The morning that Theocharista Hellysent Yost the Seventh noticed the soft chanting that drifted down from the mountain top was the morning her childhood ended. Two bells past midnight was a usual time for the children of Morgana’s Keep to wake. It was normal for Theocharista to wander from her room down to the kitchens and spend the hour being hummed back to a dead sleep by the young witches keeping the stove fires lit. More often than not they only saw nocturnal scholars, so they were always happy to see Theocharista’s chubby face, eyes still squinting with sleep, asking for something warm to drink and a mother to hold her.
None of the women keeping the fires lit was old enough to be Theocharista’s mother, no, they were barely adults themselves. They loved her company the same as the apprentice Kitchen Witches had the year before that, and the year before that, for as long as Theocharista herself could remember. Although what Theocharista could remember was not an extraordinarily long amount of time. The women who kept the midnight fires going would always pick her up and give her a warm cup of whatever was in the closest cauldron. They would cradle her to their chests and stroke soft fingers through her long dark hair until she drifted back to sleep in their arms.
On her path down to the kitchens Theocharista saw an open hall window. She stood high up on her tiptoes to close it. That’s when the first small strains of sound began trickling down the mountain top to her. Some would say Theocharista was driven by fate down a different corridor leading to her heavy cloak and a pair of sturdy winter boots to follow the noise. If you asked Theocharista she would say the only thing that drove her was an unquenchable need to learn. A child’s unfulfilled curiosity has led to more trouble, and it would continue to for as long as Theocharista was denied the knowledge she desired.
So, Theocharista donned her cloak and boots. It was the first hint of winter. Fat snowflakes fell silently as she walked closer to the uncountable stone steps that ascended up into the cloud covered peak of their mountain. Snow crunched underfoot as Theocharista surveyed the steps in front of her. She had never been told to not climb them. She had never been told what exactly was held at the very top. If the chanting hadn’t caught her attention, Theocharista reasoned, then eventually her insatiable need to know everything would have.
Theocharista put her foot on the first step experimentally. There was no alarm sounding. This meant there was no spell to keep her away. So she tugged her cloak closer around her shoulders and climbed the next step. Theocharista climbed until she couldn’t see Morgana’s Keep through the clouds below her. She climbed even as her lungs burned for more air. As she climbed Theocharista drew the same familiar pattern of her favorite adaptation rune in a quick burst; down, down diagonally, up, up diagonally. She climbed as she got used to the cold and the little air, she felt her body rework itself to understand how to continue forward.
When Theocharista finally reached the top she saw the temple. The chanting that had only been growing louder during her ascent had slowed to a stop. She walked up to the open door and saw two rows of monks bundled against the cold. Theocharista surveyed them. They knelt in reverence towards a statue of a three bodied goddess she had never seen before. Without entirely understanding why she was compelled to, Theocharista knelt. She brought her forehead down to the floor between her thawing hands. When Theocharista raised her head she was unaware the monk standing in front of her would change her life.
“Hello, little one,” She called to Theocharista. “Have you come to worship Hecate too?”
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