cara cried as she sank to her knees. The struggling was making her sink faster, but holding still didn’t help, and now she had oil that reeked of ginger and spruce dripping through her hair, stinging her eyes.
“Good question.” Providence sent a quizzical look at Destiny.
Destiny shrugged. “She’s anointed, isn’t she?” She glanced up the trail. “It would be best to finish soon. They’re almost free.”
“They have to feed. Right now they’re too weak to fight us.” Providence focused on Cara. “Be strong, Cara. He will be difficult at first, but he won’t be able to ignore his wedding tokens. He will be yours. Soon you will sleep, and wake to good fortune.”
“You’re crazy!” Cara shouted as the mud sank to her chest. She couldn’t believe they were just standing around, watching her sink. “Help me!”
“You will be all right,” Providence promised. “Providence be with you.”
“Destiny awaits,” Destiny said crisply, raising a sparkling copper vial. She let the contents fall in a trail of copper tears. Where it fell, it blazed, causing the mud to burst into light.
Cara’s body sizzled and dissolved as she slipped beneath the mud. Unable to fight the pain, she screamed, gaging as charged mud slid down her throat and filled her lungs. Choking, she thrashed as her body fell apart, ripped cell by cell from her being. Wrapped in pain, she gratefully gave into the darkness.