“And I–are you listening at all?” Runa asked.
“Yes, yes, go on,” Beatrice said, nose-deep in her current project, which was a blouse she had been sewing for weeks. Or, trying to sew at least.
After a while, she came to accept the fact that there was simply no more studying to be done for the Priesthood Exam, and so she moved onto working full-time at her new hobby. Her Mom had helped her learn the basics of sewing and now she was working at it like she always does–with extreme interest and dedication. Sewing was supposed to be a relaxing, stress-relieving activity, but as usual, Beatrice worked far beyond the point she needed to.
It still wasn’t a very good blouse so far, but it was better to practice than to listen to the incessant chatter coming from the other girl in her apartment.
In a surprise twist, for the first time in years, Runa needed to be babysat this afternoon, so she came to Beatrice’s house to visit. It was more like just hanging out with a friend, as much as one could be friends with someone like Runa. The real reason she was here was that Balarand police officers had received reports of suspicious activities and were currently rummaging through Runa’s laboratory for signs of legal infractions (they were sure to find several).
Though Beatrice didn’t know if it was safer for her here. The protests outside were loud, and growing louder. The entire city was engulfed by tens of thousands of people marching and screaming for King Kline’s safety. It had lasted for days, the chants continuing long into the night.
But here they were, Runa and Beatrice, together like they were kids again. Dad was at work, and Mom was taking a nap, so it was just them, though Runa was currently occupied with her own, er, eccentricities.
“Well… I disposed of the most incriminating evidence,” Runa continued. “But I am fearful if they use any forensic techniques, like bringing in a priest to purify the residence. My soul crystals will be sure to resonate then. Perhaps telling you all this may be a poor decision, given your choice to become the enemy.”
“You were a junior priest too, for a while,” Beatrice said. “Don’t you remember?”
“Yes, until they caught on and threw me out to deprive me access to their sensitive information. The fiends.” She began rambling again.
Runa had been eleven years old and expelled for trying to instigate a rebellion using some group spells she had uncovered. That was her finest hour, hopefully for the rest of her life. That’s Beatrice she thought at the time, at least.
Beatrice’s new pursuit to become the highest-scoring new priest of all time, if she could help it, was going very well, so well that she had literally run out of things to study. For the first time in her life, she had not a single book to read that she thought might help her improve. At this rate, she would pass the Priesthood Exams with the highest marks in the history of the church. It may not have been a particularly notable achievement since one’s score was never revealed, but she wanted to impress the world anyway.
“…if I am caught, so that I will never be exposed. Is that okay with you?”
Darn it. She was hoping she didn’t have to listen. “Um, what was the question again?”
“Oh, never mind with you. You seem to be too fully integrated into the Priesthood Propaganda Project and the treachery of sewing to pay your old friend any mind.” Runa ruminated. “Say, it seems you have abandoned that incredibly beautiful woman from before, as well.”
She only just noticed? It had been literally two months.
“If you know her contact information, I would appreciate having it. I wish very much to court her. She would be a fitting subject for my Grand Experiment, indeed.”
She hadn’t noticed anything after all!
And… Grand Experiment? Was this her codename for romance, or did she really have something sinister in mind here with Emi? Emi–
She hadn’t thought about her in a while. She had successfully blocked the woman out of her mind for, what was it, maybe three days? And now she was back.
She didn’t… she didn’t mean to. She tried not thinking about her over these past few weeks; that was the best way to get some real studying done. She didn’t want to admit to herself that the only reason she was studying was to get her out of her mind as much as possible, but it was pretty obvious that was the case.
“What’s wrong?” Runa asked. “You seem to be mysteriously shedding tears. Are you perchance falling victim to a melancholic disease after being exposed to the famed Emotion Shrooms found at the summit of the Plebias Mountains?”
“No, Runa. Just shut up,” Beatrice snapped.
Runa did exactly that, her childish smirk disappearing. She sat down in a chair at the other end of the dining table and sighed. “When did we grow so far apart?”
Beatrice could ask the same thing, but about Emi.
…No, she knew that answer. She knew the exact, precise moment their relationship had ended. She was staring up at the ceiling with tears welling up in her eyes, after all. That was a very prominent image in her memories.
Beatrice, for so many months, had thrown away all logic in order to pretend they would ever be able to be together in the first place. A rich elite destined for nobility and a poor daughter of a librarian training to be a celibate priest. It was doomed from the start. A fling, just like Mr. Statusian once said. The only thing she could do was keep it out of her mind.
“Oh, yeah, sorry,” Beatrice said. She looked down at her blouse and the water stains that covered it. “We never grew apart, Runa. I still appreciate you as, um, a friend.”
“It just feels like you keep so much from me.”
“Oh, come on, Runa, please don’t start–”
Suddenly, there was a loud booming sound, almost like a large explosion, coming from not too far away. It shook the plates on the kitchen table for a few seconds.
“Was that your house?” Beatrice asked instinctually.
“Quite unlikely,” she said. “The blast radius from my home simply could not be big enough to carry a shockwave this far away.”
Beatrice ignored the lack of denial that Runa’s house had been rigged with explosive devices, because that sound was very worrying to her. She went over the window and looked– black smoke rising from buildings on the other side of Knoll Park.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.
And she felt the sudden urge to check it out. Something about the timing of the explosion set a sense of panic within her. Even if it wasn’t related to Runa, it… Hm.
Mom, awoken by the shaking, came out of her bedroom, her hair all frizzed up from her sleep. “Beatrice, what was that?” she asked groggily.
“Mom, Runa and I need to leave and check something out,” she said. “May we leave?”
“Yes,” she said. Then she saw the smoky scenery out the window. She looked at Beatrice, and for a second, her expression completely changed, becoming stern, emotional, and absolutely unallowing to let her child go into whatever it was. But Beatrice stood firm. She didn’t need to justify anything. Whatever was going on, she was going to help. She was a junior priest. And Mom knew that, because her face morphed once again, back into her usual calm. “Be safe,” she added.
“Wait, I’m going too?” Runa asked. “I never said I’d–”
Beatrice yanked her by the wrist. “Let’s hurry.”