The Day of Immolation haunted me, I dreaded this day from the moment I had learned of it. Its looming presence hung over me, even in my sleep I could not get away from it. The nights were spent tossing and turning, screams coming forth from my mouth with such force I woke up hoarse and exhausted. No one else seemed to feel the same way as I did about Immolation Day. This apathy was something I couldn’t wrap my head around. Was I truly the only one who had strange feelings towards it? It seemed no one feared it like I did, it was a source of shame from my mother, a First Daughter. My sister, a First Daughter as well, thought nothing of it. I would never find resolution to these questions that haunted me, for if I spoke my mind there was swift and severe punishment. Scorn and disdain from my sister, mother, and father. This was the way, and if I didn't like it I could throw myself in the Altar flames a day early. There was nothing I could do but feel every hour go by, knowing that each moment I was closer to what I feared the most. Each night, I would kneel and pray to Hestia for answers and guidance, despite knowing there would be none. My knees were bruised from the hours I spent in that position, my muscles aching from the exhaustion of carrying so much fear and dread within me each day. The coming days would define the rest of my life, my purpose, my state of being. When the day arrived, my mother was furious at the state of my skinned knees and forced me to add another skirt to my dressings to hide the discolorations. I didn’t understand why the state of my knees were so significant, it wasn’t like I would have to worry about them much longer. I knew I would not be leaving the Hearth no matter if I was chosen or not. I didn't argue.
Quiet echoed throughout the altar, the tall ceilings and wide open space never able to be properly filled, giving the room a sense of inescapable discomfort. While the masks worn by onlookers used to scare me, at that moment I found relief in them. It was much easier to continue on without seeing faces I recognized, the metal of their masks and dark robes made it impossible to distinguish anything identifiable. As a child I would try to guess who was underneath the robes, from the inside of my own. But now I had no robes. Just my dress. My skin exposed in a way I couldn't find comfort in. My bare feet hitting the hard, warm floor.
Fire. I felt it before I saw it, its warmth snaking up my body, sweat forming on my brow as it grew in intensity by the moment. As the flames grew, my insides contorted painfully, as if my body was rejecting my mind, fighting for control. Everything in me screamed to not go further, to stay away and spare myself of the incoming pain. Though I knew if I did so, the punishment would be worse than my current fate. Forward I went, alongside the other girls of my village. On my right, a brunette I felt I recognized seemed to be glowing with excitement, a large, wolfish grin on her face and a quickness to her step that felt unnatural there and then. I yearned to be like her, eager and unafraid. But I was so, so afraid. I felt tears welling, the heat becoming unbearable and the urge to flee growing. But every one of us continued forward, despite the smell of burning flesh, hair, and cloth. A few screams began as red hot flames started to mesh with our bodies, licking at our heels and legs, further up and up. Though for once I could not find it in me to cry out. My nightmares had prepared me for this day, I had lived it in my dreams a thousand times over in a thousand different ways. Beside me, the Brunette was no longer smiling, having dropped to her knees and succumbed to the flames. The knots inside my stomach began to unwind. I kept walking, despite the blinding flashes of pain slowing me down. Forward, I told myself, Forward. Forward. Forward. Forward.
A deafening white light erupted throughout the entire room, causing the onlookers to cry out passionately and with such conviction it was heard over the muted roaring of the light. With the light came euphoric relief. My body struggled to process the sudden switch from pure agony to bliss, I couldn’t see, hear. Just pure white, silent blankness. A smile crept across my face, tears streaming down the charred skin of my cheeks. The blinding light faded slowly, revealing in front of me the Mother. I continued to weep as her figure became clearer and clearer. Her presence brought me great comfort, she had heard my prayers. She had listened. I knew that being chosen by the Virgin Mother, was a gift, despite the burdens that came with it. But I was ready.
Virgin Daughters of Hestia, go forth to the Altar.
The few of us left continued on, following the spirit of Mother to the very top of the altar. My legs ached as I carried myself up the uneven steps. Still no one spoke, there was no reason to. The rite was not yet over. Hestia required another sacrifice from the chosen ones, Maidens we would now be called. From this day on we would tend to the fire here, our lives the ultimate offering to Hestia while our older sisters carried on our lineage. For this was the purpose of Second Daughters. The top of the altar revealed slabs of hard, smooth rock. One by one we went forward and gave our bodies over, our wombs ripped from our bodies ensuring we would forever be virgins in the eyes of the Mother, Hestia.