HEARTH #16

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Four years ago, LUX‘s head Eve Volcanis had lost control of her immensely powerful magical abilities during a Sorority session. Those standing near the Mater simply melted as though they were made of cheap wax. Their flesh fell off their bones like globs of ice cream in sun. Others caught aflame themselves, screaming so loud they tore their throats out as the flames swallowed them alive. And those who had gotten in the Mater’s way… they were the most unlucky of them all. They faced heat so intense that their molecules displaced and they were reduced to dark puddles.

Two Matres (Augusta and another LUX Mater named Juno), 41 Sorority sisters, and 30 staffers had been killed. Another hundred or so had suffered debilitating or ruinous burns. 

Never before had two Matres been lost in a day. Never before had a Mater died in Chantico. Never before had a Mater killed another Mater. The Volcanis Incident was the subject of endless arguments, debate, and conspiracy theories to this day.

Grace had been there. She hadn’t experienced it via security footage- she had watched it with her own eyes. And she did more than that: Grace had been the one to stop the massacre. Clad in an AEGIS taken from a dead security officer, Grace charged straight at Eve. What happened next wasn’t captured on film, but the massacre was over in an instant. Eve was subdued and captured- only to make her escape through unknown means and vanish. They said she was still out there somewhere.

“Grace, I… how did you manage to stop her?” Henrietta managed. “How did you gather the will to run straight towards something like that?”

“Well, my armor protected me from the ambient flames,” sighed Grace. “And I knew Eve would never hurt me on purpose. I hoped the sight of me would calm her down… and it did.” Grace pulled off one of her gloves. “Not enough, though.”

And that was why she wore them. The flesh on her right hand was twisted and gnarled like an old tree, with long cracks along the skin and small chunks missing. The middle and left fingers looked to be barely mobile. Without a word, Grace wiggled her fingers to show the extent of the damage, then put the glove back on.

“I charged straight in without a thought to my own safety- because it was Eve. My friend.” Grace looked down at the stoop. “That day, I lost… so much. Eve was my closest friend and Augusta my most prized colleague, and dozens of promising young women met their ends as well. But not only that- I lost my ability to get my sisters to listen to one another. Eve was so close to me, and all those conspiracy theories that abounded after she vanished… it was almost as though I was the one who killed all those girls.”

Grace shook her head. “And the worst part is… it is my fault. Eve was perfectly happy working in her library on Pergamon. I was the one who asked her to come to Chantico. I thought a friend in the Sorority would help. I missed her. And because of my weakness, my selfishness, I ruined so many lives.”

Henrietta’s first instinct was to tell Grace it wasn’t her fault. To tell the Mater, who seemed so vulnerable standing there with her head down and her eyes glassy, that she couldn’t have possibly known what would happen. To tell her to not be so hard on herself, to not force herself to carry the unthinkable weight of the tragedy all by herself.

But Grace wasn’t someone who wanted to be pitied, and it wasn’t Henrietta’s place to give her advice. So she said something else. “Let’s fix it,” she said. “You want TORCH to be how it was, strong and unified, right? So you and I will make that happen- and Manna too, if she feels like it.”

“Of course I do,” said Manna, who had been with them in silence the entire time.

For the first time since Henrietta arrived in Chantico, Grace cracked a smile. A weak little half smile- but a smile. “Yeah. We’ll do it.”

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