She was born with the mark. Or at least, it had always been there, the reddish-gold imprint on her flesh as much a part of her as the shock of feathery blonde hair and smell of spices that always lingered about her. When she was very young it declared her identity to anyone who knew what to look for, which in those days was everyone, so she was careful to keep it hidden on those rare times she left her high mountain home.
Things became easier as time passed, especially once the practice of tattooing became more prolific. She was able to move about with greater freedom, and eventually left home for good. Drifting at whim from country to country, she rejoiced in the taste of new languages and the company of people who’d never heard of her, though after a near-recognition in Cairo she made a point never to stay in one place for too long. Stories could travel even faster than the birds.
She took lovers when the mood struck her, always keeping the dalliances short. The further she traveled from her homelands the more perspective suitors where intrigued by the craft and color of her mark. She told them it was an old family crest, and even once allowed it to be captured on film by an artist in Buenos Aires with whom she spent Carnival.
She found herself living at last in a New York apartment in the eve of the final year of the millennium, and with the drive of instinct knew it was time. The day was spent in preparation, as she hunted high and low through every shop in the five boroughs for the right combination of spices to scent the bedclothes with, bathing afterwards in water perfumed with the same mixture. She brought a young man home with her from a party that night, though afterwards he was not invited to sleep over. She did not sleep herself that night, instead perching naked amongst the nest of bedclothes in wait of the coming dawn.
The bedroom faced east, and she saw the first rays of the new sun as they reached over the horizon to caress her skin. The flames erupted from within her, the blaze beginning as always with her mark and enveloping her body in great wings of fire. The pain was glorious, but she cried out only once, in voice carrying the song of a thousand eagles. And then, as it was a thousand years prior and a thousand years before that, it was over. Her blackened body collapsed into ash.
When she awoke later among the charred remains of the pyre, her new skin was still warm, the mark on her back glowing softly in the morning light. She took her time preening, deciding as she did so that it was time to move on again. She could feel the gentle pull of her reborn self back towards the homeland, and knew she’d have to go back eventually. But not yet. It was a new era, and she wanted to see what it had to offer.