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.