Kristen Applebees lived in a state of prayer. Her status as a cleric was secondary to her adoration of Helio, god of corn, and his father Sol, the sun god. For years Kristen had lived and breathed her church, called to His service as a chosen, and encouraged by the close-knit community of the ministry in Elm Valley. Her parents were just as devout as she, though neither had been taught as she was in utilizing the magic of the corn god for a cleric's healing and revival, instead using their abilities as paladins to protect the border. Her parents struggled a bit with three young boys and herself to care for, especially with their large tithes to the church, but that was part of life’s trials.
Like any other morning, Kristen was on her knees before a quiet altar in her bedroom, praying to Helio for the friends and heretics she had yet to meet, and for luck and protection on her first day in a stranger’s routine. While their house was a bit sparse, Kristen had made a point of building a beautiful shrine. Earthy incense surrounded corn husks folded into intricate shapes representing a tall man, arms outstretched. Painted corn kernels were strategically placed into a nativity of Helio’s ascendance. Her old introductory texts and worn bibles were stacked to the side of the altar, in a bit of a reference desk. Dried cobs of corn with different designs from various camps and youth groups were hung on the wall, in a kind of timeline mosaic. A hand-knit rug made of soft old clothing from family and church camp friends was on the floor - important when kneeling for long periods.
Down the hall, in the living room, there was vague screaming from Bricker, Bucky, and Cork as the boys wrestled in their playpen. A vague thump sounded through the house, and their dad, Mac, yelled, “I swear to Helio, Bricker, if you don’t give back that halberd, you’re not playing when you get home, alright! Now say your prayers, wash your hands, and get ready to get to school!”
Just as Kristen was exiting the pensive portion of her prayer and entering the long list of blessings she routinely recited, her mother, Donna, knocked on the open door frame, chattering about school.
“You almost ready to head to school, sweetheart? You’ve been at it for a while. Sayin’ your prayers to the corn god, praise be,” she said, and tossed Cork and Bucky’s backpacks down the hall to land in a pile by the bathroom door. There was more vague yelling as Mac herded the boys to grab their things.
Her mom was wearing the shirt Bricker’s play group had made the previous Sunday during a mixer - a light blue tee that had been dyed with little handprints in all colors that unfortunately blended into a puke greenish-brown at points. BEST MOM rested in large, lopsided lettering just a little too high on the chest, a pink cardigan completing the look.
“Yeah mom, I’m almost done - just another hour,” Kristen said, shifting a little to get in a more comfortable spot. Donna made a noise in her throat.
“Well, we’re gonna be pretty late if you were gonna do a whole hour-” She trailed off in a half-suggestion, not wanting to order her daughter to stop praying. Kristen huffed and grabbed her hooked staff from its stand, straightening her tie dye “I Know Helio” summer camp shirt. It had been the coolest in her closet - her favorite because of the full rainbow effect - and perfect for day one at a new school. Maybe someone would be inspired to talk to her about it and open a conversation on their own about Helio. Over the years Kristen had perfected her tie dye game, and this was her masterpiece.
“I guess I can go, mom. Everything is a form of prayer, so let’s just go. Let’s go,” Kristen mumbled, now focused on saying her recitations under her breath as she put her red hair partially in a ponytail and grabbed her backpack.
Donna sniffed, wiping at misty eyes as she wandered over to fix Kristen’s ponytail. “Oh sweetheart, I am so glad that you were chosen - and Pastor Amelia is so proud of you - but, listen, it’s not too late for us to send you to Sun Peak to train with the monks-”
“Mom, no,” Kristen said, whirling around, “I wanna rub shoulders with real people, I wanna go to parties and- and dump my beer down a sink and refill it with water so nobody feels weird around me-”
“Look, Kristen,” Donna interrupted, pleading a bit. “Look, Helio asks us to live a pure life, right? I just…” she took a breath, “you’re gonna be going to a school with elves and-” she waved her hand vaguely in the air, as if implying some sort of spectral ‘whatever’.
“Mom,” Kristen came in slowly, turning to fully face her mother, “I think your - and dad’s - stance is racist.” As soon as the word was out of her mouth, Donna threw her hands in the air, Elm Valley accent thick as she scoffed.
“I - I - Okay.”
“You’re only for humans who look like you!” Kristen cried, waving toward the window. This was a months old argument, at that point, and not deserving of a full fight. “Have you ever looked at all your friends, mom? Do any of ‘em look different?”
“How can I be racist against an elf? I never met one, I never met - I don’t even know an elf!” Completely missing the point, Donna raised her voice higher, incredulous.
Mac wandered in at the noise, catching Kristen’s rebuttal, “Exactly - you’ve never met one! You know, if Helio was here right now, he would pop out of a corn husk, pop into a million different pieces of himself, and he would spread those pieces around to all parts of the city. He wouldn’t just be hangin’ out here!”
“I-I-I-I- okay,” she sighed, Elm Valley polite. “You know, I’m not smart enough to go toe-to-toe with you, Kristen. I’m a simple woman and, you know, I haven’t read the Book as close. I’m not chosen, so-”
“You’re really smart, Mom, okay?” Kristen said, flopping back on the bed, fully ready to leave at this point. In the back of her head, she continued down the prayer list. “I love you and I think you’re really smart, and I think you’re relying on ‘I don’t know’ too much; I don’t want to hear you say that again.”
Mac finally inserted himself into the conversation, having hovered, halberd strapped to his back with sticky fingerprints all up the flat of the blade. Judging by the red imprint on his face, one of the boys had gotten a potshot in as they had been wrestled into shoes.
“Everything alright in here?” he mumbled through his mustache, “we’re about to head out, or-?”
“Yeah, we’re fine,” Kristen interrupted, grabbing her staff and heading for the door. “I’m going to go meet all my elf friends.”
“The hell? You got elf friends already? What the hell!?” he cried, blindsided.
“I hope so, I hope I don’t even have one human friend.” Next to the door, Kristen grabbed a few breakfast bars from the ‘Morning snack’ box.
“Alright, well you know everything, you can talk to Helio, so you know, you would know,” Mac rambled, sounding simultaneously confused and upset. Kristen chose to end the conversation there, not wanting to start her first day on a bad note. She really was excited, and hoping to find some new converts - and friends. Pastor Amelia had told her that, if she gathered enough new membership, they could form a youth choir or even a band for the church. There hadn't been one in years, not since the previous group had left to another chapter in southern Solace.
In the backseat, once her brothers had scarfed down their cereal bars and milks, they began jumping with the rocking of the station wagon as they headed toward Aguefort. The elemental engine was older, its shrieking whine lower than in years past, and her dad continuously talked about praying for Helio to bless them with a new car.
Cork draped himself over the seat, half on Kristen’s shoulder, completely out of his seatbelt at that point. “You go to ‘venture school?” he said nasally, insanely cute and gross at the same time. Kristen hummed a yes, and his breathing picked up. “You gonna fight a dragon? You’re so cool.” He sniffed again, harder this time, and wiped his nose up his arm.
“You want a tissue?” she said, starting to dig by the seat for the box, wincing when snack crumbs and a melted gummy jammed themselves under her fingernails.
“I’m good,” he sucked in again, “I gotta crayon up there.”
“What?” Kristen gagged, eyes going wide, and Cork grinned toothily, showing off the gap of his missing incisor.
“I gotta whole crayon.”
“You have a whole crayon in your nose? Oh, Sol. Helio.” Steeling herself, she steadied his head with one hand, digging her other fingers into his nostril to pull out a full size Buttercup Yellow crayon. There was a little bit of blood on the end where it had been shoved too far, and a lot of snot besides. With a little flex of her magic - not enough for a full spell - Kristen put some healing into his sinuses. For a moment, his nose glowed.
Her dad must have felt the magic, and yelled into the rearview mirror, “What, you heal your brother back there?” Kristen called back a soft yes as she wrapped the dirty crayon in a wet wipe, stowing it in the trash bag under the seat, and he smiled. The next stop sign saw him twisting back a bit to look at her. “Aw, you know what, I got no worries about you. You're a good kid, Kristen.”
Cork gave her an open mouthed kiss on the cheek in thanks, then let himself fall back off the seat onto Bricker, starting a new scuffle. Wiping her face, Kristen stared out the window at the sky, imagining the converts and friends she would gain. With the blessings of Helio and Sol, Aguefort was hers for the taking.