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 67: Repairs

Beatrice struck the hammer down and slammed the nail into the piece of wood. A drip of sweat fell from her chin and plopped on her arm, but she paid it less mind than a gnat fluttering about around her head. She struck the wood again to make sure the nail was in place, and smiled when she saw it was good.

A wave of exhaustion had set on her, but she kept going. The warm sun overhead had just reached its apex, and the birds had finally come back out to sing their chirpy tunes. With a free meal waiting at the end of the day, Beatrice was never going to quit helping here, not until it was all complete.

It was grueling work, repairing the damage done to the restaurant Foron’s. Half of northern Balarand had burned to the ground, but the Dannark government had done nothing to help rebuild So it was up to Beatrice and the other former junior priests of the St. Helens Academy. The school had been shut down permanently, but that wasn’t going to do a bit of good in stopping its students from helping their favorite afterschool dining spot.

Her face was covered in sweat, and she had nailed more boards than her mind could comprehend, but Beatrice felt amazing. She really felt like she was doing something. And best of all, she had her friends around to help.

There was one friend missing from all of this volunteer work, though, someone Beatrice had been secretly hoping would show up the entire time. 

But it didn’t happen.

At least, not until the lunch break was over. Then Beatrice saw that silly little hat, and those shining blue eyes.

Bodhi Makala had showed up to help rebuild Foron’s.


It wasn’t until after the volunteer work was over that Beatrice and Bodhi finally got a chance to talk. Without exchanging a word, the two met up and began walking down the street in a random direction. They were going north, up towards the port and where Runa still lived, but they probably wouldn’t need to walk that far.

The streets were quiet, with at least one guard posted on every city block. Many shops and businesses were still facing fire damage, broken windows, or even total destruction. With the occupation government busy putting down pockets of guerilla resistance, nothing could be done except by their own hands. 

One day, Balarand would all be back to its vibrant, pretty self, even if it took a hundred more days like today from Beatrice and her friends.

Bodhi finally spoke, saying, “You look beautiful, Bea.”

“Beatrice,” she replied instantly. “And thanks.”

“That dress… It’s really a work dress?”

“Oh, yeah, this?” She looked down at the plain outfit she had on for her volunteer effort. “I made this for sewing practice. It’s not very useful as anything other than a work outfit. And I definitely learned today that skirts are not good for hard labor…”

“You learned how to sew? Darn, you never cease to amaze.” Bodhi flashed one of his classic smirks. “I see you’ve kept growing out your hair, too.”

“Yeah… It’s really long now.”

“And cute.”

“Really? You think so?”

“I know so.” Bodhi, for just a split second, began to reach out to touch her hair, but pulled back before his hand went anywhere. “Anyway, I’m glad about today. I’ve been waiting for Foron’s to reopen for weeks now.”

“Did you love me?” Beatrice asked suddenly.


Beatrice lowered her head and smiled. “You didn’t come help out at Foron’s just to see me, did you?”

“Well, I…” Bodhi sighed. “That’s exactly what I did.”

“I thought so.”

“I heard you were there, and I heard you passed the Priesthood Exam. I wanted to see you one last time before you left Balarand forever.”

“That’s sweet.”

“And yeah, I loved you,” he said. “I loved you for years, Bea. But you were always… How do I say it? Unattainable.”

Beatrice giggled. “What the heck does that mean?”

“Always nose-deep into your books. Never wanted to hang out. Committed to becoming a celibate priest and abandoning everyone around you. That sort of thing.”

“It took me a long time to realize how felt about me, Bodhi,” she said. “Until after I broke up with my girlfriend. It kind of hit me how you must have felt the whole time, and… I felt a little guilty.”


“Because I never returned your feelings, not one little bit. I don’t know why. Maybe in some other world it would have worked, but… the Gods didn’t Will it, I guess.”

“I felt really jealous when you met that girl,” Bodhi said. “All those years by your side, thinking you’d see me one day for more than that annoying guy who always calls you Bea. But then you found someone else who loved you.”

“And so you’re here now looking for… closure?” Beatrice asked.

“No way. Closure is Mammoth crap. I’m just here to see my friend.” Bodhi laughed a little bit, but Beatrice couldn’t tell if it was genuine or fake. “Listen, I sorted out my feelings for you a long time ago. Maybe I loved you in that schoolboy kind of way, but it was nothing. When I saw Emi, and I saw the way she looks at you… that’s when I realized all I had was an overgrown crush. That girl REALLY loves you, Bea.”

“And I really love her,” Beatrice said.

“You really love her, but you’re still becoming a priest.”


“Just… why?” he asked. “You two are perfect for each other. She loves you, and you love her. So why would you ever do something to end that?”

Beatrice shrugged. “What’s it to you?”

“I just don’t want you to make a decision that could ruin the rest of your life,” he said. “Love is so important and you can’t just throw it away to serve the Church. They have a billion priests. You only have one Emi.”

“There’s something I realized during the rebellion,” Beatrice told him. “I have a duty to serve. Tsubasa is about to enter a dark time, and the harmony will disappear if there aren’t people around to save it. With my knowledge and ambition, I can become the kind of priest who saves lives every single day. I can change the entire continent for the better. The kind of love I have for Emi is the same kind of love I need to give to the whole world.”

“I… guess I can’t argue with that,” Bodhi said. “So it’s all religion stuff.”

“The Will of the Gods and all that,” Beatrice said.

“You really don’t believe, do you? In the Gods and the Church?”

“I do, I do.”

He looked at her with an intent stare, and said, “I… can’t tell what you’re thinking anymore. You’ve really changed, haven’t you? You aren’t an emotional open book.”

Beatrice rolled her eyes. “Or you’re not some sort of Beatrice Expert like you think,” she said. “Now, is there any destination for where we’re walking, or are we just going nowhere fast?

“Going nowhere fast, I imagine.”

“That’s fine by me.”

Beatrice could have felt pangs of bittersweet nostalgia. She could have felt sad. But she didn’t. Instead, she enjoyed a walk with a good friend, and that was that.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 36: The Cure for Lame Feelings

“Gods, Tris, your hair is getting so long,” Emi said as she circled around to their usual table at the library. She sat down with her brand-new book and added, “It looks amazing, though.”

“Mm.” Beatrice sat at her side of the table, books and notebooks out, but her gaze was directed off to the side as she stared into the distance.

“Weird, isn’t it? When we first met, I was the one with long hair, now yours is just as long as mine used to be. Not that you had short hair back then. I think it’s better now, but it’s hard to say what your perfect hairstyle is. There’s a… Hey, Tris, are you okay?”

Finally, Beatrice snapped away from her trance. “Oh, Emi. Yeah, I’m okay. I was just thinking.”

“Hm, you don’t look okay.”

Beatrice’s shoulders slumped over. “You know me too well. I’m not feeling too great right now. I’ve got some lame feelings going on.”

“Oh, Tris,” Emi said with her most sickly sweet sympathy voice. “What’s wrong?”


“You don’t wanna talk about it?”

Beatrice shook her head.

“Well, that’s alright. Leave the talking to me.” Emi set down her new book and adopted the most confident, princessly posture she could muster. “See this here? This is my very own copy of The Last Gemini. What is The Last Gemini, you ask?”

No reply. Beatrice was back to looking lame again.

The Last Gemini is the eighth and newest book in The Elf Cycle, my favorite book series of all-time. It’s filled with romance and mystery and adventure and peril and every single page just hooks you because it’s all so exciting. I’ve recommended it to you before, but… You’ve just got to read this series, Tris! I’ve been waiting for years for the new one to come out, and so the moment it did, I went and bought one of the library’s copy. It’s sold out everywhere else. Nothing in the world is better than reading a book series with a loved one, so I really hope you read it someday.”

“Heh, Emi. My Dad loves that series too, you know.”

“Yep, he’s the one who got me into the series!” Emi exclaimed. “He left work early today just to get a head start on me. What a devious man.”

“So go ahead and get started,” Beatrice said. “I’ll just be here, um, being your friend.”


Beatrice gave a deep frown and said, “Actually, I do wanna talk about it. Emi, sweetie, can you move your chair over here?”

“You’ve never called me ‘sweetie’ before… Boy, this must be serious.” Emi took her chair and plopped it next to Beatrice. The moment she sat down, Beatrice rest her head on her shoulder. It felt like a big win, except that seeing her like this was certainly not giving a winning feeling.

“I talked to Mr. Statusian yesterday, you know, my teacher from St. Helens,” Beatrice said. “He told me… He told me that I…”

“Tris…” Emi put her hand on her thigh and let her take it. She squeezed the hand a lot tighter than Emi had expected.

“He told me I’m going to be something special,” she said. “Special as in the kind of priest who single handedly brings a new era for the church. What in Bk’Man’s name am I supposed to do with that kind of comment?”

“You’re already something special to me.”

“Shut up with your corny, lines, you amazing woman,” Beatrice snapped. “The Priesthood Exams are in a few months and if I pass, they’re going to offer me to join the church, and then I’m going to apparently become a hero across the world. And that’s everything I’ve always wanted, but…”


“Oh, Emi, I feel so lame. I can’t be a priest when I have my family and friends and you, can I? It’s… Ugh, I shouldn’t even be talking about this with you.” Beatrice buried her face further into Emi’s shoulder, like a bird taking roost.

“Why shouldn’t you be?”

“Because you’re… Because this is all about you.”

“Exactly why I need to–” Emi cut herself off the moment the image of Lady Khara popped into her head. Or, her imagination’s image of Lady Khara. “Tris, you don’t need to worry about me. I chose to love you and that won’t end for any silly reason like this.”

“Becoming a priest is silly?”

“Well…” Emi had to choose her next words carefully. “I want you to be happy, Tris. The most happy. You’re not happy now, and it’s starting to upset me too. So whatever I can do to help you, that’s what I’ll do.”

“You don’t have to do anything,” Beatrice said. “Just listening is enough, and you’re an amazing listener.”

“Thank you.” Emi took a deep breath and added, “But.”


“I have decided that I’m going to make sure you’re happy. I will be your guardian spirit, compelling you onto the path of harmony.”

“Why are you talking like that?”

“Let us go forth,” Emi said, taking her book and putting it into her handbag. “We will use the best parts of Balarand to cure the lame feelings of one Beatrice Ragnell!”

“Oh my, you’re in one of those moods again.”

“Indeed I am! Let’s head out on an adventure!”

Beatrice shook her head slowly, but she got up and followed her out of the library. 

Emi had the perfect plan.


But first, they had to get groceries.

Beatrice already felt a lot better, to be honest. Just talking a bit about her worries to Emi had cleared away most of the doldrums bubbling over inside of her. But Emi had acted with such decisive, adorable energy that it’d be a crime to stifle her now.

Even now here in the marketplace, as Beatrice picked out vegetables to bring back home for her Mom to cook, Emi was clearly restless, obviously antsy to get on with whatever crazy plan she had thought up. If they didn’t go do that soon, she was likely to explode outright.

“There’s a lot of the same vegetables here,” Emi said, not so subtly hinting that Beatrice was taking too long. She was starting to get annoying.

“I’m sorry, the selection isn’t very good this close to closing time,” Beatrice said. “Why don’t you go people-watching or something?”

“Oh, right. I’ll go do that.” Emi turned around in a huff. But then, of course, she actually did start people-watching.

It was hard finding the right produce when most of what remained were the damaged, unsightly, or just plain small ones that none of the morning shopper particularly wanted.

Beatrice decided not to turn this whole endeavor into some strange metaphor for her indecision and mixed feelings about the priesthood and about her entire life’s goals being turned into some looming threat, because she didn’t feel these vegetables really deserved the pain of being forced into that kind of weak comparison.

Instead, she found some acceptable-looking onions and daikons to–

“Oh, isn’t that your friend, that Bodhi guy?” Emi asked.


Beatrice turned around to look and see Bodhi, and there he was, walking by on the other side of the street. He noticed her, and then tipped his hat and waved his hand. But then he kept on walking and was soon enveloped by the crowd around him.

“Yeah, that was Bodhi,” Beatrice said. “Why did he… not come and say hello?”

“He didn’t want to bother you, I guess,” Emi said.

“But I haven’t seen him in ages. Where has he been lately…?”

“Hm.” Emi didn’t say any more than that, but her face seemed telling. Exactly what she was telling, though, Beatrice couldn’t quite discern.

That was so weird. Bodhi used always say hello. He even used to come to the library sometimes to see her, usually to nag her into hanging out with all his junior priest friends. Now that they had graduated, he seemed to be keeping a distance. Literally.

Now Beatrice was starting to feel bad again.

Emi noticed it and grabbed both of her shoulders. “Okay, you have your veggies. Now, let’s go cure those lame feelings of yours!”

“Okay, okay, lead the way.”

“I can’t lead if we’re side-by-side, you know,” she said.

“Is that a request to hold my hand?”

“You know it!”

Beatrice couldn’t help but smile at her girlfriend’s infectious silliness.

They walked a ways west in town, away from the library and Castle Balarand, away from the marketplaces and restaurants and towards a series of large apartment buildings. Beatrice hardly knew this neighborhood. But Emi did?

“Will you ever tell me where we’re going?” Beatrice asked.

“Don’t have to. We’re already here,” Emi said.

Here they were, standing in front of a building marked “Pets & Pleasure.”


They walked in and from that exact moment, everything clicked into place for Beatrice. She heard some growling and whimpering and other excited animal noises, then the odor of furry creatures hit her nose with some 

“My friend told me about this place,” Emi explained. “It’s a shelter for greyback bears that get picked up off the street and need a place to stay. It’s really important during the winter, where lot of stray greybacks face hunger and harsh weather, but it’s open year-round and anyone can visit.”

“I thought you hated greybacks.”

“I, uh, do. But I’m willing to put up with them to cure your lame feelings. Because guess what they have here? A cub petting area!” 

Aww, Emi was really putting her own feelings aside just for–Cub petting area?!

Beatrice dashed over to the tiny greyback cubs and nearly attacked them with love and affection. Awwwww wooooowww…

Emi did not join her in petting the cubs; in fact, she continued to keep her distance the entire time. For some reason, that just made Beatrice love her even more. All of this, just because she was feeling a little down today? She was the best. 

Wow what amazing creatures. Beatrice began petting two of them at the same time. It was a spectacular feat that made her feel so happy.

Nobody in the world deserved such a wonderful woman as Emi L’Hime. And nobody in the world deserved such wonderful furballs to pet for hours. But Beatrice had them both.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 33: Tomorrow

Everyone paused, They stood where they were, frozen in place for ten, maybe fifteen seconds. Nothing but the sound of the wind and panting students.

“And… finished.”

And only after that did everyone cheer.

Mr. Statusian clapped. “You did it. You’re ready for the Winter Ceremonies.”

The two dozen students standing in a ritual circle bowed in unison, and then said, “Thank you for the day,” before ending the practice.

To Beatrice, this marked the end of a grueling final month to her schooling as a junior priest. She and her classmates worked hard together to perfect the magical rituals that would protect Balarand from harm for the rest of the year. One mistake and it could doom everything. But they wouldn’t make a mistake, not anymore.

Practice was over, but it was already nearly dark. Snow blanketed the ground and continued to fall from the sky. Most headed home, since there was nothing much else to do but get some rest before the big day.

Beatrice looked around at her white-and-orange-robed classmates, the ones with whom she would be performing in Knoll Park tomorrow morning. Just one month ago, she was the only one with a care in the world about religion class or the spells and incantations they studied. Now, on the precipice of actually casting a grand magical spell, it was clear everyone was ecstatic.

That even included Bodhi, who approached Beatrice along with Mr. Statusian. Bodhi had been beaming every time she saw him lately, and that was the same now. Bodhi had already taken off his robe and put on a cap, which made Beatrice suddenly realize she was still in full ceremonial attire. She lowered her hood and greeted the two of them.

Mr. Statusian pantomimed jabbing Bodhi in the ribs with his elbow. “Look at our star kid,” he said to Bodhi. “I’ve never taught a class as good as this one, and it’s all thanks to you.”

“Yeah, Bea, you’re fantastic.”

Beatrice tilted her head to the side. “No? I didn’t do anything special. It was your teaching that helped everyone.”

They both laughed, and Mr. Statusian said to Bodhi, “See, I told you she’d say that.” Bodhi laughed. He turned back to Beatrice. “That’s why you’re going to make Elince proud one day. I’ve had groups in past years who really made me stay awake the night of, wondering if they would really pull it off. But I’m going to rest like a greyback tonight.”

“Seriously,” Bodhi told her, “I’ve talked to half the people in our class, and they all say the way you work hard is the main thing that got them going. Thanks a lot.”

“It’s nothing,” is all Beatrice could say to spare herself the trouble of trying to mitigate all this unearned praise. She failed to suppress a nervous laugh. “Anyway, I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It’s very exciting.”

Mr. Statusian took another look at Bodhi and then waved. “Well, I’ll see you two then. I’m off. Make sure to leave the premises before the school closes.” He turned around and left.

That just left the two of them. 

Bodhi looked like he was about to say something, but hesitated for a second. His left hand tightly clutched the ceremonial robes he was holding.

“See you tomorrow,” Beatrice said.

“Yeah, see you.” He flashed a toothy grin, the last thing Beatrice saw before she scampered off, disrobing while walking. She wondered if he was going to ask her to go eat or something like that, but she would have had to decline, anyway– she had somewhere very important to be.

Beatrice traveled down the dim, snowy streets, the sun gone so early that she could have sworn she just ate lunch, and took in the all-encompassing wintery smell that permeated the entire city. It was the kind of scent of… well, ice, naturally, but also of smoky meat grilling by food venders, of the musty fur on the coats of nearly every person she passed.

But for everything, it was unmistakably, undeniably, that of Balarand. The city may have been under turmoil, may have been in a haze of tension as thick as the blistering, snowy winds, but it was still the only city she had ever called home. Beatrice was going to travel the world one day, going to make the world a better place. Or… at least, that’s what she had planned since childhood. But no matter where she went, she would never feel a home like Balarand, she was certain of that.

“That’s why you’re going to make Elince proud when you become a priest,” Mr. Statusian had said. 


She had no idea what to make of a statement like that. One look at her girlfriend and her entire life went spiraling away. The Wills of the Gods wanting her to become a celibate warrior for peace, a paladin of harmony, all while Emi L’Hime was right there for her, someone she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. She was a gift from the Gods Themselves, surely. It was all so contradictory, so confusing that it made her want to figure out a spell to explode her own mind.

For now, though, she was going to put that off and focus on the present. Tomorrow, having fun and celebrating the Winter Ceremonies. Today, spending time with Emi.

In no time, she returned to the library, where her Dad was organizing some books– and where Emi was sitting at a table, reading. Beatrice went directly over to the table, and pulled out a book of her own from her school bag.

“Hi,” she said.

Emi returned her greeting with a quick smile. 

Beatrice’s eyes popped open. “EMI,” she screamed.

“Hehehe, you finally noticed.”


emis new hair

It was…

It was…

Where did it go? Did she drink an invisibility potion? Were those real?

Did Runa kidnap her and cut all her hair off for research?!

“I wanted to change my image up a little bit,” Emi said. “Looks pretty, doesn’t it?”

“Gods, I’m going to faint,” Beatrice said.

And then she did.

“Tris? Tris? Are you… Ah!!! Earl! Help!”

Unconscious or not, Beatrice was fine. In fact, she thought she just saw the human incarnation of the Goddess Phyra in front of her, at least until her vision blacked out. It was all good and fine… but maybe Emi could have warned her first?

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 23: Bea and Bodhi

There was a nice salmon restaurant near St. Helens Academy called Foron’s that students often flocked to after class. On most days, it found itself packed with teenagers relaxing, gossipping, and spending good coin on good food. Today. however, it found itself with only two occupants– Bodhi and his impromptu tutor Beatrice.

It was homely in that sort of grandmotherly way, the chairs and tables arranged so that it felt like every meal was a big family gathering, not that Beatrice would know. Unfortunately, with no other customers in the restaurant, it was spacious enough to make it feel like an uncomfortable afterparty, long after everyone else had stumbled out, leaving just these two behind to bask in the candlelight. There wasn’t actually a candle here, but the sun was already setting, so it was a bit dim.

The fish wasn’t as good as what you could find at the night markets, Beatrice thought. It was a lot more expensive, too; two silver coins for one plate of fish and one bowl of rice? She could have gotten three days’ worth of groceries for that. But it was still nice to branch out and try something new every now and then, she guessed.

“I really thought Naesala was going to show up,” Bodhi said. “But it looks like it’s just us two.” School uniform or not, he always had a cap on his head, and this time it was bright orange, clashing with the burgundy shirt and trousers he wore. It was intentional, Beatrice knew.

“That’s okay,” Beatrice said. “You wanted to study, and I said I’d help you study.”

“Yeah,” he said. “You’re a real good friend. Even if your hair’s getting too long for that face of yours.”

“What do you know about hair?”

“Nothing, I just think you look better with short hair, Bea,” he said.

“Beatrice, not Bea,” she said. “So, I bet you want to wait until we finish our food to start?”

Bodhi nodded and swallowed the piece of fish in his mouth. “Yeah, I think so. Maybe first we can–”

“What’s the fourth precept of ritual-making?” Beatrice interjected.

“Really?” He groaned loudly.

“Well, what is it?”

“The fourth precept is to avoid false speech,” Bodhi recited. “The spell will only work if your words are clear, concise, and projected loudly. The spell will register if your souls are attuned, and the better your speech, the more in-tune you will be with your partners.”

“Great work,” Beatrice said while cutting the head off the salmon and biting into its little fish face. “You might be an expert already.”

“Nah, we just drilled the darn precepts so much, I’ll never forget them.”

“That’ll help you out the rest of your life.”

“I highly doubt that,” he said.

“It helps everyone out, even if you don’t think about it that often,” Beatrice said. “Think about the discipline we’re learning by doing all this training. Isn’t that something?”

“It’s a lot less demanding than carrying stacks of leather strips back and forth all day.”

“Well, and think about the critical thinking skills we learn. Being able to analyze the Gods’ will and see the harmony of our…” Beatrice trailed off.

“Even you think that’s too ridiculous to finish your sentence,” Bodhi laughed. “The magic part is cool, but if everyone has to do it together, it’s kind of useless most of the time. I wish we studied more about real life skills.”

She didn’t respond.

“Well, anyway, I don’t get the whole deal with speaking spells or whatever,” Bodhi continued. “Why does it matter what you say instead of what you think? Shouldn’t group magic be like, some weird mind-reading thing?”

“It’s a lot simpler than that. You don’t HAVE to speak, but for untrained junior priests like us, nothing will happen unless we really sync-up well. Do you understand what I mean?”

“So what you’re saying is, if I’m together with someone who I sync-up with perfectly, we can hold hands and then create mega lightning bolts or something because our magic is so strong?”

“Not… exactly,” she replied. “Humans just aren’t that good at magic. Other creatures around Tsubasa can perform much more magic than us, like the striders in the Plebias Mountains. Striders can shoot beams from their antennae like it’s nothing, but it takes us a lot of work just to levitate a pencil. We can’t really get beyond that.”

“That’s a load of Mammoth crap,” Bodhi said. “But you know what? I think I understand how it all works.”

“Good. So then you think you’re ready to try it in action?”

“Right now?”

“Well, I mean tomorrow at practice. We couldn’t do it just ourselves.”

“Oh… But… Why can’t we, Bea? I mean you and me, we could probably do a lot.”

“My name isn’t Bea! And– Huh.” Eh? Beatrice was taken aback by the question. “No, two people can’t do any magic ritual alone, not any worth anything. That’s for fairy tales.”

I sometimes snicker at Beatrice’s adamancy towards things she didn’t fully understand herself. Her explanations were foolproof with logic, and yet even as she said them, she felt a pang of sadness. Perhaps it was the faint memory of when she believed those very same things. Times when she ran around her bedroom with a stick and pretended to be a powerful wizard, or when she went to her first day of junior priest school with an oversized school bag on her back and eyes that twinkled like a newborn star. 

Now with Bodhi, two years her senior but asking the same questions she had wondered about so long ago, she was struck with the realization of just how much time had passed since she entered St. Helens Academy. How much she had grown.

“It can’t be impossible,” he said. “If Mr. Statusian can do a little bit of magic on his own. And maybe, if he had someone else he cared about who could also do a bit of magic on their own. Then together, they could turn a little bit into a lot. It’s just math, isn’t it?”

Beatrice was instantly reminded of Emi, at a very inopportune time. 

Gods, she missed her.

It had been long enough that she no longer thought it might be simply a sudden vacation, or punishment for staying out too late. It was either something serious, or Beatrice had greatly misinterpreted Emi’s feelings for her. As much as she hoped it wasn’t the former… It would make her a lot less upset than the latter.

And now, Bodhi basically bringing up the magic of love…

“Bodhi, the reason that it doesn’t work is…” Beatrice tried hard to figure out the right words to explain. “Magic doesn’t work without a lot of effort, not for any of us. Sometimes you might find someone where together you can make miracles, but that’s really rare. You have to be compatible and you have to be able to understand each other, and sometimes that just isn’t what some people want. And no matter how compatible you are, that doesn’t mean you can change things.”

“Are we talking about magic spells here, or…”

“Ah, never mind.”

Bodhi put aside his study materials and began eating his other salmon. “I gotta ask you something, though,” he said. “Why the priest stuff? Why do you care?”

Her answer was almost immediate. “Because I really appreciate the Gods and how they’ve helped out Tsubasa, and I want to devote my life to them.”

Bodhi scoffed. “You don’t care a thing about the Gods, Bea,” he said, his mouth full and voice muffled. He swallowed before he continued. “There’s got to be more to it than that.”

“I do too care about the Gods! Why would you even say that?”

“‘Cause in class you’re always talking about the rituals and spells and academic theory and whatnot. Like you’re a step beyond the class. You’re too smart to believe in the Gods.” He kept his smile, and paused for a moment before adding, “And even if you did, I never see you at church,” Bodhi said. “The priest at my church asked about you a few weeks ago.”

“Well, I just go to a different one,” Beatrice said. “My family visits the shrine to Bk’Man near my apartment. You know the one, right across from your store. We go every week.” Just because she didn’t attend church very often, it… It didn’t mean she didn’t have faith in the Gods. Just because she went to a shrine once a week, while her Dad went once a day, didn’t mean she was less of a follower.

He was incredulous. “Fair enough. I understand why you’d wanna be a priest. You get to travel the continent, seeing new places, helping other people, and making the world a better place. Plus, you get to learn magic, even if it’s about useless. I just don’t think the trade-off is so great. I want to have a family someday, myself.”

“I understand. It isn’t for everyone.”

“My pop would never forgive me if I ran off and joined the priesthood,” Bodhi said. “I got an apprenticeship coming up and then I’m gonna be running the whole place so he can retire. If I didn’t do that, nobody would be able to take over for him.”

It had been the only thing on Beatrice’s mind for most of her life, though, becoming a priest. Her parents had accepted by now that the Ragnell family was never going to carry on past their child, and their legacies would end with her death, however far in the future that may have been. She thought they had accepted it, at least. She never really asked what they thought about it.

Beatrice thought to her own Dad. He worked in the library, a publicly owned business that would be handed over to the other employees once he was gone. All of his expertise and knowledge would be passed down through his writing and his research.

But her Mom was a seamstress, a profession going as many generations back as the Ragnell Family line could carry. It was never a valuable line of work, but it had been the source of most of Beatrice’s clothing her entire life. And because she had never learned how to sew herself… it would disappear from the family line forever, whether or not Beatrice ever had any children.

“Not having a family will be really tough,” Beatrice said, finally. “I’m a little scared, but for now I’m not going to think about it. It’s not important yet.”

“Ha, just push it off ‘til the moment comes to decide. That’s so you. It’s why you’re so good at everything, Bea. You can just focus on what’s in front of you and pull it off.” He finished the last pieces of his salmon and set his utensils down.

“Th…thanks.” She paused for a moment. Focusing on what was in front of her… Huh. Something hit her. A restaurant worker came by to pick up their empty plates and clear off the table. “So, Bodhi, you would say it’s better to take advantage of the moment than to plan your life ahead of time?”

“Well, I’m saying you’re good at doing that. If you got the ability to do what you want, you should do it.”

“Well then…” Beatrice stood up from the table and pushed her chair in. “I’m sorry, but I need to go.”


“I have somewhere to be and I’m not letting it wait another moment.”

She exited the restaurant without another word, leaving behind a confused and probably disappointed boy. 

Waiting for Emi this long was enough. She was taking it into her own hands.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 19: The Last Day of My Adolescence

“Today’s the final day of classes,” Mr. Statusian announced to his students. The cheers were immense. “Settle down, settle down. This may be exciting news to those of you who are continuing their AA-grade studies in the spring, because you deserve a good break. But for those of you receiving your certificate next month, this is the end of your time at St. Helens Academy. Whether you try out for the priesthood, begin an apprenticeship, or simply move on with your life, I hope it’s been a fun journey, and one you can look back at with fond memories when you send your own kids here someday.”

There were murmurs throughout the classroom. A few sniffles.

Mr. Statusian continued. “However, you still have one task ahead of you– the Winter Ceremonies. We’ve been practicing this all autumn and now it’s time to choose which of you will perform the rituals to protect Knoll Park for the upcoming year.”

Mr. Statusian began listing off the students accepted to perform the ritual. And one thing Beatrice quickly noticed was that all the people listed were long-time students, the ones in the program for seven, eight, nine years, no matter their prestige or their grades. Even Bodhi got a spot, and his grades were… subpar.

Beatrice was ready for her name to be called, regardless.

Still very ready.

Yep, still waiting…

“And then last but not least, Beatrice Ragnell.” He paused for a moment. “If you’ve noticed, that’s every single one of you who has qualified for graduation. If you wish to join, there is a spot for each of you.”

“It’s not really a selection then, is it,” Beatrice whispered in earshot of Bodhi, who was sitting next to her as usual. But he had no snarky remark this time; he didn’t seem to have heard her in the first place. The smile he wore on his face was genuine. And it made Beatrice understand, if only just a little bit, what the point was for all this. One powerful parting memory with the academy so maybe you’d be more inclined to go to the church more often in the future.

She was so grumpy her name got called last, though. That had to have been intentional. 

Everyone was finally excited about something together, though. That was nice. After all this practicing and studying for something nobody would ever have used… It turned out that they were going to be utilizing their group magic after all, all together.

Beatrice wished she had been a better friend to her classmates. She had pushed them away in favor of learning more intensely, but in the end, they were all in this together, and she was going to have to work with them.

After class, Bodhi lingered longer than usual. Once Beatrice gathered her things and stood up, he spoke. “Hey, uh…” he said, but trailed off from there.

“Good luck on the ceremonies.” Beatrice smiled even through her mild annoyance.

“Yeah, I hope you’ll be there,” he said.

“Of course I will, silly.” 

“Well… Anyway, maybe you can help me practice a bit.”

“Of course. I’m sure you’re already great, though; you don’t need to worry.” He wasn’t all that great, but she was sure the practices he would be made to go through would be fairly rigorous.

Bodhi laughed. “No way.”

Mr. Statusian shouted, “Everyone has ten minutes to exit the building. My apologies.”

“Well, I’ll try and help you when I can. You know where to find me.”

“Thanks, Beatrice.”

Bodhi was nice. He was probably going to be a great shoe cobbler someday. She wondered if they’d be able to stay friends even after graduation, or if they had too little in common, in the end.

She wanted to help him, because he deserved it for being there for her even when other classmates were jerks. Or even when she was a jerk.

“Hey, Bodhi,” she said.


“You’re a good friend.”

If Emi wasn’t going to be around, Beatrice wasn’t going to let her mood sink. She had ambitions. She had friends. And now she had a new extracurricular activity to occupy her for the rest of the month. She had everything she needed here already. If she did see Emi again, then that would be great, but she wasn’t going to let herself get down. Beatrice had a ceremony to prepare for.

Suddenly she didn’t feel quite so bad anymore.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 11: With Your Classmates

“Groupwork… I hate groupwork…”

“What was that, Bea?” asked Bodhi.

She didn’t reply.

Beatrice and five other students sat in a circle trying to storm up ideas for a group project to be presented at the end of class. To be more accurate, though, it was less a group project and more a group debate right now.

Beatrice wasn’t the type to contribute much to a big conversation and was currently sitting there, muttering to herself, and jotting down anything interesting she heard from the others. But the others weren’t saying much either. Why was nobody ever interested in working together for group projects? Why did they always go so poorly?

 The topic was to argue anything from a headline in today’s Balarand Circle newspaper. There were literally a dozen options. But they hadn’t even picked anything out yet. And now they had twenty minutes left. This was communications class, far out of the realm of Beatrice’s interest or expertise, so there wasn’t much she could do.

The classroom, its students divided up into groups scattered around the place, had a special atmosphere reserved for the time of group projects, something nobody enjoys, and never will enjoy for the remaining history of mankind. The collective sense of frustration was so thick in the air that it was breathable. Or maybe that was sweat, because the fireplace was making this room quite warm.

“We gotta do the war story,” one of the girls said. “Dannark is gonna, like, use the new skirmish as an excuse to end the ceasefire with Doros. They’re gonna conscript all the Elincians so, uh, so they can kill all the young people and then there won’t be anyone else left to resist.”

“That’s a terrible topic,” Bodhi said. “How do you argue that?”

“Then do you got any ideas, shoe guy?”

“Obviously not.” Bodhi lowered his cap to cover most of his face, as if he were being cool or something.

Beatrice used to think this whole enthusiasm problem was endemic to religion classes– they were never going to use anything they learned in real life, so they never bothered to learn it in the first place. But communications classes were very important for adults trying to make themselves in the world, and still nobody really cared.

Only this time, Beatrice wasn’t exactly impervious to the criticisms she was mentally lobbing to her classmates.

She found her attention wandering even as her classmates spoke. Why were newspapers printed on such uninviting, rough paper, when they were read by literally tens of thousands every day? That question felt more interesting to her than anything they were currently doing, and she wasn’t even sure why.

“Well, we can talk about how they’re putting more guards at all the Nexurk shrines because of those protestors last week,” Bodhi said. “I think that’s a better topic.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?” the girl from before asked. 

Beatrice butted in finally, saying, “Maybe it would be a better debate if we chose a different topic than every other group in the class.”

“Like what, Bea?” the girl asked.

“Maybe, uh, something about Reo L’Hime’s floating bridge test?”

They looked at her like she was crazy. 

“Isn’t it kind of interesting?”

She faced the daggers of ten pairs of extremely unenthused eyes and felt herself shrink away.

“Whatever, it’s not like I’ll be doing this much longer,” said Bodhi in an admission of defeat. “My pop’s gonna train me the moment I get the certificate.”

“That’s pretty cool,” said one of the students. “You gonna give us free shoes?”

“Yeah, if you give me all the materials and then pay me to make it.”

The conversation then became about Bodhi’s shoe cobbling and the various designs he had been tinkering with in his filled-up sketchbook.

Honestly, it was incredibly annoying that she was going to fail this assignment because she couldn’t bring her classmates to pretend to care about this subject even a little bit. They weren’t going to figure out a topic to argue, and Beatrice wasn’t going to put in the effort to try and lead the group herself. Her frown deepened, and Bodhi seemed to notice that.

“Bea, don’t worry about it,” he told her. “You’ve got the best grades in the junior priest class like, ever. They aren’t gonna hold it against Ms. Ragnell if her slacker classmates do bad on one project.”

“My name isn’t Bea,” she grumbled. “It’s not my grades, though.” She felt really sad all of a sudden. “I guess I was really hoping once I reached AA-grade there’d be more people who… I don’t know. I like being a junior priest.”

“It’s pretty fun,” the girl said. “I like the Winter Ceremonies stuff we’re doing. This here is a load of Mammoth crap though.”

“I’d be a priest if it didn’t mean I have to become some celibate traveler the rest of my life,” another classmate added. There were murmurs of agreement. 

“Well, I don’t exactly…” Beatrice cut herself off. She had that conversation with herself too often. The celibacy requirement was no small deal, that was for sure.

“Yeah, it’s a bit of a jump to make it into the priesthood,” Bodhi said. “I’m glad you like it so much, but none of us really want to do that with the rest of our lives. But we know how much it means to you to do well, so… maybe we should try something for this project. For you.”

“It’s okay,” Beatrice told him. “You don’t have to do anything for me.”

It was a bit of a self-pitying comment, but they took that as a resignation to abandon the group work assignment. They ended up picking the Doros-Dannark skirmish after all… just like every other group in the class. 

Oh well. It wasn’t long before the Priesthood Exams and then everything would change.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 5: The Junior Priest Academy

“Beatrice, are you awake yet?” a voice called out from the other room.

“Uhh….. yeah….”

Beatrice shook her head back and forth to wake herself up. After her vision cleared up enough that she could make them out, she put her glasses on and tumbled out of bed.

She had a very peculiar dream last night. Something about… that girl from the marketplace. The two of them danced and laughed in a field of flowers, when a sparkling crimson gem fastened to a golden stand fell from the sky. The gem plopped down in front of them and shook the ground. It was the Jewel of Elince, the most prized possession in the kingdom. The two of them stopped for a moment to gaze at it, until it sprouted arms, legs, and a hat. And then it started dancing, too. That was when she finally woke up.

It had been almost a week since she saw that girl. Why was her mind still bringing her into these silly dreams?

After getting dressed in her uniform, a simple white-and-green buttoned shirt with a long skirt, Beatrice met her Dad at the front door and put her hands on her hips. “Three minutes and ten seconds,” she declared.

“You live dangerously, girl,” he told her. “Next time I’ll just leave without you. Unlike you, I have a job to go to.” He pointed to the kitchen counter, which had a few pastries on it. “Now grab some breakfast and let’s go.”

Beatrice wasn’t as much of a morning person as she liked to pretend. 

Still, today she and her Dad were going to have a lot of fun doing their most cherished activity– strolling to work and to school together. The two of them had walked together nearly every morning since Beatrice started classes as a junior priest. Her Mom went together sometimes, but she usually took the time for an extra hour of sleep.

Their apartment was near Knoll Park, a giant square of greenery in the middle of the expanse of buildings that made up most of Balarand. Knoll Park bordered the famous Lake Geoffrey, which was fed into by the Balarand River on which the city was built. But because the river was just so big, it flowed around the city to its east and west. Balarand was surrounded on all four sides by water, making it effectively a large island.

 Normally, an apartment this deep into the city would be very expensive, but theirs just happened to be wedged in between several larger buildings that obstructed the view of the rest of the city. It was affordable enough for how much Dad made.

They walked past the Wyvern Bridge and into downtown Balarand, where Dad’s workplace and Beatrice’s school were both located. Tons of shops, of course, meant that downtown Balarand was always busy even this early in the morning. People praying at the shrine to Dramaturge, people picking out quick breakfasts, and the early morning marketplaces selling produce. The pungent smell of fruits and vegetables, spices and meats, filled the air, and Beatrice’s nose, even from this distance away.

And of course, amidst all the everyday ruckus of a city morning, there was also an anti-Dannark protest at the foot of the newly-erected statue to Empress Nievol.

“They never stop, do they?” Beatrice asked.

“It’s their right,” Dad said. They stopped talking about it after that.

The two of them walked until they reached their spot, the tree in front of the intersection between Palace Path and the Grand Concourse, and bid their farewells. A few carriages passed underway as they hugged.

“I’ll see you after school, honey,” Dad said.

“Have a good day,” Beatrice said.

They parted ways and she walked another block further until she reached the St. Helens Academy. Being the smallest of the five junior priest academies in Balarand, it was far from the most prestigious in the kingdom, or even the city, but with tiny class sizes–hers numbered just forty–it had a personal touch few others could match.

Beatrice entered the school and walked through the corridor towards her first class–religious studies. The hallways were plain and brown, no stained glass windows, nor murals hanging up, nor trophies being shown off. The interiors in St. Helens were so simple they came off uninviting. But looking fancy served little purpose, Beatrice always thought; it was the classes that mattered.

She walked into the main lecture hall, where her friend and senior by two years Bodhi Makala sat at a desk. Despite his dark skin and smooth handsomeness, he wasn’t some rich aristocrat from the mansions on Lake Geoffrey; he was just a local kid. His father was a shoe cobbler near Beatrice’s apartment, and so the two had known each other for a long time before their junior priest days.

“Are you ready for another fun day at school?” he asked with feigned enthusiasm. 

All Beatrice could muster was a hearty “Hmph.”

Bodhi’s bright blue eyes, so light they were nearly turquoise, glittered at her with a captivating charm. She wasn’t sure if he knew just how pretty of a man he was, because he made no attempt to dress well or show off, usually wearing a cap on his head. But surely he knew about the eyes. There was no way he didn’t.

More students filed in, the ones Beatrice never had the courage to speak to because they were so much taller, so much older. Despite their general lack of interest, they carried themselves like veterans of the school in a way Beatrice couldn’t bring herself to understand. They were a bit intimidating. Not in the same way, as, say, a Dannark soldier, but she did have trouble fitting in with her classmates.

Oh, right, I forgot to mention: most junior priests take eight or nine years to pass all the required classes and finish their schooling. Some here were well into adulthood, though it was a rarer sight back then than it is today. Because of this, Beatrice was the youngest in her entire class, since she was someone who had reached the final AA-grade in just a few years. That sometimes made her stick out.

Beatrice didn’t consider herself a particularly good student. She just liked to do well. Even if everyone else disliked religion classes, even if she seemed to be the only one who ever cared, she wanted to excel. Otherwise, what was the point in even attending the junior priest academy?

Bodhi turned to her and snickered, “Look, Bea, your boyfriend is walking in.”

Mr. Statusian entered the classroom carrying a large scroll underneath his arm. Clean-shaven every time she saw him, baby-faced cheeks and skinny, he fit every stereotype of a religious scholar, except that he carried himself with the confidence of a body-building soldier. He was the youngest priest in Balarand and the top teacher at St. Helens.

“You’re really rude,” Beatrice told Bodhi. “And don’t call me Bea.”

Why were they friends again?

Sure, Mr. Statusian treated Beatrice better than most of the other students. But she also had the highest grades in the class, so it was completely fair.

The teacher set the scroll on the podium and unfolded it, revealing a series of intricate graphs and diagrams written in some foreign script. Beatrice didn’t recognize any of the letters.

Without even attempting to get the class’s attention, he barrelled into his lesson, saying, “So all of you can feel that autumn is here in full force. But do you know what that means? It means the Winter Ceremonies are coming up soon. And since you are AA-grade students, you’re going to be taking part.”

The chatter in the room hushed. Other than some coughing, it was dead silence. 

He continued. “However, what exactly are the Winter Ceremonies? I know all of you have gone out to watch the parades and visit your local shrines, but what do the junior priests do to help, and more importantly, why? What exactly is this scroll I have hanging up here? Mr. Makala, what do you think?”

Bodhi was caught completely off-guard and froze as soon as the dozens of eyes turned towards him. “Uhh…”

Mr. Statusian didn’t let his pause interrupt the flow of the lecture. “Nevermind. How about you, Mr. Naesala?” He pointed to a student a few rows behind Beatrice and Bodhi.

“They do all the… magic stuff that nobody else can, or something,” the young man answered, his voice quivering as he tried to think of what to say.

“That’s vague enough I can’t give you a yes on that. Anybody?” Mr. Statusian looked Beatrice’s way as he waited for someone to answer, but she wasn’t going to say anything. She hated speaking in class, especially when it would continue to earn her a reputation as the class suck-up if she did.

With nobody volunteering their voice for an answer, he sighed and waved his own hand as to gesture off the pressure everyone was currently feeling. “It seems was too caught up in the festivities to notice what your seniors did to honor Bk’Man.” The class elicited a few nervous chuckles. “Well… let’s start from the beginning. Yes, get out your notebooks. Come on, class time is valuable.”

He barely waited ten seconds before beginning his lecture: “So, as is the traditional story of our people, eons ago the Great Mammoths descended onto the continent of Tsubasa. Wherever their trunks moved to, life was breathed into being. Animals grazed on the grass they created, and other lifeforms sprung up from the dirt. All the trees, the flowers, the small animals came forth and populated the lands. But come wintertime, they were wiped out by the cold.”

Some of Beatrice’s classmates were groaning. This was probably the fourth time the creation story had been told in a lecture in as many months.

“The same thing happened every year. The Mammoths would create life, and the snow would destroy it. The Gods were displeased with the constant cycle of death and resurrection, finding it too taxing to deal with. So they assigned Bk’Man to oversee and keep life on Tsubasa stable and harmonious. And as He dealt with the seasons, so too did the Goddess Phyra deal with creating caretakers to bring Tsubasa into prominence, and Nexurk in imbuing power into its essence.

“What arose was humanity, the Mammoths’ servants who were tasked with bringing about harmony to the continent. Of course, humanity also brought war and disease and all our assorted struggles, but most importantly it brought civilization. So we celebrate what Bk’Man does for the passing of the seasons and keeping everyone safe through the weather by contributing ourselves to His honor. 

“Every living being has a soul with innate magical energy within, but humans have more than most, with some of our kind being strong enough to actually manipulate the magic around them–” Mr. Statusian clasped his hands together and stared down at the pieces of paper at his desk. They began to float! A few students clapped, though it lasted only for a brief moment before they fell back down.

“Of course, none of us alone are able to accomplish anything more significant than parlor tricks, but when we band together– just like forming a civilization– we can utilize the Church’s ancient rituals and harness the innate energy within us to perform magical ceremonies such as the one we will be discussing today.”

Mr. Statusian pointed to the scroll behind him. “This is the Winter Ceremonies document. We follow this guideline every single year to make sure that Bk’Man receive the thanks He deserves. And while the priests of Balarand are the ones who perform the most difficult rituals, the junior priests from the five academies put blessings and safeguards over key points across the city. And that will be the primary study subject for the rest of our class.”

The class chattered. Some of it was mumbling excitement, some of it was grumbles.

Bodhi turned to Beatrice and muttered, “Safeguards for the city? How come they didn’t safeguard us against Dannark, then?”

Beatrice shrugged. The Gods didn’t care about politics, was her only guess.

“I’ll give you more details in our next lectures, but for now just know that St. Helens Academy is responsible for Knoll Park,” Mr. Statusian said. “It is our school that rejuvenates the park every spring, and so it is of vital importance that we study the rituals closely. It may not be the most exciting topic, but…”

And that’s where most students’ attentions were lost. He continued to explain the Winter Ceremonies, but it was a bit too complex, even for Beatrice. This section would take months to get through, she could already tell.

After class ended, Beatrice exited the lecture hall with the others and saw a group of girls. “Hey, Beatrice, are you busy today?” one of them asked as she walked by. “We thought maybe you’d like to come along to Foron’s and grab a sandwich.”

Beatrice gave a small smile. “Sorry, I have some work to do today,” she said.

It wasn’t EXACTLY a lie… 

Though… she always felt uncomfortable having fun with the rest of her classmates. These were the people that blew off her favorite class and made fun of the fact she cared about studying. It would be weird to go out with them and switch gears all of a sudden, so she always had an excuse ready to get out of it.

Instead of spending time with classmates, Beatrice went to her Dad’s workplace to do some reading before his shift was over. Luckily, he worked at the library, so there was always something to look at. The collection stretched on for more books than any human could possibly read in a lifetime, and new ones came in every week. It was like paradise for someone like her.

She dropped her school bag on one of the open desks and then walked up to the service desk. That’s where her Dad usually was, when he wasn’t organizing and shelving.

“What’d you learn in school today?” Dad asked.

“Dad, did you know that the AA-grade students were involved in the Winter Ceremonies? I had no idea until today. I feel really stupid.”

Her Dad chuckled. “I think they don’t like to advertise too much it because students might drop out when they find out.”

“I don’t like having things sprung on me…”

“I know, dear. But I also know you know you’ll study everything there is to know about every magic ceremony on the continent by year’s end,” he said. “And since Mr. Statusian warned me ahead of time, I have a stack of books for your reading pleasure just ready to go.”

Her Dad gave her six books, some of them very thick. She smiled and accepted them, before hobbling back over to her desk and set them all down. Time to study.

 Or at least, that’s what Beatrice thought at the time. Because only minutes into opening the first book, she saw a figure with long, straight hair standing by the service desk. And that someone stood apart from everything else around her.

The girl from the marketplace. 

And her dark, soil-brown eyes.

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