Beatrice and her Dad passed by a shrine to Phyra, where people were lined up and performing their daily prayers. It was interesting to watch people so devoted that they went to these shrines every single day to increase their fortunes, or give their thanks, or make atonements, or do whatever else it was they thought necessary to appease Her. Beatrice had even heard that there were those that went to eight, even ten shrines a day, one for every major member of the pantheon that worked their magic in Balarand.
Even on a day as cool as this, there were still as many people waiting on the Gods as there were people out shopping in the marketplace. That never ceased to impress her, not one bit.
One thing Beatrice always appreciated was the way that the shrines in Balarand seemed to simply poke out of the cityscape. They were always small, always nestled in between two larger buildings, unassuming and wood-built, ancient and holy even as everything around them was modern, sleek, boxy. This shrine to Phyra was particularly tiny, consisting of just two steps for people to kneel and pray, and the tiniest little statue that acted as an icon for her presence. Size and grandeur didn’t matter, though, as long as the Gods deemed the shrine worthy, and as long as the people could reach it. That’s what the Church always said.
Beatrice thought it might be prudent to do some restoration work on these shrines to keep up the harmony a little better–some of them looked absolutely decrepit–but that would require more money than the Church was willing to give. The only small shrines that still looked in any way holy were the ones dedicated to Nexurk, the God of War, and that was a subject far beyond touchy in this city.
Dad didn’t seem to mind. He always prayed at the shrine to Bk’Man next to the apartment, across the street from Bodhi’s family’s shoe store. Every single morning, that bald head of his touched the wooden floor, his risk of a splinter growing more dangerous with each passing rainy season. She admired his devotion.
Soon, the two of them entered the library. Immediately, Beatrice made her way towards her usual desk, before her Dad was even able to step behind the service desk and prepare for work. “I can’t believe you are actually studying on your day off,” Dad remarked. “Isn’t there something else you could be doing with your time? It’s going to get too cold to enjoy the city pretty soon, you know.”
“Oh Dad, you know I love the winter,” she said. “I’m excited for the cold!”
“You’ll catch a cold, with that attitude,” he said.
Dad was always so concerned with his only daughter having a happy and pleasant youth when his only daughter cared more about succeeding at the goals she had set for herself. That daughter had already skipped breakfast today so she could get to the library early, and it showed from her lazy shirt-and-trousers attire and messy hair frizzing about in random directions.
“And I’m not studying, Dad, I’m just going to read a book,” Beatrice added.
“A book about…?”
“About, erm, the practical applications of soul magic…”
He shook his head slowly.
It wasn’t necessarily for school, but… she thought that it would better help her understand group magic rituals. Every time she saw Mr. Statusian use those sparks of magic he could summon, it made her giddy inside to try and train and do something like that herself. She wanted to get better so she could become the kind of priest that Tsubasa needed, someone who could help others, someone who could keep the harmony of nature and make the world a better place, even if that meant working to the point of exhaustion on a day off from school.
She probably did need to take it a bit easier.
But with her Dad being immediately greeted by several customers wishing to look up or check out books, she was now on her own for the next several hours of the day. It was time to sit down and crack open her academic text. She pulled out Fourteen Essays on the Study of the Soul and its Inherent Properties, and–
–And, from the corner of her eye she spotted something familiar.
Emi, over at a desk in the very corner of the library, silently reading a book of her own, titled A Yellow Romance. She’d apparently been here some time, already comfortable and leaning back in her chair.
Just as pretty as ever.
Beatrice’s face flared up. It had been so long since the last time she saw her that she was almost convinced it was never to be. It… had probably been less than two weeks in reality… but it still FELT like a long time.
After a moment of hesitation– why would she be way off over there anyway except to get away from distractions– Beatrice decided to approach and scope out the girl responsible for a lot of fretting emotions within her for quite some time.
She stepped closer and closer. She tried straightening out her all-too-plain shirt that had probably been wrinkled from the wind outside, and trying to make her hair look a little bit less like she hopped right out of bed with it… which she did. Having messy hair was a poor way to make friends. But it was her only option.
“Hi there,” she said to Emi.
Nothing. No reaction. She didn’t even glance her way.
Was it the way she said it…? She probably didn’t put in enough emotion into her greeting. Probably didn’t even notice she was there, considering how unremarkable and unimposing Beatrice was. She stepped even closer, to the point that there was no way Emi wouldn’t notice her standing right in front of her. “Emi, is that you?”
She was obviously ignoring her. Beatrice could take rejection, but not the silent treatment. This actually made her mad, and she was not going to stand for it. So she went back to her desk, took her school bag and library books, and placed them on Emi’s desk across from her.
“I’m just going to read right here, if you don’t mind.”
She didn’t respond, so Beatrice took that as a tacit acknowledgement of approval.
A little while passed. Unlike last time she was too flustered to study next to Emi, she was actually having a decent time. The fact that she was being a jerk and ignoring her was probably helping.
She read a good ways into the book, though the essays were all a bit boring because of the completely unscientific realm that they inhabited in their discussion of topics pertaining to souls. It was all essentially conjecture because none of these theories had never been successfully done. Body transfer, spontaneous mutation, soul chrysalis healing… All interesting on paper, but… Okay, not very interesting on paper either.
Her read was interrupted with a gentle tap on the shoulder, making Beatrice jump up in surprise.
“Hi, Beatrice,” Emi said, looking towards her but not making eye contact. “I’d really appreciate if, um, you moved somewhere else.”
“If that’s okay with you,” she said.
“I haven’t spoken to you in a couple hours,” Beatrice said. “What did I do?”
“Well, I haven’t, uh, I haven’t read a single chapter of my story since you sat down. I was trying to see if Princess Valentia would choose Lady Gwinette or Lordess M’tsargh’i, you know.” She let out a soft chuckle, but Beatrice couldn’t figure out if she was joking or serious.
“What does that have to do with me…?”
Beatrice was starting to feel a little guilty. She had apparently done something wrong, and she didn’t even know what it was. How could–
“You’re, um, incredibly distracting,” Emi said. “As a person.”
The nerve! Beatrice quickly stood up and began gathering her things to move tables. She wasn’t going to–
“I mean, distracting in a good way,” Emi added, even if that sentence was a bit nonsensical and did little to calm Beatrice’s mood.. “Because I really want to get to know you better and I constantly think about what I want to say to you.” Tears started to well up in the girl’s eyes. “And I’m sorry if I sound like a jerk.”
Beatrice sat back down. She felt the impulse to reach out and touch Emi’s face, to wipe the tears off her face. A girl that pretty didn’t deserve to cry.
Oh, she was actually doing it, her index finger catching a teardrop just as it fell from her eye. Beatrice pulled her hand away. “I’m sorry,” she said.
Emi grabbed Beatrice’s arm and pulled the hand back towards her. “No, I’m sorry. What I really meant to ask was, uh, do you want to… go anywhere sometime maybe, or… uh, anything like that?”
“Yes,” Beatrice said flatly. “I do.” She pulled her hand away again.
Emi’s face lit up. “You do?”
“Right now? Uh, okay.” Emi stood up for a second, then sat back down. “Actually, no, I want to finish this book first. It’s really good.”
“Oh, yeah, sorry,” Beatrice said. “I guess I’ll go read over there or something, so I don’t, uh, distract you so much.” She couldn’t help but giggle when she said this.
“Actually, I think I’ll go outside for a bit. I like reading outside better.” She did? Then why was she reading in here…?
“Yeah, I’ll wait for you,” Beatrice said.
“Thank you.” Emi sped out of the library.
Beatrice realized she was starting to get dizzy from her heart beating so rapidly. Now she was the one who was completely unable to read a page of her book.