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After You

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The proudest moment of Adaara’s life, she thinks, was the moment she was chosen to be First.

‘Pick me.’

She was silent, her emotions and expressions near impossible to read–but despite the control she held in her dark features, her golden gaze seemed to scream: ‘pick me, pick me, pick me!’

But Deshanna stayed quiet: her posture stern, face stoic—cold despite the early morning heat; and like every Keeper before her (and every Keeper after) Deshanna wore the color of creation–green.

Virelle watched the pretty fabric of her robe shift like leaves against the morning breeze because everything else was quiet.

And the silence was resounding.

But then someone sighed behind her, Deshanna turned her steely gaze, and for the first time in what felt like an eternity, Virelle remembered she wasn’t watching this alone. Her clan stood together in a peculiar array; a sea of brown faces, young and old, gathered together to watch the proceedings.

Like Virelle, most were quiet, soundless in their curiosity. Meridan, however, grew restless—his boredom growing. But as Deshanna turned to look at him and he met her weathered gaze, both fear and dread spread across his naked face.

It was rare for those considered children to attend the more sacred proceedings of the clan, but when they did they were expected to carry themselves well. It was for that reason many of their friends were missing; like Meridan—but unlike Virelle and Adaara who carried both silence and the marks of June exceedingly well—their faces were bare.

Deshanna watched him for a moment, her dark skin flushed warm beneath the heat. Meridan stepped back behind Felen, his brother, his deep purple gaze cast downward in apology.

The exchange was grueling.

So when Deshanna’s eye’s snapped forward, the world exhaled a sigh of relief and all was quiet again. As though nothing at all happened, Deshanna turned to face the girls again with scrutiny, her fingers curled around the wood of the staff she would gift to one—her apprentice, the First of the clan.

‘Pick me.’

Adaara was the second, already in training and technically the next in line. But Mera, who stood beside Adaara with a look more nervous than pleading, would be easier to shape; She was younger, more timid, less proud than Adaara was.

But what Deshanna needed, what the clan needed, was loyalty.

No one knew why her first apprentice wanted to leave, but rumors spread throughout the clan like a great climatic wave.

‘Something scared her in the wilds; she was inconsolable for days; she wanted to get away.’

But when Virelle asked Adaara about it, a strange look spread across her freckled face; like a child caught with her fingers in a jar of honey—she looked startled, afraid.

“How would I know,” she started, plucking at the berries that grew beneath the shrubbery.

“Maybe she just wasn’t strong enough to be the Keeper. That’s why wanted to join another clan—she ran away.”

Whatever the case, only one thing was certain: Deshanna couldn’t make the same mistake.

‘Pick me.’

“Adaara,” she spoke after what felt like an eternity, “you shall be my first apprentice. Mera, you will be the second.”

Murmurs of joy and pride echoed through the crowd, their voices rising like thunder on the distant sea. Adaara beamed; her face split into a large grin that bared the gap between her teeth. And though it was the dead of summer, and her skin was tinged a russet hue, Virelle swore she saw her cheeks grow redder as her eyes spread wide with both joy and relief.

“Yes Keeper,” Adaara crossed her legs and bowed deeply, Mera did the same.

“Come, Da’len.

We shall prepare you for the ceremony.”

Virelle, still too short and close to the ground, was shifted behind the others as the clan parted to make way. Nevertheless, she caught Adaara’s eye.

She smiled at her, her face and posture brimming with happiness and pride; a pride that carried her off to a place Virelle could no longer see.