Read from part one or reread part two.

All of which she’d been able to laugh off for the better part of two years. As Elysia’s friends, students, and allies within the community were chased off — whether through lies, flattery, or threats, or Elysia’s own increased aggression — she found it more and more difficult to fend off attacks on her character.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a flare from the eternal flame in the center of the sanctuary. One of the wards of the temple sat up and prodded the fire with a poker, redistributing the burning coals and coaxing the fire to settle down. The Hearth of Hestia was kept burning throughout the year, during all seasons and weather, through the dedication of the priesthood and the wards of the temple (one of whom kept vigil over it now) and through the tiniest of efforts on the part of Hestia herself.

Elysia nodded in acknowledgment to the fire-watcher, an older woman with a look of serenity about her, and she turned back to focus her attention on the fire more fully. Elysia liked to think of herself as having been a spark from Hestia’s own hearth (the one kept on Mount Olympus), carried to earth by a gust of wind to live a life amongst the most devoted — but that was a thought she kept to herself. Her unknown parentage made it difficult for her to connect with others, though she was technically no different from any other ward of the temple, and had lived there all her life.

Most of her life, she thought. She knew enough to know she had come to the temple as a small child, though her memories of her parents were as intangible as smoke, and when she tried to think of them, her thoughts pulled away, as if burned by fire.