(This one’s lighthearted again. Promise)

“This is it,” she said. “The place where all the magic is supposed to happen.”

Half of a chuckle escaped his throat; the rest firmly held in place by nerves. “I guess it makes sense,” he said, turning back toward the sweeping vista of the island and out to the sparkling ocean beyond. His peripheral vision, however, caught the tips of her long, dark hair, riding upon the warm breezes, and he could not help but follow the flowing trails back to her smooth, bright face.

“So it’s really true?” she asked. “You’ve never…”

“I haven’t,” he said, giving a dismissive shrug. “And this is your first time–”

“Yeah…” She shifted her weight to one foot and scratched her ankle with the other. “We’re sort of both dying breeds.”

He nodded, another chuckle escaping more freely. “You could say that. So, well… how do you want to go about this?”

Pinches of pink turned up on her cheeks. “I kind of came up earlier and picked out a spot.” She pointed. “I know it takes two for this, but I was hoping you wouldn’t mind.”

“No, no,” he said. “That looks perfect! At least as far as I know.” He gave a lopsided smile.

She sighed in relief. “Thanks. You’ve been so wonderful. I… I’m glad my first time is with you…”

“Hey, there’s nothing to worry about,” he said, hesitantly reaching out to touch her shoulder as they walked to the spot. Gaining courage when she didn’t retaliate, he gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Honestly, it’s probably going to go a lot quicker than either of us imagine.”

It was her turn to chuckle as she turned and hugged him. “Are you ready?”

“Yes,” he said after a long breath. “I’m already so warm…”

“It’s part of the experience,” she said softly, drawing out to hold his shoulders at arm’s length before looking up to the sky.

“Oh, Great Goddess Mala of the Harvest and the Flame,” she boomed. “We mortals have finally acknowledged your long-forgotten power again and so humbly beg you to reveal it again with an end to our famines and blights! We honor our pact to you in offering of this strong, male virgin for which we had to scour the ends of the earth! We offer his spirit as a prodigal tribe who seeks not to stray again! Mala be praised!”

With a firm shove, he toppled backward over the lip of the volcano and disappeared from view. She took a deep breath, straightened her sacrificial robe and turned to leave when a faint sound caught her attention above the bubblings and hissings of the nearby lava pit.

“Ow…”

She peeked over the edge of the chasm and gasped as she spotted him lying on his back on a ledge, jutting out from the inner wall of the volcano about 10 feet down.

“Oh, crap! I’m so sorry, I never looked down there to check!”

“It’s OK…” he moaned. “Your first time…”

“Can… can you move?”

He wiggled his limbs. “Agh, yeah… Think so…”

“I’m really sorry! Can you just sort of… roll off?”

“Yeah… No problem…”

“Thanks again, so much. You really are the best!”

They stared at each other for a few more seconds before he suggested she probably leave so he could finish his plunge into the lava. She gave a smiled and agreed, but as they parted ways they both knew the moment had grown awkward.

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