Chapter 69: Departures

“Your priest robes…  They look so… so adorable….”

Emi’s reaction was, beat for beat, the exact same as her Mom’s a week prior, and her Dad’s the following morning. It was amazing how people turned into exact copies when it came to complimenting fashion.

“It’s not even the official robes,” Beatrice said. “Just a casual uniform.”

“Fair enough, but… Oh, you look great no matter what,” Emi said.

“You’re just trying to get in my skirt, aren’t you?” Beatrice smirked.

“Well, Is it working?”

“No way.”

Emi shrugged. “Worth a shot.”

There was a small group gathered here to see Beatrice off. Her parents, naturally, and Emi, of course. But also Bodhi himself had arrived, which surprised her but warmed her heart as well. For some reason, Emi’s housekeeper Pip was also here, but Beatrice was pretty sure she had never actually had a one-on-one conversation with her before, so… Well, it was good to see her anyway.

The party was almost complete, but not quite yet, until… Huh?!

Tia Knoll and Runa Arakawa strolled to the gathering site, hand-in-hand.

When Beatrice saw this, she gasped. How did those two even meet?  Certainly it wasn’t during the Battle of Balarand, was it? …Was it? In the stress of the moment, did they really look at each other and suddenly…


Beatrice was about to join her group of new priests who would take the next several weeks to hike towards their convent. She had complained about the carriage ride taking too long, but she was now regretting ever thinking such things. Hiking for WEEKS? It was going to be ruthless, she knew already.

“You know,” she said to Emi. “In the end, it turns out my convent is right near Mammoth Pass. I feel like that’s the Gods playing a prank.”

“Probably,” Emi said. “You’re going to be in for some tough winters, though. Do you have all your winter clothes?”

“Nope. Just what’s in my bag over there.” She pointed towards a large backpack with some food, a sleeping bag, and a few other supplies attached. It was really heavy and carrying that on her back for weeks was going to prove very tough, but she tried not to think about that right now. “I’m going to try to buy new clothes when I get there, but our allowances are very low, so it might be tough.”

“Well, the Gods will provide,” Emi said. 

Beatrice wasn’t sure whether that was sarcasm or not.

“So, how’s, uh, Lady Khara?” Beatrice asked. “Is she, uh, treating you well?”

“Yeah,” Emi said. “She’s making me… uh, show her around town and stuff. She’s, uh, nice. You know.” Both of them burst into laughter just as much as they blushed. 

Emi stepped back and let Beatrice’s parents give one last hug. “We love you so much,” they said together. 

“And I love you, too,” she said. “I’ll try to see you during the Winter Ceremonies, okay?”

“You have to promise you’ll come,” Mom said. “We’ll come back up too, you know.”

“I can’t promise! That’s half a year away. I don’t know what my schedule will be like then.”

“Write often,” Dad said. “And tell me all about the convent. I have heard yours was one of the very first ever built. It must be so beautiful.”


“Just asking.”

“Well, you better write often about Kent too, then,” she said. “I really hope you enjoy it down there.”

“I just hope I figure out how to be a teacher,” he replied. “I’m already getting worried about it.”

She waved goodbye to Runa and Tia. “You guys better have a good time without me,” she said.

“Tia here has promised financing my research,” Runa said. “I could not imagine a better time than that. My quest for control of the fabric of reality has grown ever closer to completion.”

“Oh, Runa, you’re never going to give that up, are you?”

“Of course not. And I cannot forgive you for your transgressions against me. Leaving me in my time of greatest need, abandoning me to work with the Church… It breaks my heart, Ms. Ragnell.” Tia laughed, but Beatrice wasn’t sure whether he realized how serious Runa really was about all of this. 

Beatrice said her goodbyes to Bodhi and Pip. “Thank you so much for coming, Bodhi. You’re a good friend, and I hope you can be a good friend to a lot of people someday.”

He snickered. “You say that like I don’t already have tons of friends.”

“Oh yeah.”

“Take care, Bea.” He tipped his hat down and gave a single not.

“Don’t call me Bea.”

Pip sobbed and blew her nose through a handkerchief. “Oh, Beatrice…”

“Oh, and, um, goodbye to you too…”


Uhh… Okay then…

“Well, it’s about time for me to meet up with my group,” Beatrice said. “I’m going to miss all of you so much. Thank you for coming here.”

One last thing…

She turned to Emi–

Who was holding a small metallic box in her hands. It looked a lot like the one that showed off the horse, the one Beatrice had broken so long ago.

“One last thing,” Emi said. “I made you a going-away present. For friendship.” She held the machine with both hands, and then used her magic to turn the crank. Still a show-off.

The machine showed Beatrice, her visage replicated on a board of hundreds of small squares, turned into a tiny animated woman. Her hair and all its curls flowed in the wind, and she was smiling, looking directly at the viewer.

The whole thing lasted for only two, maybe three seconds, before it looped back and started over. But she must have stared for a full minute before she looked away.

“It’s a moving portrait of you,” Emi told her. “I made it really small so that you can take it with you anywhere. But don’t try to reprogram it, or the whole thing will break. Trust me.”

“Oh, Emi…” Beatrice held a hand to her own cheek. “You know I can’t have possessions.”

“You can’t?”

“But… I love it.”

“You do?”

“I’ll let my parents have it.”

“But, if they take it, then you won’t have it. And then…”

Beatrice stepped forward and took both of Emi’s hands. “I’m never going to forget about you,” Beatrice said. “Never for my entire life. Just because we’re apart doesn’t mean you won’t have been the best thing to ever happen to me, okay? The Gods didn’t want us to be apart. They wanted us to be together, and that’s what happened.”

“I love you so much,” Emi said, tears already rolling down her cheeks. Her eyes glowed–those same bright brown eyes that sucked her into a portal of magic and romance that changed the course of her entire life. “I want to see you again, Beatrice… I know we promised not to say these things, but I can’t help it. I miss you already and you’re not even gone.”

“If the Gods Will it, we’ll meet again, okay? Whenever it may be.”

“Will you write letters?” Emi asked.

“I’m not sure if your wife will think that is appropriate.” Beatrice giggled, and then started crying as well. She let go of Emi’s hands and went back to pick up her backpack. Wow… this was so heavy. She really didn’t want to carry this on her back for ten hours a day.

“See you later,” Emi said.

Beatrice shook her head, smiling. “Farewell,” she said. Emi and Beatrice’s Dad hugged, and her Mom fiddled around with that mechanical contraption. Runa rambled about a new master plan, and Tia looked at Beatrice’s robes with a judging gaze. Bodhi’s looked off in another direction with his arms folded, clearly trying not to cry, and Pip had let her emotions flow, crying louder than anyone else around her. What a bunch of weirdos, Beatrice thought. Some amazing weirdos.

She let her mind paint a portrait of this scene, and keep it burned into her mind for the rest of her life. These were exactly the people Beatrice knew she had to protect. She was a powerful person who accomplished everything she set her mind to, and becoming a famous priest would be no harder than acing a test. But now, after everything, she finally had a reason behind her ambition. She would do everything she could to keep the smiles on these people’s faces bright and harmonious.

In her future, Beatrice would become a powerful and prominent priest. She would revolutionize the Church to actually help people, to actually bring the harmony it lacked so much in this time. Each person saved, each life given new breath, would be a new piece to bringing peace to this tumultuous continent. Everything Beatrice did would matter. It had to, or else all of this would be for nothing.

After one last moment of reflection, Beatrice waved to all her friends and family, and then walked away. 

She didn’t look back.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 64: Calm

Dannark’s response to the rebellion was swift and harsh.

In the end, none of the rebels’ planned executions had occurred; the chaos caused by the homunculus helped Dannark retake the castle and any remaining prisoners had been freed soon after. It was unclear whether or not they ever planned to do anything beyond imprison and intimidate, anyway. The rebels were a mix of idealists and novices, so mass execution never truly seemed in the cards.

Dannark, on the other hand, had been carrying out sentencing from the moment the rebel leaders were captured. Beatrice’s teacher was one of them. Ulric Statusian was already scheduled to be shipped off to the Frozen Desert to mine for ore for twenty years. Nobody really came back from sentences like those.

Even after the main forces were defeated, pockets of resistance still sprang up throughout the city, ambushing patrols and trying to rally the people back towards their cause. It was futile but the honorable way to go out, Emi thought. It had been a week since the rebellion, and the fighting had died down, but it was not over completely, not yet.

The Jewel of Elince was placed back in the National Museum; the Balarand Circle halted publication; a full battalion of soldiers took up residence in the city barracks. King Kline had been spared an execution and returned to exile in Fathie, but everything else had gone completely in the direction of Dannark’s rule.

A new normal that would be here to stay.

Emi’s house had been damaged by the fires that spread across the city, but it was not completely destroyed, so it was already better off than the nearly completely destroyed Castle Balarand. Workers were currently rebuilding the parts of the house that did not survive, which included her bedroom and, of course, Ms. Khami’s entire brand-new third-floor balcony. Poor woman.

Her parents had zipped back to Zahn for yet another emergency mission. They offered to take Emi with them, but she insisted on staying. They hadn’t said anything about Beatrice, not a single mention. That was their way, and Emi realized she preferred it that way.

Fortunately, the southern portion of Balarand was almost completely unharmed. Beatrice’s parents were worried sick when their daughter (and Runa) never came back home, but when they returned he next day they had a reunion filled with tears from all sides.

It was almost like everything had returned to normal, since then.

Everything–including Emi and Beatrice.

Emi had stayed at Beatrice’s apartment for almost a week now, while her own home was under repair. It was about how you’d expect, after everything that happened.

While Beatrice cooked up some omelettes with rice for breakfast, Emi laid in the rock-hard bed in her bedroom. Their bedroom? It was nice to think about it that way, at least.

 She looked out the window of the apartment and at the rising sun making its way towards the sky. The city, aside from the wreckage, was shining The trees bright green, their leaves swaying gently in the wind. Soon it would be day, and soon it would be spring as well. Something so haunting should never have been so pretty.

Beatrice finished up the eggs and entered her bedroom, sitting down at the foot of the bed. “My parents said it would be a good idea to get out of the city for a while,” she said. “Dannark is sending a regional governor with a direct line to the Empress, and… well, you know what that will mean.” Emi knew. Curfews, secret police, stricter laws, crackdowns on national flags and songs, the works.

Emi sat up. “I guess now’s a better time than ever to run away together, huh? I hear Mammoth Pass is lovely this time of year. We could go see the Mammoths again before they migrate north, then we could travel up the mountains and meet some striderskin hunters.”

“Oh stop,” Beatrice gently chided. She rested her hand on Emi’s cheek.

“I’m just kidding, Tris.”

“It’s Beatrice.”

“Sorry, sorry.”

Things had gone back to normal. But for Emi and Beatrice there were too many pained memories, too many shed tears, to ever truly revert to the status quo. 

It was too complicated, and so they let things stay the way they were. A new normal.

“You know, Beatrice, I just realized something,” Emi said. “You still have that centaur carving sitting on your desk. That… really means a lot to me, you know. You actually kept it.”

“I couldn’t bear to break it,” Beatrice said. She sat down on the bed, facing away from Emi. “I tried my best, but…  I loved you too much to hurt you that way.” Emi thought she heard a sniffle.

“It’s the same for me,” Emi said. “I kept your notebook safe on my d–” She cut herself off and gasped. “Gods, no. Your notebook.”

“My… Oh, Emi…”

The tears came immediately. “All my stuff, I can live without. I can always buy more clothes and gears and books. But your notebook… Beatrice, your notebook burned up. I’m…”

“Have the centaur carving back,” Beatrice said.

“No, that’s yours now!”

“It wasn’t a gift, it was just borrowing each other’s things. Remember? We said that.”

“We did say that…”

“So please, take it back,” Beatrice said. “I insist.”

Emi sat up and put her hands on Beatrice. She turned her head around and peered at her face, looked deep into those eyes whose irises swirled in a rainstorm. That same rainstorm that pulled her into the best months of her life.

“…I’ll take it,” she said, finally. She knew what it meant symbolically to take back something as important as that carving, but… she didn’t care about symbolism and all that Mammoth crap.


“So, uh, are your parents awake yet, Beatrice?” she asked.

Beatrice turned around and faced her body towards Emi, who was still sitting up next to her. “Not yet. They’re sleeping late this morning.”

“Let’s not wake them just yet. The rice won’t be done for a while,” Emi suggested. 

“Yeah.” Beatrice leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. She pushed her down onto the bed, then shut the door with her foot.


Emi, Beatrice, and Emi’s Mom and Dad sat around the kitchen table, silently eating breakfast together. The omelettes were certainly… okay, but nothing special or worth remarking about. That didn’t really matter to Emi, though. She just appreciated that Beatrice had cooked for her, had made something just for her. Every meal was a delight.

Beatrice’s Dad was reading a book in one hand and holding chopsticks in the other as he picked apart his eggs, and chuckled a bit. Emi looked closer at the book’s cover– it showed a single shrugging man with the title, What Do You Talk About When You Talk About Love? It didn’t look very appealing from this information alone, but Earl certainly appeared entertained.

Earl had looked a little sad recently, something Emi had never seen in the man before. Beatrice told her that Ulric Statusian had been a friend of his, and that he was still shaken up about everything. But with the library intact and a good book in his hands, it was good to see him in higher spirits, at least for the morning.

Beatrice stared at Emi, smiling. Uh, hey. What’s up? Emi took a big mouthful of rice. It was so sticky she couldn’t actually open her mouth to say anything.

She didn’t need to. All she needed to do was look into the gentle waves in Beatrice’s eyes and smile back.

“We have something to tell you two,” Beatrice’s Mom said, suddenly. “Your father and I…” She trailed off for a moment, and Emi averted her eyes. “Earl and I are taking a vacation.”

Beatrice jolted her head towards them in shock. She didn’t even have any words coming out of her mouth, just a couple grains of rice.

“Shizuka,” Beatrice’s Dad said. “Why now? I thought we were going to mention this after…”

“I thought they’d like to know.”

“Well… fine.” He set his book down, spine-up. “So, I got an opportunity to take a look at a large private book collection next week down in Kent, right next to the coast,” he said. “It’s not a certain opportunity, but… I’ve been told there’s a teaching position open at the local college if I want one.”

Beatrice gasped. “But you… but the library…”

“Well, we’re just going to check the place out and get out of Balarand for a few days, with everything going on right now. Since you have the exams coming up, Beatrice, we figured you’d, uh… want the house to yourself. So you could, uh, focus. On your studies.”

Beatrice glanced at Emi and then her face turned a vibrant shade of crimson. “Oh, uh, thank you. Thank you very much, Dad. And Mom. And… I really do hope you take the job. You should have been a teacher your whole life. I’ve always thought so.”

“You’ve… really?” Her Dad raised an eyebrow. “You never mentioned anything like that before. How come you never encouraged me, huh?”


Emi felt very much like leaving the table right now but she was only halfway done with her meal, so instead she sighed and let the family squabble go on around her. 

For the short time it lasted, it was nice.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 53: About a Dozen of Them

St. Helens Academy was still in its winter break, so normal students were off from school for the next two months until the spring semester. The school, however, remained open for those preparing for the Priesthood Exams.

These days, even counting the Dannark guards, the school never exceeded thirty people. Today, there were only about twelve. Beatrice was the only one who had shown up every single day; the others were older, and most of them held down jobs or supported families already.

Beatrice, in her studying, was essentially alone.

Because she had wholesale banned herself from going to the library in the unlikely chance that she would run into people that she would prefer she not meet, the only good places to read in the winter were here or home. Seeing as Mom was starting to make good friends with some of the next-door neighbors and they were coming over nearly every day to chat and gossip, this was practically the only option to get any peace and quiet in the entire city. 

So today, as usual. she sat, hunkered down, and… reread for the umpteenth the same materials Mr. Statusian had given her months ago.

It was all useless.

Beatrice already knew everything she possibly could to prepare for the exam. The practical application portion was the only part that she was even a little bit uncertain on and even then, the other prospective priests practiced diligently with her whenever they showed up.

In fact, while Beatrice poured over papers she knew by heart already, the other six students here today were out in the courtyard practicing cycling routines. She took a brief pause in her non-studying to watch them through the window.

The students practiced hard, even in the cold wind with the last vestiges of snow patching the dirt, even with rituals that were equally hard. These were techniques–difficult ones–to to draw energy out of one’s soul and into certain areas of the body to heal or strengthen oneself. One could, for example, draw their energy towards their fingertips so that they could deliver an electric shock to an opponent, or summon the fringes of their souls towards their mind to help calm themselves in a stressful situation. It was not expected for any of them to actually accomplish anything with them, but using the correct technique was vital for the test.

It was admirable to see them trying so hard, as pointless as it may have been.

The people out there were nice, but Beatrice tried to keep to herself most of the time. They were just so… different. Beatrice was a young girl, fresh out of junior priest school and going directly into the exams with the full support of her parents. Everyone else who came to practice here was older. They were people who had gone through an unsuccessful life and needed a fresh start; the faithless who had gotten a new conviction in their religion; divorced men, widowed women–the kinds of people you’d expect to want to join the priesthood.

Unlike them, Beatrice had made this her life’s main trajectory since childhood.

In her ambitions, just as in everything else, she was alone.

Mr. Statusian stood out with the others, drilling them while they practiced the rituals. Beatrice had tried to avoid him since she returned from Mammoth Pass. She didn’t want him rubbing her nose in everything she did. But for how blatantly she ignored his advice, she probably deserved it.

He noticed her looking at the students and met her eyes before she could glance away. He left the group and came into the study hall. At the same time, Beatrice lowered her head and buried herself in her notes.

“Beatrice?” Mr. Statusian asked.

She couldn’t think of anything to say. She couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t get her a scolding. So her reply was a mere, “Hello.” She did not raise her eyes from her papers.

“Nice to see you studying hard as ever. That’s the girl I know.” When his remark was not met with a response, he dithered, and then added, “Well, I know you’ll do great. For the sake of Balarand, you–” 

Mr. Statusian cut himself off, and then took a few steps away. Beatrice looked up to see what the matter was, and saw two men in dull brown, tattered cloaks standing at the entrance to the classroom.

His expression darkened. “What in Phyra’s name are you two–” He looked at Beatrice and cut himself off. “I’ve got to go. Keep studying, Beatrice. I’m praying for you.”

He left, and she suddenly felt overcome with a strong urge to give up and never look at a book again. Her body shook and her nose sniffled. 

But now was not the time for tears. She continued to copy down notes and work as diligently as ever, even if it was pointless to continue doing so. 

It was her fault, after all, that she had declined to tell her parents what had happened in Mammoth Pass. It was her fault, after all, that she had avoided contact with Mr. Statusian any time he tried to check up on her. It was her fault, after all, that she was studying here, alone, in an empty classroom on a cold winter afternoon.

After the day was over, she walked home among gray skies, head facing the cobblestone path ahead of her, the buildings around her a blurred path for her to navigate around.

An then as she entered her apartment, her Dad greeted with a cheery, “Hi, honey,” but she didn’t reply.

Her parents glanced at her worryingly, almost accusingly.

“Honey? Hey, Beatrice.” Dad got up from the kitchen table and put a hand on her shoulder. “You alright buddy?”


She didn’t want their looks. She didn’t want their emotions. She just wanted this to be over with, and she would much prefer it if they stopped being so rude.

“Okay, then. By the way, your friend Bodhi came by earlier and wanted to know–”

“I’m tired. I’m going to bed,” she said.

She wasn’t lying. The moment she closed her door, she laid down and slept.

It was better to dream when you were unconscious, she thought.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 40: Guess Who’s Coming to Supper?

“This whole time it was Emi. Wow,” Beatrice’s Dad said, chuckling as he cut into his potato. “Can you believe I’ve known your girlfriend longer than you?”

“I’m surprised you never introduced me to your daughter, Earl– er, Mr. Ragnell,” said Emi. “But I guess she was always so busy reading all the time.”

“I doubt I would have ever noticed you, I was so into my books,” Beatrice said. 

“You and I both know that’s false.” Emi and Beatrice giggled together.

The four of them sat at the dining table; Emi tried to be as polite as possible, keeping a napkin in her seat and arranging all her utensils properly. The Ragnell Family home was small–genuinely not much bigger than Emi’s bedroom– but by no means was it too cramped for the four of them. Beatrice’s Dad flipped through the latest issue of the Balarand Circle as he ate, but otherwise, their attentions were all completely focused on Emi. In any other situation, this would have given her a panic attack. But now, because she had already stressed out enough about this event, she felt weirdly calm.

Oh Gods, was Emi relieved that Beatrice took this surprise well.

She had been unnerved to the point of shaking at the idea of meeting Beatrice’s parents, even if she had known Earl for most of her life. This kind of supper meeting was ridiculously important in a romantic relationship, and if she messed up it could doom things forever. It didn’t matter if she was overthinking things to the highest degree; this was a mission vital to the success of her continued existence as a human being.

So she had finally worked up the courage and told Earl herself. He helped him arrange the meeting and kept it all a surprise from her own girlfriend–at her dad’s suggestion–just so they could end up like this, happy together at the dining table.

Beatrice’s Mom was basically swooning at Emi. “When you said you had a girlfriend, I never expected her to be so….”

“So what?”

“So beautiful! I mean, look at her hair… It’s so nice and straight and…” Her Mom started playing with Emi’s hair. This was far from the first time someone had done this. For Beatrice’s sake, she let it happen.

“And your food is amazing, too, Mrs. Ragnell,” she told her, trying to keep from being too flustered.

“Oh, I don’t know if ‘amazing’ is the right word for it…”

“Mom, take the compliment.”

Beatrice’s parents were almost like older versions of her herself. It was so funny to look at them and then look at her, because she could perfectly picture how she would age. Her hips would widen, her curls would whiten, but those blue eyes of hers would stay just as vibrant and swirling  She wanted to make the most of her time with Beatrice, but she knew she could be with her for a lifetime. Easily.


Was now the right time?

Of course, there was an ulterior motive to this family supper, which is much of the reason why she had wanted to keep it a secret from Beatrice. There was one more thing she needed to ask.

She’d been meaning to do so for a long while, but she had never found the right time. Now, with Beatrice and her parents together like this, it was the perfect opportunity for it.

If she could muster the energy to do it, that was.

Her palms started to sweat, and her appetite disappeared into the pit of her stomach. Her heart beat in doubletime. “I do have one request,” Emi said to Beatrice’s parents. She pretended that her nerves hadn’t already faded into uselessness, that she had the courage to say it.

“Go ahead,” her Dad said.

Here it went.

“My parents are arranging to meet with me at Mammoth Pass for that city’s own winter festivals in a few weeks, and I am allowed to bring a guest with me. As a way to introduce my parents to Beatrice, would you give your permission to let her travel with me?” She flashed a smile for good measure. That wasn’t so hard, now was it?

Beatrice was stunned, but her parents lit up in excitement.

“Going to see the Mammoths? That sounds like so much fun,” her Mom said. “I’ve always wanted to do that.” She was still playing with Emi’s hair, by the way.

“And in all my studies on ancient cultures, I’ve never been able to visit the cultural museum up in Mammoth Pass.” her Dad said. “But.. it’s quite a lot of time. It’s nearly a week’s journey each way, right? Even if you stay for only a few days, that’s still nearly three weeks’ time…”

“It just isn’t possible, is it?” Her Mom said, a complete reversal of her previous comment. “I mean… just think of the timing, with exams and all…”

Beatrice came back to reality and banged her fork onto the table. “Emi. Why didn’t you tell me about this before?” She looked stern, but Emi couldn’t tell if she was angry.

“I… I wanted it to be a surprise…”

“I need to discuss this with my parents,” she said. “Could you go wait someplace else?”

Emi looked around the apartment.

“Uh, go in my bedroom, I guess.”

“Ah… alright.”


Emi laid atop Beatrice’s bed, wondering why Beatrice had such a weird reaction to her proposal. It was supposed to be a nice surprise, and yet she may have gone and upset her girlfriend.

She closed the door and tried not to listen closely to the muffled voices on the other side of the wall, but it was hard not to at least listen to their tones of voice. There was no yelling, just the natural flow of a reasoned conversation, but it had been going on for long time already.

“..Never done anything you haven’t…” That came from Beatrice.

“…Studies and it isn’t a good…” From her Dad?

“…Too much, you always said. Why now? I’m ready, really. Really!” Beatrice’s voice was getting louder, which was probably not a good thing.

Oh, why did Emi do this? This surprise supper, this surprise request, anything involving keeping secrets. If this escalated into something between the Ragnells, she would never be able to forgive herself for hurting such a wonderful family… 

Keeping secrets. That was practically all Emi ever did. She still hadn’t told Beatrice about her engagement. Hardly even hinted at it. And she was trying to get Beatrice to go with her on vacation. What a load of Mammoth crap she was.

Beatrice’s room was nice, at least. Extremely small, but that probably meant a lot less dusting for her housekeepers– er, for her to do. So tidy, too. Her desk spanned one entire wall except for the door while the bed spanned the other, and there was very little space between them. 

How did Beatrice sleep on this thing, anyway? Emi’s bed was admittedly one of the softest ever, but this thing was like a stone slab. If this was how commoners were forced to sleep, she was okay with being a rich snob.

There on the corner of Beatrice’s desk, sitting on top of a stack of books, was the wooden centaur carving Emi had given her a while back. This was the first time she ever went into the girl’s room, and already she saw a symbol for their relationship displayed proudly. That made her heart melt away for a moment, until she realized she still needed to take something from Beatrice back to her own room. Hmm…

Eventually, the conversation ended, and Beatrice quietly entered the bedroom.  Emi decided to pretend she was asleep to see what she would do. And what she did is pulled out her desk chair, flicked a candle on, and write in her notebook.

What? Was she studying at this hour? The madwoman!

Just as she was getting tired of doing this sleeping charade, Beatrice finished writing  and tiptoed to the far side of the bed. She squeezed in next to Emi, sandwiching herself between her and the wall. The bed was far too small for two people to comfortably lay apart, so they were now in a very close cuddling position. She put her arm around Emi’s waist and breathed deeply, in and out. Her breathing soon slowed.

Oh no. Now Beatrice falling asleep, leaving Emi trapped here on this sheet of bedrock one might charitably call a bed. Laying uncomfortably with the most beautiful girl in the world cuddling her… What a dilemma!

“Tris, are you awake?” she asked, finally, doing her best to act like she was just waking up from a nap.

“Yeah.” she said. “My parents said yes, by the way.”

“Really? That’s amazing!”

“I’m sorry about earlier,” Beatrice said. “But my parents are very protective of me. They don’t like it when I spring big surprises on them.”

“They took it well when I asked them about having a supper together,” Emi said.

“ I told them about you a month ago,” Beatrice said.


“And… Can you not keep any secrets from me like that anymore? Tonight was really fun, but I was just really taken by surprise and it worried me a lot. Maybe I’m too much like my parents after all…”

“That’s not a bad thing,” Emi said. “Your parents are lovely. And so are you, Tris.”

“No more surprises, Emi?”

“I, uh, yeah. Yes.”

Beatrice hugged her tighter. Emi couldn’t see her face, but she hoped that Beatrice was as happy as she sounded. If those deep blue eyes of hers turned to pain, that would break her heart. “But you turned them around on it?” she asked.

“Maybe. My Dad seems fine with it now, and I guess my Mom is going along with it too. They weren’t going to allow it because all my exams are only a few months away, but I had a talk with them and convinced them that it might be the last big trip I get to take for a long time.”

“Because of… your priest stuff?”

“Yeah.” Emi’s heart sank just thinking about it. “But don’t worry about the priest stuff,” she said. “We’ll find a way to deal with it. If worst… If we… uh, well, I love you too much to just leave you be, Emi.”

“Thanks.” Her heart raised again.

“Also, my parents said I have to do a lot of studying while we’re travelling. Is that okay?” Beatrice asked.

“Have you been on the Northern Highway before?”

“No, I’ve never left Balarand.”

“You probably won’t want to study too much,” she said. “Trust me, it’s gorgeous. They don’t call it the Great White North for nothing.”

“I’ll do my best.” Beatrice squeezed Emi even tighter. She was so warm.

“No more surprises, Emi?”

But even still, Emi shivered.

When was she going to tell her about the wedding? Obviously not now, because that would completely ruin the mood. Maybe right after the trip? Or, if Emi introduced her to her parents at Mammoth Pass, that would be the perfect opportunity to shoot it all down at once, because they’d see what an amazing girl Beatrice was.

Or risk everything falling apart in front of her eyes. That would be… less optimal. But she was going to hope for the best, hope that “no more surprises” held true.

For now, though…

“Hey, Tris, can you turn around?” Emi asked.

“And face the wall? Why?”

“Just because.”

“Okay.” Beatrice let go of Emi and turned on her other side. Then Emi wrapped her arms around Beatrice in return. 

“It’s my turn to be there for you, Tris,” Emi said. “You’re the strong one, the level-headed one so much that I figured… maybe you deserve a rest.”

“Oh, Emi…”

“I love you so much, Tris, and I’m so excited about this trip.”

“Three weeks to spend together. It’s a long time.”

“We deserve it,” Emi said. 

“I feel like we’ve been in a relationship so long, but it’s only been… What, a few months?”

“A few months on the calendar, but a few lifetimes in our hearts.”

“Emi, that was the lamest thing you’ve ever said.” Beatrice adjusted herself and moved Emi’s right hand downwards, resting on her belly button. “Hold me tighter, please.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Is this okay?”

“You could afford to be a bit more courageous…”

Courageous. Emi hugged her girlfriend with a stronger embrace and thought about that word. Courageous…. Well…

“Hey Tris, do you think…”

“Do I think what?”

Emi kissed her on the back of the neck.


“I love you.”


Beatrice yelped and then covered her mouth with her hands. “Emi!” she whispered loudly. “What the heck are you doing? My parents are in the other room…”

“Oh! I, uh–”

Emi let go of Beatrice and sat up from the bed. Her hands began to shake. What did she think she was going to accomplish with all of that? What a moron. What a–

Beatrice, still laying on her side cracked up laughing. “Emi, I love you.”

“I’m so sorry.” Tears welled up in Emi’s eyes.

“You’re great. Maybe an idiot, but you’re great.”

“I’m so–Hey, I’m not an idiot!”

Beatrice sat up and nuzzled her forehead against Emi’s. “You’re smarter than I’ll ever be,” she said. “Not about everything, though.” She kissed her on the cheek and stood up from the bed. She went over to her desk and grabbed a notebook. “By the way, I wanted you to have this.”


“In exchange for the centaur carving. This is every note I took for every subject in my AA-grade classes at the junior priest academy. All of them for you.”

“For me? How come?”

“Just a keepsake, something to remember me by. And maybe I have some romantic notes scribbled in the margins here and there…”

“I’ll read every page.”

Beatrice giggled. “I know you will.” She handed her the notebook. “Now go home before Ms. Khami gets worried. We have a trip to prepare for.”

“Yes ma’am.” Emi saluted with the notebook. 

If everything went well, this would be perfect. If it didn’t, everything could come crashing down. But Emi was willing to take those odds.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 31: Tear

Beatrice watched her Mom intently. So intently that it might have scared anyone that wasn’t family. So intent that, she had to admit, she wasn’t actually learning anything.

“This looks so hard,” she mumbled to herself.

But, apparently, she mumbled just loud enough, because her mother soon said, “Sewing is not like a book. You don’t master it by studying.”

“I wasn’t, uh, trying to study it,” Beatrice lied. “I was just watching my beautiful mother.”

“This is a very simple thing, sewing up a tear,” Mom said. “Nothing special.”

“You know, just because you’re doing something simple doesn’t mean you’re not beautiful!” Ugh, Beatrice hated when she deflected practically every compliment given to her. Why couldn’t she just say thank you?

“And… there it is. Your robes are good as new, as long as nobody looks too closely.” She held up the orange-and-white ceremonial garbs and showed off her sewing job.

See, Beatrice was almost always careful, but after practice today she was walking home when she saw a greyback bear scamper by and, uh, kind of tripped and fell on the sidewalk. She probably shouldn’t have been scared by a silly little animal (that was Emi’s job), and she also probably shouldn’t have been wearing her school’s official robes while walking home…

Well, the tear in her outfit had now been repaired, and she was hopefully going to get safe without anyone noticing. Otherwise, if they found out, St. Helens Academy would probably bill her family fifty gold coins just for the repairs, and that would be embarrassingly annoying.

 “It looks amazing, Mom,” Beatrice said. “And I’m not just saying that. I really mean it.”

“I’ve been a seamstress for all my life. It really isn’t anything to thank me for.”

“But it is! I have you here to patch every hole and darn every tear. Almost every dress I own was made by you, including my own school uniform! Not a lot of people have parents so gifted, and I’ll never stop being proud of it.”


“And… I feel really bad for not trying to follow in your footsteps. Grandma and Great-Grandma were both seamstresses like you, but I don’t know the first thing about any of it. Most people don’t. It’s super special to know how to sew, and…” Beatrice cut herself off because she realized she had kind of changed the topic on herself. “What I mean is, do you think you could teach me to sew sometime?”

Her Mom sighed. “I suppose. If you’re going off to become a priest, you’ll need to know how to do this all on your own. I won’t be there to help you.”

“Oh, that’s right, I didn’t even think about… that.”

She didn’t think about that because, honestly, she hadn’t thought about the whole priesthood deal in a good week. Especially not the fact that she wouldn’t see her parents anymore except on rare occasions. And Mom seemed to recognize the fact that she hadn’t thought about it, which made Beatrice feel terrible. She felt like a selfish brat (and once again, that was Emi’s job).

“Please teach me how to sew, Mom!” she pleaded with renewed fervor. 

“Alright, I will.” Mom began playing through Beatrice’s hair and messing through her curls. “Only if you promise me never to cut your hair short again.”


“It’s so lovely when it gets long, and then you always cut it short right after,” she said. “I love it like this.”

“I didn’t realize my hair was getting so long, wow.” Beatrice began tossling through her own hair and it hit her that, yes, her hair was quite a bit longer than it was when she started wearing it like this. “I won’t promise you anything, but I’ll make sure only to get haircuts you like.”

“That would make me happy.”


“Yes, Beatrice?”

“When do we start?”

Mom looked extremely confused. “…Did you want to start right now?”

“Um, kind of,” Beatrice answered. “Since everything’s already out, maybe we could–”

“Honey, I’m home!”

Dad came crashing through the door with an absolutely unexpected level of energy. He carried a sack of groceries around his arm and more in the bag on his back, and yet ran into the apartment as if he were a child hyped up on sugary salmon binds.

“What’s got him so riled up?” Mom asked.

“I have no clue.”

Both women started to get up from their chairs, but Dad beckoned them down. He began giving Beatrice a shoulder massage and said, “Did you know who I ran into today? Tia Knoll. Heir to the entire Knoll Family estate. Just walking into the library like it was nothing.”


“Well, it looks like he’s a friend of that Emi L’Hime girl, which means he could become a regular. And if he’s a regular… The library could receive millions of coins in donations!”

Emi… Oh, Emi was at the library all by herself, and presumably had fun conversations with Dad and with the single richest person in Balarand. That must have been a fun adventure, Beatrice thought. She was jealous she had to miss out…

“How was Emi?” Beatrice asked.

“Oh, her normal self. Ranting about a book she didn’t like.”

“That’s my Emi.”


“I mean, that’s my friend Emi, all right,” Beatrice said. “Anyway, you really think the Knoll Family would fund the library if the heir started to visit more often?”

“Well… I can dream, at least,” he said. His energy died down as the realism set in. He let go of Beatrice’s shoulders and moved to Mom’s. “What I don’t have to dream about is…. supper!”

“What’s for supper?” asked Mom.

“I’m ready for anything that isn’t vegetable soup again,” said Beatrice.

“It’s a surprise,” Dad told them. 

It was vegetable soup.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 30: Bad Books & Good Friends

“…and that’s the end?!” Emi slammed the book shut and groaned loudly.

“Shhh!” someone replied.


Ugh. Five hundred and eighty-nine pages worth of sloppy writing printed on a bunch of pieces of paper. It’s an almost plotless, meandering piece of nonsense, and then it has the audacity to end on a cliffhanger?!

She wanted her money back, except this was a library book and she paid nothing for it. Libraries really were amazing, weren’t they? Still, she hated this book, probably the worst she’d ever read, and needed to rant about it immediately.

She stood up from her table and looked around for the nearest person she knew, and that happened to be Earl, who at the moment was up on a ladder rearranging books. Next to the ladder was a dolly filled with books recently returned by patrons or purchased by employees, at least a hundred of them.

“Hey, Earl,” Emi began without even checking to see if he was clear. “I finished the worst book I ever read and it’s making me really angry that I spent all that time reading something so bad, and I didn’t even feel fulfilled in the end. Did anyone even proofread that book? Did the writer even finish, or did she just give up? It’s completely ridiculous that I read all the way to the end of something that b–”

Earl interrupted Emi’s rant with a hearty laugh. He slid another book onto the top shelf and said, “Emi, I know how you’re feeling right now, but give me a second, okay?”

He climbed down the ladder and reached eye level with Emi. For a second there, Earl’s deep blue eyes made Emi’s heart swoon, just remembering that this man was fifty percent responsible for the continent’s most gorgeous woman. 

“Okay, now, what were you on about? A bad book?” Earl asked.

“Yes! It’s horrible. We should burn this book, it’s so bad. Not literally burn it, because that would be very bad for the world to burn any book, but at least keep it under lock and key in a section called “please do not read this.”

He laughed again. “Emi, what book are you even talking about?”

“Oh, oh yeah.” Emi went back to her table and shoved the cover in his face. “This one! This stupid piece of Mammoth crap!”

“Ah, you finished The Resurrected Dragon God? I thought that one was pretty good, actually.” He grabbed a stack of books and climbed the ladder once more.

“Well, I thought it was garbage!”

“And yet, you read every single page,” he replied from half a story above.

“I had to see if it got better… I hate not finishing books,” Emi said. “This one just happened to be a very tough challenge to get all the way through.”

“And why’s that?”

“It was so ridiculously dumb! The whole thing is about this boy in some faraway continent who was hit by a speeding carriage, and then he is reborn, but as a God, and a dragon too for some reason? The first five chapters had nothing to do with the rest of the story because he was just reborn anyway! And he’s so powerful that that there’s no point to any of it. Stories about fictional Gods are interesting sometimes, but this one was just so confusing. If he was a God, what was the point in going down to the surface world and fighting everyone in sight?”

“It’s all a metaphor for the Gods keeping the harmony,” Earl replied.

“I don’t know about that,” Emi said. “It sure didn’t seem like harmony when this dragon God kid beat up pretty reasonable folk just for disagreeing with him. It seemed like he killed half the world by the end of the book. And the people he romanced… For Phyra’s sake, is this guy going to kiss every single man and woman who he doesn’t kill?”

“Well, he IS a God now.”

“Stories are supposed to be about interesting characters and progress. Not about someone so powerful they never have to change. The only thing this dragon God kid changed was blowing up the world at the end of the book! Is that a cliffhanger for a sequel, or…”


“Oh, I… I kind of get it now.”

Earl came back down and says, “Yes, I think you’re starting to get it.”

“You’re… not supposed to identify with the dragon God and his power,” Emi said as if she’d fallen into some deep revelation. “The whole book is… a metaphor for the harm the Gods would cause if there was no harmony to keep.”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it that way, but you are on the right track, I think,” he told her. “The book is bad because its protagonist is bad. But he gives humanity a very important lesson. We must pray for our Gods to be powerful and kind, or else they won’t be able to help us in the right way. They could very well end up like the dragon God in this story.”

“I never thought of it that way… I still hate the book, but I almost respect it now, too.”

“That’s about how most people feel about it. It’s a very controversial book in Dannark, I hear. By the way, want me to put that book back for you?”

“Oh, sure thing.”

Earl went back up the ladder carrying Resurrection of the Dragon Dog back to its rightful place… out of the hands of any potential reader. “Of course, there was a dragon God worshipped in the Frozen Desert a long time ago. Its origins are mysterious and there is no evidence of followers anymore. That’s all we know.” 

“You sure know a lot about the Gods, Earl,” Emi said. “You’re like a walking encyclopedia whenever I need it.”

“Heh, my daughter says that, too. Sometimes I worry she only became a junior priest because I blabbed on about it too much.”

“Yeah…” Emi had a lot she could say, but nothing that wouldn’t compromise her secret relationship with Beatrice. She was a bit confused why they hadn’t told Beatrice’s parents yet, but whatever she was comfortable with, that was fine.

“Oh yeah, you and my daughter went to the docks the other day, didn’t you?”

“About a week ago, yeah, to see that Runa girl.”

“Oh, brother,” Earl said. “That Runa is something else…”

“I think she’s adorable. She’s the silliest person I’ve ever met, and I’ve met me. How old is that girl, anyway?”

“Oh, uh… Well, I don’t actually know. She always needed a babysitter back in the day, but I think that was a behavioral issue more than anything. Her mother thought she needed a friend. She might have be the same age as Beatrice…”

“Same age as Beatrice? That’s… A lot less adorable, if that’s true. But still a little adorable.”

“Speaking of adorable, can you hand me those copies of Brandy Family Picnic on the dolly?” Earl asked.

Emi found the books and handed them up to the ladder. “Aw, I loved Brandy Family Picnic as a kid. That was one of the first books I read here! Such a cute story.”

“I remember that time. That was when your parents still came by here to drop you off every week. You know, I never quite figured out why a wealthy family like the L’Himes chose a public library to take their daughter, but I’m very glad they did, because I wouldn’t have met that wonderful little child who would one day grow up to be you.”

“Awww… Wait, my parents used to take me here?”

“Of course. What, were you going to come by yourself when you were still four feet tall?”

“Uh… huh.” Emi shook her head like she didn’t know what he was talking about. Then her hair got all in her face. Ugh. “Somehow I don’t remember this. I guess I just thought I always came by sneaking out–er, by asking permission, which is what I always do.”

“I only met your parents briefly a couple times, but they seemed like wonderful people. I’m really glad for all the work they are doing for Elince right now. A lot of people might hate them, but they’re the only ones standing between Dannark and King Kline, and… they’re doing a good job.”

“To be honest, I try not to keep up with my parents too often. They’re not really… I mean, I love them, but…”

“I understand,” Earl said. He slid back down the ladder and pushed the dolly to another shelf on the library. Emi followed him. “I had a tough relationship with my parents, too. Enough that I went and ran away to Balarand the moment I came of age.”

“Maybe I should do the same.”

Earl laughed another time. “No offense, my friend, but you don’t seem like you could survive too well on your own.”

“You may be right…”

“But hey, if you ever feel like you’ve had enough with the life of luxury, you can always stay at my family’s apartment for a while. Or… I would say that, but we only have two beds and I doubt my daughter would be too keen on sharing.” He smiled as if he made a silly dad joke. Instead, it made Emi’s face turn bright red as her mind considered the scenario he presented to her.

“Ah, it appears Emi has been embarrassed by something,” a voice from behind said.

It was Tia Knoll, surprisingly wearing breeches and no wig. What the heck was he doing here? 

“Oh, wow, Tia Knoll, here in my library?” Earl seemed incredibly impressed. “Together, you two have more money than my entire apartment complex combined. And you’re visiting the public library. That’s got to be a sign of the times.”

“I am merely here to grab Emi for an important date we have,” he said.

“Tia, how did you even know I was here?”

“You are always here, if you are not at your home.” Tia grinned.

“You two are going on a date?” Earl asked. “But I thought… Hmmm.” His expression became perplexingly stern.

“No, no, no! Not a date date. Like just a normal event known as a date. We are not dating. Just an event,” Emi tried to correct desperately.

“She speaks the truth,” Tia said. “I tend to only have romantic interactions with other men.”

“Yeah! And we’re going to to this event known as… Uh, what event is this again?”

“It’s called, ‘Let’s go eat a late lunch and gossip!’ The best event.”

Emi frowned.

Earl was back to his normal self. “Oh, you young people are always the same. Well, enjoy yourselves. Come back if you ever want to read some books for free, not that you’ll ever need it.”

Just when Emi was starting to have a heart-to-heart with Beatrice’s own father, here comes Tia Knoll himself… Sigh.

Still… It was a very good talk. It was very weird to say this, but Emi realized today that Earl was one of her best friends. And that was nice.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 27: A Letter: The Beginning

“Okay, that’s enough for today,” said Mr. Statusian. “Remember, everyone leave the building by the top of the hour, and I’ll see you back here in the morning. We’ll be beginning our final days of practice, so I hope you are ready for some serious work.”

The class grumbled. Someone murmured that that whole “last day of class” comment way back when was extremely misleading, and another person literally growled.

Beatrice, of course, was extremely pleased with herself.

It was just a couple weeks until the Winter Ceremonies. She had long since mastered the rituals in execution, but she quickly learned that that wasn’t all the rituals were about; she also had to stay attuned to her magical partners around her. They had actually created a water generation spell by accident the other day, so it seemed that everyone was growing a lot closer together. Beatrice had even started hanging out with Bodhi and some of the others after practice sometimes.

Today was not one of those days, however. No time for hanging out with friends; she was about to meet Emi at the library for a  date. They had spent many days together recently, but always ended up wandering around the city and looking for food to eat, not really doing anything special. This time, though, they were going to travel the Gonda Tower, the tallest building in Elince. Apparently, its top floor was so high that you could apparently see all the way across the kingdom if you looked out from the top floor. It sounded so romantic!

It was normally closed to the public, but as long as you had the right connections, that was no hurdle. Emi, of course, knew the owner’s granddaughter, Felisa L’Flare. It was great having a rich and famous girlfriend–er, friend who may or may not have been dating her. They hadn’t exactly clarified that just yet…

Beatrice grabbed her bag and slipped it onto her back. With the Winter Ceremonies practice and her relationship–if that’s what it was–with Emi both going strong, she had a strong smile on her face. She scurried over to the library, where her Dad and Emi were currently talking at the service desk. 

Emi L’Hime. Sigh. The girl of her dreams, the main thing on her mind every time she closed her eyes. Beatrice could remember when she first saw her at the marketplace, all that time ago, and was instantly smitten. And as much as she tried to ignore it, her life was forever changed that day, she knew, because she found someone worth knowing for the rest of her life.

Just look at her. Wearing nothing more special than a turtleneck and a long skirt. She made no attempt to stand out, no attempt to separate herself from the crowd, and yet she was radiating. Tall, with shiny pale skin looking something out of the most vivid dream. Beatrice had held those curves in her arms, felt those thin hairs, breathed in the smell of shampoo and perfume. She was more than just beautiful. She was Beatrice’s. (Maybe.)

“Oh, Tris, hey!” Emi exclaimed as she saw her enter.

“Hey,” was what she said, but what she thought was more along the lines of, every time I see your dark brown eyes my heart is sent into a flurry, my mind hazes up, and my entire being is sent into a blinding hailstorm of affection. She only thought it, but she conveyed it with her smile.

“You’re friends with Emi L’Hime, Beatrice?” Dad asked. “I didn’t realize that.”

“Yeah,” Beatrice said. “We, uh, sit together at the study table sometimes. You never noticed?”

“Uh, no, I never pay attention,” Dad said, with a smirk that suggested he was not exactly telling the whole truth. “But she’s a good girl. She’s been coming to this library since she was about this high.” Dad held out his hand flat to measure about twelve inches. 

“Your father’s the one who got me into my favorite book series,” Emi said. “It’s called The Elf Cycle. It’s a really great mystery series with a lot of action and adventure and romance.”

Ehh… Beatrice knew her Dad read pretty much everything, so his taste in fiction books was a bit… odd. She didn’t always enjoy his recommendations when it came to fairy tales and adventure stories, and she learned as much when he convinced her to go through A Beautiful Bloodbath when she was thirteen. Not a wise choice at all, Dad…

“I’m really glad you two have become friends, though,” Dad said.

“Heh, yeah…” Beatrice coughed, and then turned to Emi. “So, are you ready to go?”

“Go? Where are you doing?” Dad asked. “Wait–” he interrupted himself. “Oh, I almost forgot. You have a letter. Mailed to the library, for some reason.”

A letter?

Who would send her a letter, and why here? With a moment’s hesitation, she broke the seal and tore it open. The letter read, in a scrawled handwriting:

“You must meet me IMMEDIATELY. I have made a new breakthrough! TOP SECRET. I need your help to align the spirits and perfect our society. If you do not arrive or send response in twenty-four hours, I will have to assume you have been apprehended by forces beyond your control and will be forced to take drastic measures.

–Signed, Runa.”

Oh, brother.

“Is it something nice?” Dad asked.

“It’s Runa.”

“Oh, brother.” He rolled his eyes. “Do you need to go meet her?”

“I guess I do…”

“Who’s Runa?” Emi asked.

“Oh, Emi. We might need to postpone the, uh, thing.” She was trying not to be too explicit about their date plans around Dad.

“What, do you have to go meet them or something?” she asked.

“Yeah…” There was no way she could get out of meeting Runa, she knew, even as her mind flashed through all the excuses she could possibly use. 

Although… Maybe this was a fortuitous opportunity after all. This could be a chance for a very different kind of date for Beatrice and Emi, and for Emi to learn more about her. Like marketplace traders often said, she could turn lemons into lemonade.

What was a lemon?

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 21: Dead Tired

Beatrice lowered her hands and heaved a sigh of exhaustion. 

“That was…” Mr. Statusian said to the group of students arranged in a circular formation around a stand-in for the statue of hero Jon Knoll. “That was… Let’s practice it a bit better next time, alright?”

There were murmurs of resigned acceptance. 

“Let’s finish,” he said. “Alright, be out of here in ten minutes, and I’ll see you back here tomorrow.”

Beatrice went into the dressing room and changed out of the loose clothing she had been wearing for practice. Sweat dripped from more places than she thought possible. Oh, Gods… She was very much not physically prepared for coordinating a mass magical ritual, and she could feel exactly the spots that’d be sore tomorrow morning.

With how these practices were going, she had no idea how they were going to be ready in time for the Winter Ceremonies, even if they were still a couple months away. 

Okay, she was dried up and back in her school uniform, and now it was time to make her way home. She decided against stopping by the library–she’d given up going there every afternoon just to wait on Emi–but she did still need to go by the marketplace and picking up produce for her Mom.

She just wished she was less tired from practice. Who knew that practicing for a sacred ritual where most of the work was moving in a circle and chanting would be so physically taxing? It seemed so effortless to an outside viewer.  And now she realized that that was because of how hard the performers practiced it beforehand. If only willpower alone could create magic spells, this would have been so much easier… 

It was getting darker a lot faster these days; she remembered when the sun would still be shining high in the sky by the time she left St. Helens Academy; now, it was already at the edge of sunset, and several of the moons were visible in the sky.

Despite the growing darkness, and the growing aches in her body, Beatrice pressed on. At the marketplace she picked up a wheel of cheese, a bottle of wine, and some cloves of garlic. It was all costly, but hopefully together all of it would get the Ragnell family about a week’s worth of meals.

And then another few minutes of excruciating walking awaited her… before she finally arrived at her apartment and stumbled inside.

Look what the Mammoth dragged in… Wait, that didn’t even work as a joke. Beatrice was so exhausted from Winter Ceremonies practice that she couldn’t even muster her master wit.

Well, now she was home, and she had a bag full of produce to add to tonight’s onion soup. It was her Mom’s own recipe this time, so it wouldn’t be as much of a mediocre disappointment as the last time Beatrice tried cooking.

Speaking of Mom, she was right there sitting in her usual chair next to the supper table, sewing her current project together. She wouldn’t say what it was, but Beatrice had a feeling it had something to do with that ancient Balarand fashion stuff that Dad had been researching a while back.

“Hey, Mom, I got the vegetables you asked for,” Beatrice said.

Mom looked up from the outfit and smiled. It was quick, almost trained, but it looked genuine enough. “Thank you, Beatrice,” she said.

Mom, a princess-like figure who took everything about Beatrice and made it more extravagantly beautiful. A young Mom Ragnell would have been the catch of a century, and somehow, Beatrice’s own Dad snagged her like a salmon in a putcher basket. Maybe, with age, just as her skin and hair had lightened, her figure had lost some of that radiance, but it wasn’t enough to convince anyone that she wasn’t of regal descent in some distant family tree branch.

After just a moment, Mom moved back to her sewing, again focusing intently on her project. Whatever it was, it looked nice, some kind of gray top with navy… something, accenting it. Was it a… cape? Mom always made these kinds of nice outfits, made pretty much everything Beatrice had ever worn. It was a kindness that she would never be able to repay her for.

She wanted to reply, to say something, start a conversation with her Mom. But it was kind of tough. She stood there, put a finger to her bottom lip, and came up empty. Instead, she simply watched for a while longer. Studied the way she weaved her thread, the way her eyes followed along in a drifting motion, before jumping back to the other side as she started again.

Like performing a religious ritual, like taking all the information out of a book and laying it onto the page, her Mom created an entire piece of clothing with nothing but string and cloth, pins and needles, patience and practice. She had done this for so long that she hardly even had to take notice. It was as impressive as any incantation, any group spell. It was a whole different kind of magic.

For Mom, sewing was more than a hobby, then, perhaps. It was a whole life, and not one that Beatrice well understood… until now.

“I love you, Mom,” Beatrice said.

“I love you too,” she replied without hesitation.

Beatrice had never thought about how much it meant to her that her Mom made all these outfits for her, for the whole family. How in the world had she never realized her Mom was so… cool?

Once Mom had finished up the project for now, she went to the kitchen, and Beatrice followed her over to help her prepare supper. By the time Dad got home, there was boiling hot soup for the three of them, and there was nothing more Beatrice could ask for than that. 

Beatrice looked at her Mom, skilled at everything she did, willing to set aside whatever youthful ambitions she may have had to raise a family, and wondered why she ever felt like the two of them were far apart. Aside from looks, and maybe interests, they weren’t apart at all. They were two beans in a barrel. 

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Chapter 17: Dad Chat

Beatrice had spent her entire afternoon at the library, yet again with the faint glimmer of hope that she would see Emi, but it didn’t end up happening. Instead she spent her day reading up on a book titled Theoretical Uses of Magic If One Were to Tap into the Soul Itself (Which Is of Course Impossible). It postulated that one could enter dreams, inhabit other bodies, even create a copy of oneself, if only the soul could be harnessed somehow. It speculated about a secret race of beings that inhabited the dream world, and were the conduits with which we could access the secrets of the Gods. While it was all certainly wrong, it was interesting reading, and she was quite engaged in thinking about how the author came to all of these grand conclusions. 

However, for possibly the first time in her life, she felt nothing but disappointment to be reading a book. And she knew exactly why: It had been over a week since she last saw Emi, with not a peep from her since.

Maybe something had gone wrong? She had checked at Emi’s house, but some housekeeper woman turned her away when she tried to ask for her. It must have been something important; maybe Emi wasn’t even in Balarand at the moment.

Still, Beatrice felt gross, like her heart was covered in sludge and she could no longer move about without feeling pangs of anxiety. What if it was something she said on their last… date? What if Emi had simply found someone better, who was richer and taller and whose hair wasn’t a mess of curls and tangles?

Beatrice looked over at her Dad, who stood at the front counter as usual. He was reading the newspaper while waiting for an elderly couple to finish picking out books from the new releases. The two women looked far too feeble to be carrying so much at once, but they each had a basket full of titles to check out. It was good to see people loving to read books.

Emi and Beatrice both loved to read books…

She hadn’t told Dad about her, and as long as this current situation persisted, she definitely wasn’t going to. It was embarrassing to mention, and she knew how he would tease her about it, so it was best to wait until there was more concrete news to report. Hopefully he hadn’t picked up on it already.

…There she was, thinking about Emi again. She had to keep reading to distract herself.

When evening came and the library closed up, Dad came around to her desk and patted her on the back. “Studious as always,” he said. “But it’s time to go home for some supper. Mom’s making shepherd’s pie again.”

“That sounds good,” Beatrice said. “But I was thinking I might go out tonight and meet up with some friends.” This was a lie. She was planning on going over to Emi’s house again, just to try and see…

“Again? You must be making some close friends, Beatrice.” Dad gave a knowing smile, and Beatrice blushed. He knew. (Parents always know.) “Mom sure will miss you again. You know how she gets when she has leftover food.”

After a moment of deliberation, Beatrice said, “Okay, Dad. I won’t,” her heart sinking at even that hypothetical situation of meeting Emi dissipating. “I’m sorry about… going out a lot.”

“Whoever it is you’ve been spending time with, they must be very important to you. As long as you don’t neglect your schoolwork, that’s fine with us,” he said. “Though if you ever want to talk about it, you know we’re here. Me and your Mom.” He went back to the service desk and grabbed a few things, including a worn leather-bound book with many bookmarks sticking out of it. 

“What are you reading there, Dad?” she asked.

“Oh, this? This is one of the oldest books in the library, titled Quest. It’s a novel written many thousands of years ago, in the time before Elince was united, and Balarand stood alone as a city-state. I‘m trying to use the depictions of city life here to figure out what the people of ancient times may have worn.”

“Oh, for Mom?”

“Yes, for Mom. I’ve gone through so many books lately and learned so many things about ancient Balarand, but there isn’t much detail on the fashion of the times. But this book has plenty of it. I think she will be very pleased.”

“Do you really?” Beatrice asked. “Lately Mom hasn’t been very talkative, and I’m almost worried that…”

“She’s a little melancholic? That’s what I’ve noticed, too. So I’ve worked extra hard and I think this is going to make her very happy.”

“Well, that’s good,” Beatrice said. She liked it when her parents were happy, and happy together. The way they looked at each other… she wondered how she seemed when she looked at Emi. At least, when she was ever around. “Actually, I do have a question,” Beatrice added. “How did you and Mom meet?”

Dad chuckled. “You asked that once. You were real little, and I was still real young, and all I told you was, ‘It was pure magic, honey.’ I guess that isn’t what you’re looking for in an answer now.” He went to Beatrice’s desk and sat down across from her. “I came to Balarand when I was about your age, looking for work after my father sold off his farm and moved to Fathie. I didn’t have a place to stay, any friends, or much of an idea of how the world worked, but I had a spirit to accomplish something. I just didn’t know what, yet.

“Then I saw your Mom on the first day, a seamstress’s daughter who lived on the corner of the first street I walked down, and after one look I knew I would marry her–she was the one. I introduced myself to her and told her as much, and she laughed me right off. She had as much right to; I was a street rat, for Goddess’s sake.

“So I kept at it. I worked as hard as I could, saved up money, and finally rented a place not too far from our home now. I asked her on dates, gave her presents, but nothing worked. She was persistent, even then. Eventually, after three years, on my way home from another rejection, I got hit on the head by an apple someone tossed out of a passing carriage. Knocked me out for two days.

“Your Mom cared for me, and then… something happened after that. We fell in love. And then we had you, and I got my degree at the Balarand College, and now I work every day to keep you two happy and safe. That’s our life story.”


“Do you think… Is that what you’re going through now?” Dad asked.

“I don’t know,” Beatrice said. “Probably.”

“Well…” Dad let out a sigh. “I know that this might be tough for you, what with your junior priest studies and all. You’re a good girl and you deserve to find yourself right now if you want. But you know you can’t take it with you. You’re supposed to love the Gods when you’re a priest.”

“I know, and that’s… something I’ve thought about recently,” Beatrice said. “I’m really worried about it because I’ve really started to care about someone and… Why can’t I choose both?”

“Take that up with the Gods,” he replied.

“I want to! I wish they would… Well, you know. I just want to do what’s right.” It felt so unfair to expect such absolute devotion when they wouldn’t even… she wasn’t sure where she was going with this.

“I don’t make up the rules. I just follow their Wills, because I know that will be the path to happiness,” he replied. 

Beatrice wished she could feel as positively about it. “It doesn’t feel like the path to happiness. Maybe I… I don’t know.”

“It’s okay night now,” Dad said. “All I can say is right now, if you think you’re onto something, you should grab onto it. It’s okay to have a fling right now. Better to have one now than regret it later, right?”


“Now, let’s go home and meet that wonderful woman of mine.” 

They journeyed home and Beatrice’s Mom greeted them with a scrumptious shepherd’s pie. Her smiles were never as bright and shining as Beatrice once remembered them, but she was glad to have someone who cared about her as much as she did. 

She wasn’t sure how she was going to deal with the impending nature of leaving her family and friends behind to join the priesthood, or if she’d even end up doing it at all, but for now that was all okay. Her time with Emi was just a fling, for now. For now.

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Chapter 15: Thinking About Her

Beatrice was trying.

She really was. But after that night, school was the very last thing on her mind. It was like a completely different world to her. 

Emi had taken her hand and placed it in hers, gazing at her with those eyes as dark and warm and deep as soil… She couldn’t believe that, after all that fretting and worrying and staying awake late at night thinking about someone she barely knew, she actually ended up with her hand grasped within hers.

Mr. Statusian was lecturing about something or another. Honestly, Beatrice wasn’t paying much attention right now, which was rare, but she knew she’d started all of this already on her own. One of the big downsides to studying outside of class was that she already knew all the material that was going to be discussed, and even if she made a valiant effort to participate in the lectures, she usually was not learning much new. Not listening to the professor, as was happening now, was not going to impact her life at all unless he–

“Miss Ragnell? What do you think?”




“Did you hear the question?”

“Yes of course, I’m just… Uhh…”

The entire class stared at her. Beatrice, the one who always came to class two weeks ahead on the readings, who sat back in her chair confidently any time a tough question was postured, now sitting in front of everyone caught off-guard in a complete daze.

She couldn’t take it. 

Beatrice got up, took her school bag, and bolted out of the classroom.

She locked herself in the bathroom for a while, not to cry but so she could get some semblance of privacy and think about what the heck was going on with her. Even though it was not a difficult puzzle to solve. Obviously this was because of Emi. Well, not Emi as much as herself thinking about Emi. 

That back there was just so embarrassing.

As much as she hated to admit it, she relished her status as the class suck-up, her position as the top student in almost every subject. Being a complete dolt in class and obviously not listening to the teacher would jst make everyone lose their respect for her. She wasn’t sure if that was what upset her so much, though. Maybe it was seeing the look on Mr. Statusian’s face when he realized she hadn’t been paying attention? No, it wasn’t that either.

Beatrice felt confused that anyone, even a girl as pretty and graceful as Emi, could make her act like this. It shouldn’t be like this. One girl taking priority over her life of service to the Gods? Being a junior priest was never that important, and even someone like her couldn’t treat it as more than it was, but this was Beatrice’s life. Or, it was supposed to be.

At the moment, though… ugh, what was she doing?

She walked over to the mirror and peered into herself, her mediocre appearance wrapped up in the guise of cuteness thanks to the St. Helens school uniform. They say looking into a mirror is a great gateway to analyzing the inner self, but at this moment, Beatrice felt more like it was a great gateway to annoying herself even more.

Junior priests didn’t need to look suave or sexy. They needed to think deeply, embrace compassion, and, of course, pay attention in class. Looking hot meant that you were exempt from things as lowly as a junior priesthood studying magic you could never pull off on your own. It meant you could go where you wanted, do what you wanted, be what you wanted. It meant you could change the world and accomplish great things even without devoting yourself to the service of the Church. You could make your own harmony… or… something.

She wasn’t sure what her mind was trying to tell her anymore, except that it refused to stop thinking about the other night.

Gods, she held that woman’s hand. Somehow, in some bizarre continent known as Tsubasa, someone as unremarkable as Beatrice Ragnell managed to hold hands with… well, with Emi L’Hime. She could practically imagine it right now, skin against skin, her thumb caressing her index finger…

…And this was what ended up getting her caught zoning out in class. Exactly this. Beatrice leaned her head against the mirror and gave a frustrated groan. She was hopeless, wasn’t she?

She stayed and sorted out her thoughts some more.

Beatrice left the bathroom about twenty minutes later and returned to the classroom. Class had already ended and most of her fellow students had long since left. The only person she saw was Mr. Statusian standing by his desk, hand on his hip as if he had been waiting all this time for her to return. She balled up her fists, sucked up her pride, and said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left class like that.”

To her surprise, Mr. Statusian didn’t laugh it off like she thought he would. Instead, he asked, “Do you want to talk about what’s going on right now? I’ve never seen you act like this way until the past few days and… If you need to talk about anything, anything you need to get off your chest, something like that, that’s okay.”

About what’s going on right now.

Beatrice very briefly considered telling her him everything, going into great detail about the girl she had spent the evening with who for some strange unexplainable reason had turned Beatrice’s heart into putty. “No, there’s nothing to talk about, I was just… having a bad day today.” She hoped that was a sufficient enough excuse and that he wouldn’t see through it. Trust me, adults always see through it.

 The two exited the classroom and walked into the hallways.

“Well, don’t worry about that. It happens to everyone,” he said. “Everybody knows you’re one of the best students in this entire school. Whatever it is that’s distracting you will be over with pretty soon, and you’ll be right on your way towards making the priesthood.”

Beatrice’s face went ghostly white. “The priesthood,” she muttered, too quietly for her teacher to hear.

All these feelings in her heart, all the jumping around for Emi L’Hime, was running completely contrary to her life path, the path she had chosen for herself when she was just a child, standing four feet tall and pointing to her Dad at the old lady handing out food to the homeless. She was going to be the one to bring new harmony to Tsubasa, that’s what she always told herself.

Now, suddenly, after that night with Emi, thinking about that was almost an alien concept to her. Like a different person had dreamed it up, and she had simply inherited it along with all the other junk floating around in her mind. The only thought her mind would give her was this image of Emi in her arms, both of them old and wrinkled, sitting out on a dock and watching the sun set past the Balarand River, the sky purple and the endless farms and towns across the waterway going dark. Beatrice hated herself a little bit for how specific of a thought that was, and how much it plagued her imagination.

She would never speak of this to anyone, least of all Mr. Statusian.

“Now, there’s no homework for tonight,” Mr. Statusian said, bringing Beatrice’s attention back to their conversation at hand, “but I know you’ll probably do some studying anyway, so here’s some documents I compiled earlier that I can give to you for some extra reading.” He said this as if Beatrice would lap up any study material like a trained dog… Honestly, it was an accurate assessment on most days. But today…

Today felt like a completely different existence. A world with four moons, not five, or a world where tall people were discriminated against, a world where you didn’t need to become a junior priest to get a decent career in Balarand. None of that was real, but it might as well have been.

Her mind boggled.

“Thank you sir, but I don’t think I’m going to do much studying tonight,” she said. “I think I have something else planned.”

She said that calmly, but her heart was pounding. If Mr. Statusian knew what was going through her head right now, there would be no end to the shame it would bring him. His star pupil was a fraud.

“Are you sure? Well then, I hope you do whatever it is you want to do.” He stared at her, trying to analyze her, and Beatrice was doing a terrible job of hiding herself. But, after a moment, he relented, and his expression eased up. “I, on the other hand, will be going straight home to grade all of my students’ papers on the last essay. I’m looking very forward to seeing how you did.”

Oh no! Beatrice didn’t even know there was an essay assignment, let alone that one was due… She definitely didn’t do it!  What was coming to her… ? What was happening to her…!?

“I’m just kidding with you,“ he said.

“Oh… Haha… Very funny…”

“I try to practice my joking skills with my students before I go home to my convent. Otherwise I get called Ulric the Plainsmith. That was my nickname back during training.”

“Oh, really? That’s oddly demeaning.”

Suddenly there was a loud banging on the wall. Mr. Statusian and Beatrice both turn to look, and it turned out to be a soldier from Dannark, their face completely covered by a helmet except for their mouth and chin. “This building is closing in five minutes,” the soldier said. “Gather your things and leave or we may place you under contempt of occupational law.” Their eyes were obscured, but their mouth had a stern frown that told that they were not going to skirt the law just because the people in question were a student and teacher. 

Her heart had been beating fast from thinking about Emi, from trying not to let Mr. Statusian know what an emotional mess she had become. Now her heart was beating fast because soldiers were staring at her, pikes in hand.

“Come on, Beatrice, we need to get out of here. Thank you for your time,” Mr. Statusian told the soldier. “We apologize for inconveniencing you.”

Beatrice had no idea that the soldiers had encroached upon the junior priest academy. This meant that the new government was taking firmer control of the education system and that there may have been some sort of subversive movement or something along those lines. There had been quite a lot of protests lately, but those never involved the school, did they?

Despite her feelings on the subject, she couldn’t help shuddering. This wasn’t going to go over well with her classmates, that was for sure.

They hurried out of the school and Beatrice began walking home. Mr. Statusian followed her and caught up with her. “Hey,” he said. “I forgot to mention the other news from the lecture. St. Helens Academy has been put under tighter supervision starting today. A few of my coworkers have made some comments recently that were against the wishes of the occupation government and those remarks happened to be printed in the Balarand Circle. It may not be fair to the students, but… the school now has a curfew of ten minutes after the final class period ends. I don’t enjoy it myself, but the government has offered us very generous financial support. So…”

“So, it evens out?”

“You could say that.”

“But does that really make up for how harsh they’re treating the students?”

He smiled, but his eyes were glaring off at the soldiers patrolling the school grounds. “Well, personally– I probably shouldn’t tell you this– but I suggested to my co-workers that we refuse the money entirely. I believe suppression of our freedom to gather in a public space and communicate with one another has the mark of a very unprosperous occupation to come. I don’t like it one bit, but the majority of the teachers agreed more funding will help the school in the long run and I will support that decision.”

This was the first time Beatrice had heard Mr Statusian talk so openly about the occupation. She rarely talked about it with anybody other than her parents because as anyone knows, politics are not a good subject to make small talk with. It was a bit unnerving to hear his opinion so openly stated.

“Just… don’t write what I said down in the newspaper,” he added.

“I’ll try my best,” Beatrice said with a single laugh. “See you tomorrow, Mr. Statusian.”

“Yes, and good luck on your plans today.”

“Thank you.”

Thank you, but Beatrice didn’t need any luck, she thought as she made her way to the library. She wasn’t the type to believe in luck, not when the world was so intricately connected. The only differences were the decisions each person made.

Luck was only an excuse for those that made poor decisions, or those that thought the Gods were the only force in Tsubasa. As much as Beatrice had an inner fire of conflict inside of her, that was a mere ember compared to her desire to see Emi again. If there was anything in the world that mattered more at that moment, she couldn’t have named it.

She entered the library, said hello to her Dad, and sat down at a table. It was time to wait for the girl of her dreams.

But, it turned out Beatrice wasn’t very lucky today. Emi never showed up.

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