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?”
“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.