Chapter 62: All Her Will

Ulric Statusian faced Emi and stared her down. This was Beatrice’s former teacher, somehow now a leader of the rebellion. Behind him stood a number of rebels. The carried large spears and axes pilfered from the bodies of the Dannark soldiers they had slewn moments ago. And now this ragtag group of Emi and her friends and family had their only path out of this carnage blocked.

Emi had never talked to Ulric Statusian in her life, but from the moment he looked at her, she knew his feelings toward her. His scornful gaze told her everything she needed to know about how he would prefer the L’Hime Family end up.

Then, he stared at Emi; just her, nobody else. She stared back. She held a tight grip on the lance in her hands.

They kept at this for some time before either acted.

Ulric Statusian pointed his fingers at her and one of the soldiers shot an arrow–

–which Emi knocked away with a slash of her lance.

She had no idea how she did that.

Immediately, Tia and Emi’s Father leapt into the fray and blocked Ulric’s path to attack her again. Another arrow launched, and it whizzed past Tia so close it knocked the wig off his head.

“Wait, Mr. Statusian!” Beatrice shouted. She stepped in front of Tia and Emi’s Father. “Stop all this fighting!”

What in the Goddess’s name was that girl doing?! Emi ran in front of her protectors and joined Beatrice by her side. She raised her lance and pointed it at the rebels. Nobody would be falling for her sake, no matter what.

“What are you even doing here, Beatrice?” Ulric asked, his voice cracking and eyes quavering. “Of all people, I would never have expected you… Beatrice.”

“You shouldn’t be killing people!” Beatrice shouted.

“And you shouldn’t be protecting the very people that allowed Dannark to capture and arrest our own King.” His expression hardened and his composure returned. The L’Hime Family is the epitome of scum. It looks like you might be, too. You could have been special, Beatrice. You could have brought peace and harmony to the continent.”

“And I will.”

Ulric and some of the rebel soldiers took a few steps closer to them. “You’re a delusional love-obsessed fool. I was so, so wrong about you.”

“Shut up,” said Emi. “Talk to my girlfriend that way again and I’ll kill you.” She jabbed with the lance and forced the rebels to back up a step. “Tia, get everyone else to run to the safe house. We’ll catch up.” 

“Are you quite serious…?”

“Yes! Do it!” 

Tia complied, ushering everyone to flee with him leading the way. Only Father and Runa stayed behind.

Emi stepped forward and attacked, jabbing her lance at the rebels. They easily dodged, but one lost his balance and had to step backwards to catch himself. One advanced too close to her, so she kicked him in the stomach, pushing him on his back.

Ulric bashed his sword against Emi’s lance, but she pushed him away. She flipped around to make sure she was in front of Beatrice, who had nothing but a rusty rake to defend herself with. 

Never in her life had she dreamed she would be in a situation like this, but somehow, something inside of her had activated. She understood the world around her, and saw the battlefield for what it truly was–a series of gears and cogs, springs and levers, that together worked to create the ultimate peril. All Emi had to do was break the machine holding them back.

She struck at Ulric and hit his chest. He reeled backwards on instinct, but the lance cracked and his armor remained unpierced. Once he realized he was safe, a snarl grew on his face and he attacked with a fierce blow. 

Emi ducked to dodge, but, unfortunately, she was still a young woman who was decidedly out of shape. She couldn’t get out of the way in time, and Ulric’s sword bashed into her lance with overwhelming strength.

The lance snapped in two and flew out of her hands. She was defenseless once again. The others had long since escaped, but Emi, Beatrice, Runa, and Father were still there, now completely encircled by rebel soldiers. Dannark soldiers were also fast approaching from a few blocks away, the thuds of their marching boots growing louder by the second.

Emi’s Father held some rebels back with defensive moves, but it wouldn’t hold for more than a few more seconds. Runa was here, but instead of helping she was watching her homunculus off fighting on the other side of the plaza.

Their fight was over. But at least the rest of her family and friends were safe.

“All you’ve accomplished with your life, young L’Hime, is leading my brightest pupil astray,” Ulric said. “You’ve committed a greater sin against the Gods than any of your traitorous family, because you defied their very Will.” He grinned, revealing a missing front tooth. “When Balarand is free, no-one will remember the Ragnells ever existed.”

Beatrice started to advance as if she were going to attack with her rake, but Emi held her back. He said they had defied Will of the Gods, eh? Emi didn’t buy that for one second. The Gods were with her on this one.

Emi grabbed Beatrice’s hand and held it tight. “I will always love you,” she said. “That will never change.”

Beatrice nodded and tossed her rake to the side. “Me too. No matter what the world brings us.”

“Forever and ever.”

The rebels advanced from all corners. Ulric raised his sword high up in the air.

But, somehow, Emi felt at ease.

No, she hadn’t accepted her fate. In fact, fate was never a question in the first place. Because fate was just some bogus idea thought up by people too uncreative to build their own destiny. Fate was for people who had no magic in their lives.

Magic was a peculiar thing, Emi thought. It resided within the souls of every being, and yet it was nearly inaccessible, nearly impossible to understand. It was a lot like love. Sometimes, people might find someone where together, they can make miracles happen, and they can change the world with just their hands held in the melted snow, but it’s really rare. Too rare to even mention.

But when love was truly there, when Emi felt Beatrice beside her, all of those mysteries and qualms and caveats and drawbacks vanished. 

All her life, she had told herself she wasn’t good enough and she needed to change who she was to succeed. But right here, right now, at this exact second, Emi L’Hime realized all of that was a blatant lie. Magic was real and she was actually a great person all along.

Emi raised her free hand into the air, concentrated with all her will–all her love.

And then from that hand came a ball of light that exploded–literally exploded–

Every soldier, every rebel, every person in the vicinity except the four in the center of the blast, was knocked to the ground. Every single person, including those four, were blinded by a shining brightness.

The entire scene went white.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 61: Escape the Castle

“How are we going to get out of here?” Emi’s Father asked. He looked at Beatrice like she was a leader, like she was anything but a scared girl who rode in on a giant magical monster and closed her eyes so she wouldn’t see people being killed.

Beatrice, for what it was worth, kept her emotions under check. She was meeting Emi’s parents here, after all. It was the first time she had ever seen them outside of the portrait paintings that hung on the walls of their home. Both were skinny and static, the only two of the dozens who didn’t seem completely overwhelmed by the situation. They didn’t see Beatrice as anyone but a hero they could rely on.

Way, way too much pressure. So all Beatrice said was, “Just follow close behind. We’ll find a way out.”

It was a bit of a motley crew, a kind of pseudo-army that only emerged in the most extraordinary of circumstances. In the front of the group were Beatrice, and an Emi who refused to tread more than a couple feet away from her. There was Runa and her monstrous homunculus, as well as Tia and another tall, muscular young man who looked to be his boyfriend. There were Emi’s parents, as well as her older brother (but not the famous one), and a couple of her housekeepers. 

There was also a growing crowd of defenseless civilians following them like greyback bear cubs without their mothers. Practically every door they passed had more prisoners, and more people to free.

In front of one heavily locked door, two Dannark guards laid on the ground, either knocked out or deceased–Beatrice was too terrified to inspect closely–and one bloodied, bruised rebel stood, propped on her lance and barely conscious even as she watched the group approach. She was younger, unlike most of the soldiers, but it was clear she had no fighting spirit left inside her.

She didn’t make an effort to stop them. She only said, “You won’t… get away with this. Dannark will never win.”

Beatrice reached in her pocket and handed her a handkerchief. “Go home before something bad happens to you,” she told her. The woman accepted the handkerchief, but she didn’t move, and she didn’t reply.

Emi’s Mother, now armed with a pike herself, examined the door and shook her head. “It will take far too much time to break down these barriers. We must move on.”

“We have to get in somehow,” Beatirce said. “If the fighting in the castle spreads, the people in there could be in serious trouble.”

As they spoke, Emi stood in front of the door and raised her arm into the air. 


The door barricades ripped apart, and the entire door ripped off the frame and collapsed on the ground to reveal a large conference room filled with a great many prisoners.

The homunculus made a confused groan. Emi’s Mother and Father exchanged glances.

And Beatrice stared at her…

Unable to…

…What? “What?” Beatrice blinked a few times to try and process what just happened. “Emi… Huh?”

“Um, I don’t know, but I don’t really care,” she replied. “Whatever it is, it matters a lot less than us saving all these people who are following us now.

Emi seemed extremely unconcerned with the fact she just used magic to rip a door off its hinges. And now Beatrice was more confused than she had ever been in her life to this point.

Ms. Khami laid a hand on Beatrice’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about Emi,” she told her.

She was extremely worried, but she decided to hold that in for the time being.

“So, yeah, we got way too many people with us,” Pip said. “The moment we leave the castle, a bunch soldiers are gonna attack us, right?”

“Precisely correct,” said Tia.

“Then, uh, what are we doing? Do we got a plan?”

“We have a plan,” Beatrice lied.

“I have a plan,” Emi said. “First, tell me, Tris and Runa, how is the situation outside? Is the fighting contained to central Balarand?”

“Um, I think so,” Beatrice said. “There was nothing going on near the port when we were there. No fires or anything.”

“I know a safe house we can take refuge in around there,” Tia said. “But it is somewhat far away. Depending on the circumstances outside…”

“We can’t fit this many people in a safe house,” Beatrice said.

“We’ll have to help them a different way,” Emi said. “Back during the Gang of Eight Campaigns, Ulric Fathie and the Teal One were involved in many skirmishes where the Teal One would capture a fort, lead enemy troops in, and then abandon the whole thing once they picked off enough soldiers in the siege. They evacuated most of the troops by faking a frontal assault with only a very minor force that bided time for everyone else.”

“And we’ll… do that here?”

Emi nodded. “That’s our only chance to make sure all these people can escape. If we’re lucky, we can too.”

“Wait, WE’RE going to be the ‘very minor force?!’” Touma shouted. 

“Keep it down,” Emi said. “And yes, we are. You included. You’re a young man who studied and trained at Yates. Most of these people are middle aged bureaucrats who haven’t run a day in their lives. You’ve got to buck up and help us save these people’s lives.”

Touma rubbed the back of his neck. “When’d my sister get so cool all of a sudden?”

“Shut up and let’s plan this thing.”

Beatrice absolutely adored this woman.

In the next few minutes, they forged their plot. They split these helpless civilians into four groups who would flee the castle in four different directions. One tiny advance force, consisting of Emi’s family and friends, along with Runa and the homunculus beast, would crash through the front gates and attract as much attention as they could on their way to Tia’s safe house. Everyone had weapons they took from defeated soldiers they came across in the castle, though nobody but Tia and Emi’s Father actually knew how to wield any of them.

Hopefully nobody would die. And, in a major plus, Runa’s homunculus would definitely be the biggest distraction this side of an avalanche.

“And that’s the plan,” Emi said. “If you can’t fight, you should join one of the other groups and meet up with us later.”

Beatrice glance to Ms. Khami, who seemed to be nursing her arm and had no business on a potential battlefield. But she shook her head to dismiss such a glance. “I must say, Ms. Ragnell, you seem to think I can’t take care of a bunch of hooligans with farm tools.”

Emi’s Mother patted her on the shoulder and smiled. “We’ll be perfectly safe, um–”


“Yes, Beatrice. We are the L’Hime Family. Sis and I were schooled by Freda Hollow herself, the captain of the Elincian Royal Guard for thirty-eight years. Don’t underestimate experience.” Beatrice had no idea who that was, so her gloating went over her head.

Emi’s Father nodded. “We’re all ready.”

There was so much Beatrice didn’t know about Emi’s family, and this certainly wasn’t the time to be inquiring deeply about any of it. So she decided to trust them fully. No reservations now.

“Then let us enact our great plan,” said Tia. He held up his sharpened stick and charged without another second’s hesitation.

The rest followed. The entire group, all eleven of them, ran through the hallways and into the grand entrance, where most of the fighting had stopped. Judging by the bodies on the floor, which Beatrice tried hard not to look too much at, the rebels were not fighting a winning battle, because their bodies outnumbered Dannark’s five to one.

The homunculus roared and smacked a Dannark soldier who charged at them, ending the only serious threat they faced in the entire castle. So far, it had gone smoothly.

Then, the group exited the front door and emerged out from Castle Balarand. Immediately, they were greeted with the sight of bright red flames smoldering all over the city. At this point, there was no snow in sight; the heat of the fires, the dark ash in the sky had melted every last bit. Winter had come to a sudden and very violent end.

Right at the city center, there was a great battle ongoing, with soldiers from Dannark fighting with the rebels in a disorganized chaos. Arrows flew through the skies with every passing moment.

Dead men and women lined the streets, the vast majority of them wearing rags and simple clothing. Here, too, the Dannark soldiers that had fallen were very few compared to the untrained rebels. And, as the fighting continued, that difference would grow even more stark.

The screaming from afar wouldn’t leave Beatrice’s ears. She couldn’t tune it out.

Balarand had been reduced to a warzone. Destruction on a level that brought most of the group to tears. This was exactly what Elince tried to protect when it peacefully surrendered to Dannark. The entire reason for the occupation was to help prevent Dannark from invading and destroying the great city of Balarand.

And now…

Beatrice looked back to the castle behind them. Smoke rose out of the windows on an upper floor. Even this place was too dangerous to stay in, and it was supposed to be the safest fortress in the kingdom.

“I hate this,” Beatrice muttered. She didn’t want to look at any of this. But she couldn’t stop staring. “This is all so horrible…”

Emi shook her head. “We’ll make it through this. We have to keep going.” She looked around at the ground and saw a fallen rebel soldier with a lance near his side. So she held out her hand, and like a stick on a rope the lance flew into her hand. Beatrice did a double take. Emi gripped the lance with both hands and rest its sharp end on the ground.

Tia kept his eyes fixed forward. “Our distraction may not be necessary. The rebels are already breaking apart. We have an opportunity escape before the real battle begins.”

“The… real battle?” Beatrice asked.

“Dannark’s frontline soldiers must be almost here already,” Emi said with a gasp. “They sent word that quickly…”

“Indeed,” Tia said. “Nevertheless, we must charge forward if we are to reach the safe house without injury.”

“Let’s go!” Pip shouted.

A number of Dannark soldiers approached the group, weapons drawn and drawing closer. They separated into multiple flanks in an attempt to encircle the group.

Emi’s Father, sword in hand, rushed in front of the group, holding his hands up. “Stop! We are not rebels. We are civilians and part of the occupation government. Please… stop.”

The soldiers continued to advance, saying nothing. It seemed they were no longer accepting surrender as an option. And unlike the rebel soldiers they faced in the castle, these were professional fighters who wouldn’t fall to simple maneuvers.

“What do we do? Father, what do we do?” Touma asked. He held a sword in his hands, but he shook so much that he rendered himself effectively useless.

“We will defend ourselves. Stand back and protect Ms. Khami and your sister.” Her Father spread his legs out into a fencing stance. 

“Don’t worry about me,” Emi said.

Beatrice looked at Runa, waiting for her to react. She had been oddly calm, oddly quiet ever since she retrieved her precious plans from the castle evidence room. Runa noticed her gaze, then looked back at Hasha and asked, “Honey, are you willing to fix this for us?”

The beast grunted.

“Then charge ahead and break their formation!”

The beast grunted again, but did not move.

“Is it going to hurry?” Beatrice asked.

“Hasha does what Hasha wants,” she said. “We must hope my baby does what is in our best interest. Hasha, move!”

Hasha, it seemed, misunderstood the directions and ran off towards some other part of the skirmish, attacking other soldiers and knocking them down.

Beatrice sighed, then wondered if this would be the last time she ever sighed.

There was no need for its help, though. A dozen rebel soldiers stormed the area and caught the Dannark soldiers by surprise, knocking them over and driving their weapons into them. It was a quick rout and the scene was clear in two minutes or less.

“You must come with us,” one of the rebels said. “We’re regrouping back at the castle for a final–”

“Wait,” another said. It was– Ulric Statusian, a gash across his left cheek and spatters of blood dotted across his armor. “These aren’t allies. These are escaped prisoners.”

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 57: On Fire

Beatrice and Runa stepped outside to see what all the commotion was. There was a fire emerging in the direction of Castle Balarand, pillowing smoke rising into the air. What could it be? Beatrice quickly ruled out that Runa was enacting any of her schemes since she too seemed surprised. It must have been an accident, like a gunpowder spill or a kitchen fire raging out of control.

The fire was in the direction of Emi’s house…

Emi was probably okay. She may not have even been home, being the rich and famous elite she was. Likely she was out at some mansion by Lake Geoffrey, riding animals and drinking fruit juice and doing whatever rich people did in their free time.

…Beatrice felt like walking towards her house regardless, just to make sure it wasn’t affected by the fire. Despite the fervor on the streets with the protests, it seemed the most sensible thing to do. “Come on,” she told Runa. “We’re taking a walk.”

“But my mother told me not to leave your house or she’d shut down my laboratory for a month.”

“We’ll be back before she comes to pick you up,” Beatrice said. Runa’s mom was supposed to come by in fifteen minutes, so that was unlikely. But it was probably better anyway if she was able to impede Runa’s quest for world domination, even if only for a month. With whatever was going on, it was also possible that Ms. Arakawa was not going to be able to pick her daughter up soon after all. She had a bad feeling about that fire.

The mostly melted snow still laid on the ground, off to the side or on top of roofs. It was still too cold to go outside without a scarf and gloves. But the growing fires in the distance looked to change that. Beatrice couldn’t tell if it was just her mind playing tricks, or if there really was a growing warmth around the area.

They walked towards the city center and Beatrice quickly noticed an eerie calm had set over the streets. People were not emerging from their homes and the growing fire was seemingly being ignored. She noticed why as she grew closer and heard the banging of boots against the ground.

A group of two or three dozen soldiers, not in any consistent uniform and certainly not belonging to Dannark, marched down the Grand Concourse. In a cart that rolled behind them there was a cage full of prisoners.

The realization hit Beatrice like a brick against her skull.

This was a full-on uprising.

She and Runa rushed to the city center with all their speed; she didn’t take the time to explain the situation to Runa, because it was unlikely she would be able to understand the dynamics of the situation quickly enough, but she knew she needed to find her and make sure she was safe immediately.

The large fire was actually a controlled bonfire in front of the steps to the castle. There were a growing number of people gathering in a crowd around it, and many of these same men and women in ragged outfits were standing at the crowd’s center.

One man that Beatrice immediately recognized was Mr. Ulric Statusian. 

This… couldn’t be happening.

Why was he…

How could he be…

Beatrice lost all ability for reason and rationality.

Ulric Statusian stood atop a box and shouted at the crowd, brandishing a sword up in the air. “We have had enough of the tyrannical rule of the Dannark Empire!” he shouted. “Just this week, Dannark demanded King Kline must be turned over, or else they will invade Fathie by land and sea. Will we stand for our ruler being treated like a common criminal?”

“No!” the crowd chanted back.

“We, the common folk of Balarand, will take back Elince for ourselves and destroy any traitor to the crown who stands in our way. We will save King Kline, and we will save our kingdom!

“There are people all over the city just like us who have joined the cause to protect Balarand. Look what we have captured–” He hoisted up a sparkling object instantly familiar to any citizen in the city–”The Jewel of Elince is ours. With this, our enemies are hopeless. We will triumph.”

The crowd went wild.

“Take up arms and join us!”

The men and women in uniforms began handing out weapons–everything from pikes and axes to sharpened gardening tools–to those in the crowd. They weren’t trained soldiers, but they were enraged and riled up, and things were sure to turn violent any moment now.

She noticed the cage of prisoners, now wheeled up next to the bonfire for display purposes. Judging by their clothing, those people consisted of the same types of folk that went to Mammoth Pass with her last month, still dressed in whatever fancy cloaks or nightgowns they wore before they were seized.

Ulric Statusian shouted, “These men and women have collaborated with Dannark to keep the power structure stable. These men and women compromised the integrity of our kingdom so they could keep their wealth, and we will not allow them to get away with their robbery. These men and women will stand trial for their crimes. If you find a traitor, take them prisoner and bring them to us!”

Beatrice gasped.

Emi… Her entire family… She begged her mind not to think about that right now. 

Runa, who had been taking all this with an unusual sternness, said only, “This will negatively impact my plans for the Grand Experiment. We must find a way to stop this.”

“What can we possibly do?” Beatrice balked.

“We… Hmm, no. Not that either. We… Aha. We’re going to perfect my experiment and unleash it upon all who dare stand up to me!” With that, Runa took off in a sprint northwards. Ahhhhh…. No, no, not during the middle of an armed insurrection… This girl…! 

Beatrice knew she needed to stop Runa before she got hurt. But just as she began to take her first step, her eyes met with Ulric Statusian’s. He smiled and his face brightened. He began walking through the crowd towards her. She took off in a sprint.

She didn’t want to be involved in any of this. And she didn’t want anything bad to happen to Runa. So all she could do was run. 

“Wait up!” Beatrice shouted. Runa was fast, though. Way too fast. And Beatrice hadn’t done much physical activity since she got back from Mammoth Pass…

Still, the drive to not be captured by the rebels and to not let Runa do anything foolish kept her going, huffing and puffing all the way. In the middle of absolute chaos on the streets, and this girl was running? Why?

She must have run for twenty minutes before her strength finally gave out and she was forced to walk the rest of the way.

When she finally reached Runa’s house, her ultimate destination, she realized the entire neighborhood was deserted. No shops open, no kids playing on the street. If anyone knew about the rebellion, they were either hiding in their homes, fleeing the city, or joining in with the fight.

Balarand really was about to change forever, wasn’t it?

Beatrice entered the Arakawa home and went into the basement.

Runa was already back in her laboratory, yelling curses at the people who inspected it earlier in the day. “They stole my schematics!” she yelled. “How will I replicate my experiments now? This is a disaster, Beatrice. A complete disaster, I say.”

“Replicate what experiment? What are you talking about, Runa? Why in blazes are we back at your–”

Runa held up a finger to her mouth. “Shush.”

Beatrice was so flabbergasted by this command that she obeyed it. 

Runa rummaged through a stack of books and revealed a stone protruding out of the wall. She pressed it inwards and another wall to the laboratory spun around, revealing–

“Oh my Gods,” Beatrice said.

“You’re safe. I am so pleased,” Runa said with a grin.

It was a monster.

A repulsive, nearly naked monster.

It was a large humanoid creature, breathing in and out quietly as it slept chained up to the wall. Its eyes bulging out of its eye sockets, its skin pale, its hands gigantic.

“I have made the world’s first homunculus,” Runa said. “I used naught but two bunnies and the hair of that beautiful companion of yours. But I must make more if I am to be successful. I must get those schematics back. Help me, Beatrice. You are my greatest hope. Rather, the most convenient hope.”

Beatrice fainted.

<== 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 35: Preparations and Plans

For all her dreams of joining the priesthood and making a difference in the world and everything else, Beatrice had never actually been on the inside of a convent until now.

This one here, one block away from St. Helens Academy and situated on the same campus as one of the biggest churches in the city, was home to all the dozens of priests of downtown Balarand. But it was hardly bigger than Emi’s home, and unlike almost every other building in the city it was built almost entirely out of stone.

Each priest was allotted one bedroom and one meditation room, together adding up to a space hardly bigger than Beatrice’s own cramped bedroom. Though it seemed most of the priests made efficient use of their space with what few possessions they had. In addition to this space, there were three or four common rooms with chairs, tables and a kitchen laid out throughout the convent. 

A few priests sat around the common room reading books, perusing today’s issue of the Balarand Circle, and sipping on tea. Beatrice glanced at each of them and tried to take in just how they felt about their own situation. They looked… completely neutral about it. Oh, okay.

Stone walls and stone floors with hard wood furniture made the convent not only feel homely, but downright rustic. The priests seemed to be enjoying themselves, but they certainly weren’t given any bit of luxury.

Still, the atmosphere seemed relaxed, almost casual, and full of intellectuals with high education, to boot. She was sure there was a library around here somewhere, but she hadn’t noticed it yet to judge how extensive it was.

Her purpose here wasn’t to tour, though; it was to meet with Mr. Statusian regarding the upcoming Priesthood Exams. He had compiled some study materials for her to pick up, but when she got here to the convent, their meeting turned into a much more extensive conversation about her future. And that included a full look into what was to become her home if she completed her training.

Out of all the teachers Beatrice had had as a junior priest in all her subjects, Mr. Statusian was the only one who ever seemed to care about Beatrice’s welfare beyond passing classes, the only one interested in actively engaging her in conversation outside of school and discussing the facts of life. She respected him.But she also felt confused by him sometimes.

“What do you see in me that’s different than the normal student?” she asked, not wanting to skirt around the question. “Besides that I’m better at studying.”

Mr. Statusian laughed softly. “It’s a lot more than your study habits, that’s for sure. Something about your… smile, I think, is what caught my eye.”

“My smile?” Beatrice tried to imitate the way she normally smiled, but it felt weird.

“Let me explain. When you get an answer right, or when something clicks in that head of yours, you have this sort of smile that brightens up your entire face. You usually don’t raise your hand or try to upstage your classmates, but whenever I see your smiling face, I can know I’m getting through to at least one person.”

Beatrice didn’t know her smile was capable of anything like that.

He continued. “It was about a week into our last term when I realized you were leagues above the rest of the class. You might still need to do some studying before the Priesthood Exams, but I have no doubt that you’re going to be something special very soon.”

“What do you mean?”

“In the priesthood, we talk about the ebbs and flows of popularity in the Church, and right now, what with all the wars and occupations with Dannark and Doros and Elince, we are definitely in a down period. People still pray to the Gods, but they don’t really attend Church services or try to pass on their beliefs to their children. The wonder of magic is seen as parlor tricks and gimmickry. Sometimes these eras go on for a century or more. But every time the religion looks to be on the wane, someone comes along and acts as a spiritual rallying cry for all of us. Certain religious figures, such as Father Yolanda, Queen Yukai, or even Ulric Fathie himself in a twisted way, have brought about new revivals for the Gods. I think you could do the same.”



This was nonsense.

“I highly doubt I can do something like that!” she laughed. 

“I might be wrong, but I think you will change Tsubasa for the better,” Mr. Statusian said. “You will be the one to help usher in a new harmony to the continent. Of course, you’ll have to end your relationship with whoever you’ve been seeing. But it’s just a youthful fling, I know. You won’t let that become a problem.”

….Eh? “Wait… what? You know about Emi?”

He laughed. “Well, I didn’t know her by name, but I figured you might have found romance lately. You stopped staying late and you seemed distracted in class. Not that your grades changed, of course.

“Well, there’s the mandatory exit time…”

“You know what I mean,” he said. “How is she, though? This Emi?”

Normally, Beatrice would have felt too embarrassed to describe her girlfriend to a stranger, but before she could even think about it, she was already speaking: “She’s sweet. She’s pretty shy but loves exploring the city with me and loves reading. We’re a really good match, even if she lives in a huge house and her parents are famous diplomats. She still hasn’t introduced me to them… I wonder if…” She trailed off, but she did have the nagging feeling that Emi was afraid of bringing a commoner home for supper or something like that. “She’s tall, she’s smart, and she blushes all the time.”

Mr. Statusian scoffed. “Diplomats? So her family is part of the bureaucracy that helped oust King Kline and his family?”

“I, uh, guess so. They’re still doing a lot of stuff, travelling to Zahn and Dannark sometimes. I think they’re away right now, doing some business or another.

“Let me warn you of one thing,” Mr. Statusian said. “Families like that are not to be trusted. If one cannot stay loyal to one’s country, how can we expect one to stay loyal to a friend, or even a lover?” He had suddenly turned much more serious, his normally pleasant expression having morphed into a stern scowl. It took Beatrice completely by surprise.

Beatrice felt sweat at her forehead, which was strange because it was very cold in this monastery. “Well… I… I don’t know.”

“There’s a lot of brewing forces out here in Balarand right now. Dannark has been taking many ill-advised actions lately, and people are getting restless. Elince won’t stay silent for much longer.”

“Oh, I, uh…”

“You heard what they did during the Winter Ceremonies, right? They took the Jewel of Elince and locked it up in Castle Balarand when parade organizers tried to use it. For the first time ever, in the history of our kingdom, Elincian flags were banned from festivities. It would have been unthinkable just months ago. But here we are.”


Mr. Statusian shook his head and softly chuckled. “Sorry about that. It’s just… a topic a lot of the priests have been debating about recently.”

“And let me guess, you’re involved in most of those debates?”

“Well, I am Ulric the Plainsmith, after all.” He smiled, but it faded quickly. “I researched extensively in my training about the extent Church should be involved in local political situations,” he continued. “There has never been a consensus reached, but in general, we try to stay out of warfare and uprisings and scandals of any sort. The Church has made an official decree of neutrality in the occupation of Elince, but considering that the Holy Place is in the capital city Dannark…”

“It must be tough to stay out of it,” Beatrice said. “There’s so many protests these days.”

“Yes, yes there are. But… that’s not important right now. What’s important is seeing such an important girl like you down a path that might change the continent for the better.” And with that, he veered back into their previous topic. “I must warn you, though. This fling you’re having is surely a pleasant experience in the moment, but you can never forget that this Emi girl is merely a distraction on your path to serving the Gods. You can’t let any feelings you may hold for her distract you as you study for your test.”

“I…” she mumbled, without finishing her thought because she didn’t have one to give.

“I had someone before I joined the priesthood, too,” he says. “They were sad to see me go, but it was never meant to be. I think the difference I have made at St. Helens has more than made up for the sadness I caused that one person. It will be the same for you.”

Beatrice nodded, but she suddenly had a great urge to cry. “Thank you, Mr. Statusian.”

“Oh, and one more thing… have you told your parents about her yet?”


“I thought not. Your father didn’t mention anyone the last time we talked.” Beatrice always felt that it was weird that Mr. Statusian was on speaking terms with her own Dad. “I’m sure your parents suspect, but… I think it would be best if you left them out of it.”

“Right,” she said, less to agree than to simply keep from dwelling on any of this.

The rest of the conversation went normally, but Beatrice was a bit wrapped up in worry, the Emi kind of worrying. She was already a bit leery of actually joining the priesthood if it meant abandoning her family, abandoning Emi, and going off to the mountains somewhere to train. But if Balarand were in any serious danger, like Mr. Statusian suggested? Well, she wouldn’t know what to do at all.

She definitely didn’t feel like someone special.

<== 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 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. 

<== 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 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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