“Working in a tea shop is as peaceful as you're gonna get.” That is the advice that sent Anita to Aquatila, or the City of Water. The air there was fresh, and the fire from the nearby city Morov warmed the air. These things and a few local herbs made the Jade Palace the best tea shop in the city, but it would be the best in the world if not run by a woman. The prejudice against women has not been forgotten by history and is shown in many ways. But at work, Anita was treated as an equal, and that's all she could ask for. In the small corner restaurant, the walls were a deep jade and the floors were dark wood. Pretty paisley patterns decorated every chair and each table was set with several mats and a plate of scones, on the house. At one of them, A young girl was serving some tea.
“Here is your order sir” Anita placed a saucer with a white porcelain cup on the table. The old man sitting in front of it scrunched his face.
“Ah, yes... Is that the tea in this place?” he questioned, looking from the tea to Anita in equal disdain.
“Yes, I can guarantee that this is the tea.” He squinted harshly at her apron, eyeing the nametag.
“ Ok, thanks... Ann-E-Ya? Is it? Weird name for a woman, dare I say-”
“ It's A-ni-Ta, Anita, and your welcome sir.”
As she walked away, the fractious old man put the tea to his lips and without fail, was mesmerized by the flavor. He almost seemed angry about it. She arrived at a new table, tuning in to the conversation...
“- Year. out of all the cities, this one was chosen by the prophets. After centuries of the Capitol being chosen, they are furious. It's funny to watch-”
“Sorry to interrupt. If you don't mind me asking” Anita started, “What were we chosen for?”
The man turned quickly and eyed her. “.. You're new around here huh?” Anita just nodded, as she only arrived a few months prior. “Well then, let me inform you..” The man started incisively. “During the Lunar Eclipse, the Prophets with the help of Lady Falia Choose a New Hero To Protect our land. For the past 7 cycles, it's been the crown prince of the capital, but earlier it was announced that the new hero lives in Aquatila-”
“Wow. that's... Something-”
“Yeah it is!” cuts in the other man, “But rumors are swirling that they didn't choose the royal line because they did not produce a boy..”
“... Why a boy?" Anita questioned. "Women are capable too-”
“Yeah, tell that to the royals. They’ve had male successors since the beginning” the man replied. She nodded, not having any more to say about the topic.
“.. So, what do you want to order?”
After a long day, Anita dusted off and hung up her apron. It was white, so thankfully all the flour blended in. her boss, Lady Moraie entered the kitchen.
“Anita, just the girl I needed to see.” She smiled. Her curly hair was tied up in a puff and her apron was still tied around her waist. Her face was wrinkled a lot for her age, but Moraie loved to smile so it made sense. “I was thinking, you work here a lot and know your way around the kitchen. I want you to start training recruits soon. You brew the best tea on my staff. If you can teach these kids to make tea half as good as you, we’ll prosper for years ahead.” Anita felt warm from the compliments.
“I would be delighted to, thank you Moraie. I won't let you down.” Moraie chuckled, handing her employee a bag of scones.
“You never do.”
Anita left out the back, heading home. Since she was new to the city, she decided she should find some more information. Maybe she could ask around about the Lunar Festival, and find out who the royals even were. She thought about asking some co-workers tomorrow or chatting with some more customers. They seem to know a lot about the festival. Anita was pushed, falling as someone collided with her. They seemed to get out words before Anita could react.
“Ack! Hey, watch it! Apologize this instant!” Shouted an angry girl. Their orange-piercing eyes glared, but Anita was tired from work and wasn't about to back down from a fight.
“If you didn't notice, you bumped into me first. If anyone should apologize, it's you.”
“Excuse Me, Do you know who you're talking to!-”
“No, should I?-'' This seemed to stop her, as she stumbled over her words for a response. Anita refrained from raising her fist, looking at the girl in confusion. The girl seemed to deeply regret her actions, unlike before.
“N-no, sorry for the trouble.” The stranger apologized as she scurried away from another awkward encounter. Anita seethed.
“Gods, people are so rude..” Anita mumbled. Despite the great landscape, Anita was starting to think people in the city were cruel and heartless. Anita was from a smaller city, all the way across the country. She was born into a life of work but never complained. Her parents loved her as much as they could and who needs toys when you can play under the stars? Anita brushed herself off and continued on the path when she heard some sounds coming from behind. When she turned to check, there was nothing at all.
Anita walked the winding streets until she arrived at the small apartment she shared with her friend, Mazel. On cue, Mazel opened the door, ushering Anita in.
“Anita, you've heard, right? The hero is here, in Aquatila of all places!” Mazel squealed and spun with delight as her red coils bounced up and down. “I hope he’s pretty!” When Anita thought of pretty, she thought of Mazel, whose red hair and golden freckles naturally complimented her tanned skin. Her eyes shined emerald, perfectly matching most of her wardrobe, like the green tank she was wearing. Mazel was tall and strong and worked down at the Mailing post, doing all kinds of heavy lifting. That's how they met, a few months ago when Anita first started working at the jade palace. A few accidental meetings later, they got together to rent an apartment. As her thoughts faded, Anita became very aware of her friend’s hand, waiving in her face.
“Hello? Earth to Anita? Anybody home?” Anita’s face flushed. Mazel finally seemed satisfied when Anita nodded.
“Sorry, yeah I heard.” Anita finally replied. “ I don't know much about it though.”
“Ask around, most people here know all about it” Mazel suggested. Anita nodded once more, placing the bag of scones down on the table.
Anita continued to work throughout the week, asking around anyone that would listen about the Lunar Festival.
“It’s nicknamed the Royal Holiday, but that may change!”
“It's probably another manipulative man.”
“Stop asking me questions, weird lady!” The kid responsible stuck his tongue out and stalked away. Anita felt her claims about these people were justified.
“Rude..” The Festival was soon, and she still didn't know much about it, besides magical women choosing a male champion. To fight who, or what is a question that stayed unanswered. On the day of the Lunar Festival, Anita woke to the streets covered in blue lights and decorated with lanterns and 6-point stars. The Jade Palace was more lively than she’d ever seen, with the walls coated in blue fabrics and the pungent drinks being served glittering and blue.
“Anita, what are you standing around for? We need a server!” A shout came. The always-incisive Lady Moraie was working to brew teas quickly for the growing demand from customers. Her build was strong and her hair was tied up in a new blue cloth. As soon as Anita entered the kitchen, a tray filled with blue butterfly tea was put in her arms. The day was busy with tea and chatter, and Anita managed to learn that the chosen person always surfaced in some strange way.
“The last person, King Sofron caught on Fire! It was a Chrysaling for the ages!-”
“Is that what happens when they glow? A chrysaling?” Anita questioned.
“Yes, they get flashier every year!”
As the shop closed early for the chrysaling, Anita headed towards the center of town. She met up with Mazel, who rushed ahead to get a good spot. On the way, people celebrated with chants and songs she’s never heard before, dancing to the rhythm. The dance felt familiar somehow, maybe something she knew from her hometown. The crowd quieted as they neared the center and waited for something to happen. Anita heard some whispers in the silence.
“Any moment now and the chosen one will be revealed..”
“Mom, is it gonna be another boy?”
“Follow me to the center.”
Anita looked around for the last voice, only getting a glimpse of blue hair cutting through the crowd. She followed it quickly. Passing through the people, she caught a glimpse of the center: an old statue of the first hero stood tall. His anatomy was lengthy and buff carved perfectly in marble and surrounded by water. It was almost like a blue light was still glowing in his eyes. In his arms, was a tome of old, which context was long forgotten. Passing through the water to touch the statue was an infraction that many broke, but one Anita never thought of doing herself. Not until she saw the girl, wading through the fountain.
“Hey, wait!” People shook their heads as Anita followed the girl. Many shrugged it off as a distraction, but a girl with glowing orange eyes became suspicious, paying a great deal of attention to Anita’s actions. As Anita stepped onto the platform, people finally took notice of her. Grabbing the shoulder of the blue-haired girl, Anita continued to speak.
“Hey, we’re not supposed to be here-”. When the girl turned around, it was like looking into a mirror. All Anita saw was herself. Her hand fell through the vision, onto the statue and the world exploded in blue.
When Anita came to, she was on the ground. Panting heavily, she looked around to see cheers and cries of joy from the people around. People were approaching all around, making her feel closed in. she wasn't fully sure what just happened, but she was confident it wasn't a normal occurrence. Suddenly, she was pulled up by people and carried away. A loud voice started to speak.
“It's a Girl! For the first time, a woman was chosen! Girl, tell us your name!” It took a minute to realize people were waiting for her.
“Uhm, I'm Anita. What just happened?-”
“You, Anita, can I call you Ann?”
“- were just chosen as the next hero of Malovora! Now, in a few moments, you'll get on a train to the capital where you’ll officially take your title and power as the 8th hero and-” the words started to drown out as Anita tried to process what he was saying. The idea of being a hero was not appealing to her. Anita moved to Aquatila to live a quiet life, and now they want to bring her to the biggest city in the kingdom to fight monsters. She quickly shook off the hands of strangers and started running.
“And there she goes! Anita is making a lot of firsts today, as the first commoner, the first woman, and the first runner! We’ll be right back.”
Racing through the streets, Anita arrives back at her small apartment. Stuffing a few pairs of clothes and small trinkets in a bag, she gets ready to run. Taking a picture of her parents from a frame and slipping it into her shirt, Anita slips out the window and down the alleyway. Hearing the people racing through the streets, she decided to keep quiet.
“Hey.” a few feet in front of her was the girl from before. She seemed more pissed at the fact of finding Anita in the alley than bumping into her. “Where are you going, hero.”
“I'm not a hero.” Anita stepped back. The girl stepped forward.
“We all saw the glowing girl blast a blue wave of energy through the crowd, that's a surefire sign that you're the hero.”
“Is that what happened? Look, just because some weird blast happened doesn't mean I'm a hero. I'm a server, I work at a tea shop and that's what I would like to continue doing-”
“Yet you got your bag packed and you're creeping through an alley.”
“People like you are a great example of why. I don't want to be a hero, have the fates or whatever, choose someone else.'' The girl; visibly angered, approached Anita and grabbed her.
“The prophets don't choose, they get informed. The sword chooses its master and it chooses you. Of all people a lowly commoner to wield a power you don't deserve, so be grateful for this chance to get up out of this place-”
“This ‘Dump’ is my home and I'm not leaving for some dumb quest I know nothing about! Unlike the royal men, I have brain cells and a real life!”
“RAAAAAGH!” the girl pounces on top of Anita. “Don't talk about them like that!”
“If they're anything like you, I must be right-” Pushing her off, Anita gets up from the ground and runs down the alley. The orange-eyed girl follows behind.
“Wait!” For the 3rd time today, Anita raced down the path, not bothering to see if the girl was gaining ground in fear of slowing down. Meanwhile, the girl was keeping a steady pace, trying to catch up to the surprisingly fast Anita. They raced through the back alleys, with Anita trying to escape. After minutes of running, Anita realized she was alone.
“.. is she gone?” Anita said out loud
“Yes.” Before she could get a proper reaction out, a hand was wrapped around her mouth. She breathed in and the world blurred. “Don't fight it, just breathe.” She could only see a few others coming around before she passed out.
“Come on, that's not fair!-”
“Maybelline, keep your voice down. You need to understand that your actions have consequences and this- this was ridiculous, even for you.”
“I went to a different city, big deal”
“You are the princess, and your duty is here in the capital. That's final.”
Anita’s head felt as heavy as her eyelids. Prying her eyes open and peeking over, Anita saw the oranged-eyed girl. Her head started to clear. She seemed to be in an argument with a woman, whose eyes were brown. They didn't seem to notice her, which was good. Anita decided that if the girl was a princess, that means she was in the capital. That was not good. She decided to bide her time and wait for an opening to escape.
“You can't keep me here! I'm 18, I can do what I want!-”
“You are 18, meaning you need to be trained. You're far too unruly to become a queen, you're barely adequate at your princess duties.”
“Dancing at balls and cutting ribbons isn't important, exploring the country I have to run is!”
“Maybelline!” The woman rested her head in her hands. “Leave me, go to your room. I'll decide your punishment later.'' Maybelline got the idea that their argument was over, with her on the losing side, and stormed out of the room. “What am I gonna do with her..” with this, the queen left the room. Slowly getting up, Anita tests the door. She learns it's locked. While heading to the window, the door starts to open. Anita slips behind the door.
“Mom?-” Maybelline re-enters the room, and runs out just as quickly. Anita took this as a sign to run in the opposite direction.
“THE HERO IS GONE, SEARCH THE CASTLE!” came a shout. Escaping was just about to get a lot harder.
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