Parker woke to find her sister sitting at the foot of their bed. \"Morning.\" \"I am sorry.\" She shook her head and wiped at her reddened eyes. \"I did not sleep all night. I should never have said what I said. I am happy for you, Par. I really am.\" \"I know.\" Parker nodded earnestly, as Jude threw herself in her arms. \"You will do great without me. I am the one who cannot survive without you.\" \"Stop.\" Parker leaned back and shook her head. \"Only the Goddess knows where I would be today if you had not been here with me all this time.\" \"Let's agree you'd both be worser off without the other.\" Hearth stated from the door, her grey hair combed and pulled back neatly. She wore a sky blue robe, cinched at the waist with a length of rope. The girls turned to her and nodded. \"And o'course neither of you'd be er' if some ill-fated daughter of a fisherman didn't find ye sittin' on a river bank, eatin' mud.\" She met both of their gazes, before moving to sit on the bed next to them. \"Now... breakfast has been served if you wanna eat.\" Jude jumped up and started for the door. \"However-\" Hearth continued, causing Jude to stop in her tracks. \"I think it better for everyone, on empty stomachs. Parker especially.\" She turned to Parker, her gaze gently. \"What is it?\" \"Your letter.\" She reached in a pocket and withdrew the letter. \"Last night, after you'd gone to bed, I snuck off to the library.\" \"Snuck off?\" She shook her head sadly. \"You both know I'm not too keen on readin, but Dedicate Goodwin helped me quite a bit.\" \"What did you go for?\" \"I seen many students get picked for this here.\" She waved the paper. \"I seen many go down that cave and see that witch-\" \"Hearth.\" Jude chastised. \"Language.\" \"That's what she is, Jude. She's an out right witch.\" She nodded her head, her gaze focused on some distance thought. \"I seen many students go down that cave, and all of them come out differn't.\" She reached out to take the girls hands. \"Like she curses them?\" Jude moved to sit beside Hearth, cuddling close. \"It don't take a curse to change a person, Jude. It's knowledge that does them in. Every student chosen, must go down in them caves to speak with her. She sees their future-\" \"And tells them?\" Jude gasped, her gaze going back and forth between Parker and Hearth. \"I seen so many students go, girls, but so few have returned.\" \"That does not seem like her fault, Nana.\" Parker whispered gently. \"She may pick the quest, but she does not make them go.\" She squeezed Hearth's hand once more, before pulling her hand free. \"I have been thinking on it all night.\" She pushed herself up and started gathering her uniform. \"This is my chance to show everyone that I am more than they think I am.\" \"No one thinks badly of you, Parker.\" Jude reached out for her, but she evaded her grasp. \"No, they do not, but they treat us differently. We do not know where we come from. We have no family to vouch for us. When the time comes to leave Greenwall and enter the real world, we will not be treated the same. We will have to fight and claw our way to everything. THis is my chance to change all of that.\" \"How is this gonna change that? They will only see you as the river bank orphan who clawed her way to the top.\" Jude shook her head and squared her shoulders. \"You should not care what they think, Parker. The only thing that matters, is what you think of yourself.\" She nodded and turned to smile at Hearth. \"And what I think of course.\" \"Of course.\" Parker agreed with a smirk. \"Whatever I am meant to accomplish, I shall. Whatever I am meant to fail, I will. Not a bit of it will have to do with a witch in a cave.\" \"Parker is meant for greatness, Nana. Did I not tell you?\" \"Right, right.\" Hearth nodded along, before pulling herself up with a huff. \"I am.\" Parker met both of their gazes. \"We all are. You will see.\" \"Of course, your greatliness. Shall I fetch your breakfast? Or would you like a bath first?\" \"She must be at the southern path in a few moments. Dedicate Squire has a celebration planned.\" Parker shrugged on her tunic and fastened her breaches before throwing a sandal at her sister. \"I shall have my breakfast to go then. Go and fetch it.\" Jude scoffed and scooped up her sandal, before running out of the room. Parker raced after her. \"Ladies do not run!\" Hearth hollered after them, but they seemed not to hear. She waddled to the door, huffing and puffing, but they were already cutting down the dirt path to the Fire Temple. She watched them run inside in silence, her heart threatening to burst from her chest. Taking a moment to calm herself, she picked up her shawl and stepped out of their small home, closing the door tight behind her. She started down the path across the village square, pausing only briefly to press her palm against the etching of the Goddess. She had paused their everyday, for as long as she could remember. Sometimes she would pray, more often she would just say hello, but today she did something she had never once done. She asked the Goddess for a favor.
\"I am going to be ill.\" Parker shifted from foot to foot, the crowd behind her jumping with excitement. Her sister rolled her eyes, casting an irritated look at the crowd. \"You are not.\" She bumped her shoulder into Parkers and forced a smile. \"You are going to do fine.\" She turned back to watch Hearth shuffle up the dirt path. \"Tell her she is worrying for nothing, Nana!\" \"You,\" She huffed as she slowly reached them. \"Are not worrying for nothin. The Oracle is a very sensitive thing. The smallest slight and she'll send you on a quest to a painful death.\" \"Hearth!\" Jude snapped and swatted at the older woman. Catching the young girls hand, Hearth gently placed it aside and stepped close enough to close their circle. \"Now is not the time for comfort.\" She turned to Parker and grabbed her shoulders. \"You must be very careful. No cursing.\" Jude nodded quietly. \"You will undoubtably irritate her with your massive brain and countless facts, so perhaps it is best to just speak when spoken to.\" Parker smirked at her sister and opened her mouth to retort, when Hearth started nodding. \"Do not look at me like that, child. You are very bright, but even I have limits to how much I can listen to.\" Frowning, Parker crossed her arms. \"So your advice is to be polite and keep my mouth shut?\" \"Yes.\" Jude nodded until Hearth elbowed her. \"Just use your big brain. Do what feels right.\" \"So use my mind, but follow my gut?\" Hearth and Jude frowned and turned to look at each other. \"We are very bad at this.\" \"We'll practice for next time. You make sure there's a next time.\" Hearth pulled Parker into her arms and sighed. \"Be careful. I am an old woman. My heart couldn't take it if somethin happened to you.\" Jude chuckled, then wrapped her arms around the both of them. \"And an intense amount of pressure. Perfect ending to the worst talk ever.\" \"Parker?\" The three woman stepped apart and turned as a reed thin man approached. His long black hair was braided, flowing down his back, to wrap around his waist like a belt. He smoothed the front of his robe and nervously looked at the trees around them. \"Dedicate Squire.\" Hearth gave a small curtsy and Squire blushed slightly. \"Dedicate Hearth.\" He bowed in return. \"I give you my complete assurance that Parker will exit unharmed. The Oracle is touchy, but she has never harmed a student.\" \"No, Sire. She just sends them to their deaths.\" He blanched slightly, then reluctantly nodded. \"I cannot deny that some students in Parkers position have not returned home to us.\" He smiled sadly and stepped close enough to lay a hand on Parkers shoulder. \"I have been unfortunate enough to know quite a few of them. But not one of them has been as talented as Parker. Both her and Jude have reached far beyond the expectations I had for them when they first arrived, twelve years ago. You have raised two beautiful, intelligent woman, Hearth. And if they are anything like you, I have no doubt that their future holds greatness.\" All three girls dropped their heads, their cheeks red, but none as dark as Hearths. \"I thank you, Sire.\" \"I mean every word.\" He released Parker, his gaze rivoted on Hearth. \"That is a pep-talk.\" Jude whispered to Parker and waved her aside. The two girls slipped away, heading further down the path. Before long, the mouth of a cave came into view. Jude slowed her sister before they grew too close and pulled her in her arms. \"I love you.\" Parker grinned and pushed her sister away. \"I am not dying.\" \"You do not know where it will send you.\" She reached out to smooth Parker's auburn hair, tucking a strand behind her ear. \"You must do as Hearth says and not anger it. I could not bear it if you-\" \"I will.\" She swatter Jude's hand away and sighed. \"Are we sure I am the oldest? You fuss over me like I am a baby.\" \"Sorry.\" Jude crossed her arms and cast a glance at the cave. She looked away so Parker almost missed her whisper, \"I am scared.\" \"Do not be. I will be sunshine personified. The Oracle will have no choice but to give me something simple. I will have to save a Princess from the ravaging of her Uncle. Or find the enchanted sword of Tei Drakon.\" Jude scoffed. \"You would get off easy. Save a Princess? Really?\" \"I hear Princesses are unbearable snobs. The sword would probably be easier.\" Smirking, Jude shoved her sister back. \"No one has seen it in over a century. Let us hope for the Princess and her ravishing Uncle.\" \"The Uncles tried to ravage her. He is not ravishing.\" \"One could hope.\" She wiggled her thin eyebrows and smiled. \"Alright, Parker. It is time.\" Dedicate Squire walked to her side and extended his hand. \"Are you ready?\" \"No, but yes.\" She hugged Hearth and Jude once more before placing her hand in his. \"Did no friends come to send you off?\" \"She only has two and they are utterly worthless.\" Jude shook her head as two figures raced up the path. \"Ah, you call, they come. So they have one admirable trait.\" \"Shut your mouth, Jude, or I will close it for you.\" A long legged blonde shot Jude a withering look before throwing herself at Parker. \"I am so sorry we are late. Devlin had the worst time-\" \"But I am here.\" He stopped a few feet from them, his brow furrowed in concern. \"We made it.\" \"Barely.\" Sara squeezed her tight before releasing her. \"We brought you gifts.\" Sara reached in her sky blue tunic and pulled out a small bundle, wrapped in cloth. She unwrapped it slowly and dumped its contents into Parkers hand. \"It is for your nerves. My mother made it for me when I was throwing up before Dedicate Plume had us-\" \"I remember.\" Parker smiled gently and turned the charm over in her hand. \"She told me as long as I wore it, I would remain level headed.\" Sara took it from her hand and slung it over her head, to hang around her neck. Instantly, she was filled with calm. \"It did not really work for me, but your magic is so strong, I thought perhaps-\" \"I feel it.\" Sara's face lit up, her small shoulders dropping in relief. She threw her arms around Parker once more, then moved aside for Devlin. \"I made it.\" He rand a hand through his shaggy charcoal hair and grimaced slightly before holding out a small charm. It was a carving of a small leaf, surrounded by a flame, no bigger than a fingerprint. Parkers throat constricted as he flipped it over in his hand. \"It is just a token.\" He stepped closer to her and lowered his voice so only she could hear. \"I am the leaf and you are the flame.\" His eyes met hers for a brief moment before he backed away. \"You know I am not good with charms, so it is not enchanted, but-\" \"I love it.\" Parker reached out to take it, but he pulled his hand back. \"May I?\" Parker nodded eagerly and tried to hold still as he cautiously reach up and fastened it in her hair. \"I hope it will remind you of us when you are away.\" \"I could never forget you.\" She met his eyes, her cheeks reddening deeper. \"Any of you.\" He nodded and moved to stand with Sara. \"Alright, child.\" Squire held out his hand once more. Parker turned, her gaze locking with her sisters. She smiled and mouthed something she did not catch. Hesitantly, she turned and placed her hand in his, letting him lead her into the cave.
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