Chapter 44: On the Trail to Mammoth Pass

The Northern Highway was the main road bisecting the kingdom of Elince, stretching from Balarand all the way to Dannark and beyond. It facilitated almost all travel throughout the main cities in the region, creating hubs of trade and commerce in between that lifted entire cities out of poverty.

And, in the middle of wintertime, the Northern Highway was a sight of great beauty.

Lake Ehota, frozen over in the middle of the winter, was a sight to behold. It was a vast expanse, going on for miles and miles all the way towards the Plebias Mountains,  consisting of nothing but ice and falling snow. It carved up most of the scenery, a flat stretch of light blue going on past the horizon. A beautiful wasteland.

On the other side of the small road was a thick layer of trees, covered in that same falling snow. Occasionally a snow leopard could be seen dancing around as it looked for prey, or a pack of greyback bears could be seen playing around with each other, but other than that the forests were empty and quiet. 

The weather outside must have been absolutely frigid. But inside a certain carriage were two certain young women who were currently focusing the entirety of each other’s attentions on each other.

Emi and Beatrice, wrapped up in a warm fur blanket and snuggled up on one of the carriage seats, had hardly looked outside for quite some time now, too busy tasting each other’s lips.

Beatrice had not done one second of studying during the trip so far. She felt somewhat guilty about it, but in the end she cared much more about her time with her girlfriend than becoming a priest, so she continued to savor every moment they shared.

Emi, by the second day, had given up trying to look nice in the brief moments when the caravan made rest stops, despite the many rich and noble people riding alongside them. She had slipped out of her formal wear and into a much warmer and much simpler leather coat. Together with the blanket and Beatrice’s arms around her, though, she was almost too hot at this point, and wanted to take the coat off. But that would mean letting go of Beatrice, something she was not willing to do right now.

They had individually wondered how long they could reasonably keep this up, kissing and cuddling and doing practically nothing else. It turned out that the answer was quite a while.

“I love you so much, Tris,” Emi said as she caught her breath.

Beatrice did not reply, and only leaned forward to kiss her once again.

That was answer enough.

The love shared between Beatrice Ragnell and Emi L’Hime was real. It was expressed in every shared glance, every giggle, every pitter-patter of the heart, and it carried itself through this trip towards Mammoth Pass.

Of course, it could not last forever. A few hours later, the carriages stopped, and so did they.

When this happened, it was for one of three reasons: it could be for the chefs to bring food to each of the riders, which they did four times a day; it could be to let riders experience a particularly scenic spot on the road; or it could be to let riders relieve themselves. From the way Beatrice leaped up and darted out of the carriage as soon as the wheels had settled, it was clear which of the three reasons this rest stop was for.

…Eww? You wish I didn’t tell you that much information? Okay, weirdo. 


Later that night, Emi and Beatrice sat around a campfire, the carriage caravan parked on the side of the road. They would eventually return to their carriage to sleep, but for now they simply wanted to bask in the warmth of the embers in front of them. They shared a wool blanket and they held each other in their arms, though Emi had a cup of warm tea in one hand. Beatrice had both arms wrapped tightly around Emi, hugging her stomach.

Tia sat across from them, wearing a plain jacket and long skirt, smiling brightly. “You two are attached at the hip, surely.”

“If I let go of her she might escape,” said Beatrice.

“Help me…” Emi whispered.

“I have never understood how such completely separate people could meet and fall in love like you,” Tia said. “You are from such different worlds, a junior priest and a diplomat’s daughter. And yet… you made it work. How did you get past it all?”

The girls looked at each other, and Emi shrugged. “Who knows?” Emi said.

“I do,” Beatrice said. “We just ignored everything else and went for it. It might be stupid but that’s the only thing you really can do.”

Tia shook his head, smiling. “Pretty stupid indeed.” He met Emi’s eyes and raised an eyebrow. Emi blushed and tried to giggle to cover it up. “I know you’ll keep making it work. The Gods seem to have made you for each other.” 

“Yeah, the Gods work in baffling ways sometimes,” Beatrice said. “Sometimes… I just don’t understand them at all.”

“I wish my boyfriend were here,” Tia said. “It has been so boring travelling in a carriage with a bunch of aristocrats I have never met before. They have interesting conversations, but they are all so stuffy and old and… Hey, I wonder… do you think I might join your carriage and–”

“No,” both of the girls said flatly.

Tia couldn’t help but laugh.


The mountains were drawing closer, and Emi stared out the window waiting and wishing for them to arrive already. Not that she didn’t enjoy this amazing few days lately, but she was so excited to show Beatrice around Mammoth Pass.

Plus, her girlfriend was starting to aggravate her with all the kissing. If she kept doing it every five seconds, she was going to make Emi start to hate the whole act. Hate kissing! Who could even cause such a thing?!

By now Beatrice had pulled out one of her study books given to her by Mr. Statusian, but she had barely opened it as she thought instead about her life with Emi. Obviously these past few days weren’t going to be indicative of the rest of their relationship, nor were the next few, but she really did realize that this woman really was someone she might want to spend a lifetime with.

That was the real magic here. Oh… wow that was so corny, even in her head. But it made her think…

“What will we be doing in five years?” Beatrice asked.

“Raising our kids,” Emi answered almost instantly. “You’ll be teaching at a small private school and I’ll be managing a shipping company exporting Runa’s exotic creatures to the rest of Tsubasa for a pricey markup. We’ll have three sons and a daughter.”

“Hector, Kano, Jean, and Emi Jr,” Beatrice said. “All in the next five years?”

“Of course. We’re both girls. We can push them out two at a time; we just have to work overtime at it.” Beatrice cracked up laughing, and Emi smirked as she continued to gaze out the window. 

The carriages passed through a small logging village. It was covered in snow, but all its residents seemed to be hard at work tossing lumber into carts and throwing the twigs into a heaping burn pile. Right next to the road, a few kids were building a ten-foot-tall snowman. They waved as the caravan passed them by.

Even if Emi and Beatrice had led very different lives, they were still urban denizens of the great city of Balarand. Neither of them could really even imagine what life in a wintery village would be like. If they had met and fallen in love under those circumstances, then THAT would be a story worth telling.

“Maybe we could move out to the countryside,” Emi said. “Just live out in some cottage, farming and hunting for ourselves, not giving a darn about the rest of the world and all its wars and turmoil…”

“If we’re being serious here,” Beatrice said. “I’m not sure I ever want to settle down and have kids.”

“Really? Why not?”

“I’ve lived in Balarand all my life, living with two low-class parents. I’ve studied about the rest of the world and all the things and places in Tsubasa. I’ve been studying it so long that… I just want to see it for myself, you know? My parents settled down early and had me, and obviously I appreciate that, but they probably missed out on a lot of their adulthood that way. They might never have been able to travel or fulfill their dreams or make a real difference in the world, not in the way they wanted when they were our age.”

“Well, just by making you they sure made a difference in my world,” Emi said.

“Oh, stop it.”

“Make me,” Emi said. In response, Beatrice scooted over to her, grabbed her hand, and planted a kiss on her lips. The life drained out of Emi’s spirit. “Okay, Tris, fine. No more silly remarks. Please… Wait– keep cuddling me though.”

“Will do.”

Emi giggled, then continued her thoughts. “I just think… even if we travelled around the world and acted like my parents trying to negotiate peace deals and end rebellions and write trade agreements, eventually we would want to settle down.”

“I don’t want to really do that kind of thing either,” Beatrice said. “Politics is boring. And you and I both know we don’t really like talking about that anyway.”

“Nope. And we definitely never will. But then if you want to make an impact on the world, then what DO you want to do? Like, in general?”

“I want to help people. Make the world happier. Bring harmony to all of Tsubasa. Like, have you heard of that movement in Zahn with schools? They’re introducing public education to every single town and village. Soon the whole country will know how to read, and that will help everyone! I want to do something like that.”

Emi refused to even hint that she knew (and was engaged to) the person overseeing that public education project. “Well, I won’t be inheriting much of the L’Hime Family estate, but… it’ll be enough to live on for a few decades, that’s for sure. That could always be a good asset.”

“I mean–” Beatrice paused to collect her thoughts. She wasn’t entirely sure what she was trying to say herself. “I mean, no wealthy people stuff. Just you and me and going around making people’s lives better across Tsubasa.”

“So like my cottage plan, but with a carriage?”

“Or just our own two feet,” Beatrice said.

“That sounds tiring.”

“It might be my ultimate dream. Am I weird?”

“We already know you’re weird,” Emi said. “As for your dream, Tris… Personally, I would love to raise kids and have a family and have a quiet, peaceful life. But… I don’t think it’s that powerful a dream. Not like yours. I’m being completely serious when I say I’d follow you no matter what you did. We’ve been together for a while now and I think I can say that for sure. You’re just so…” Emi trailed off and sobbed quietly.

“Emi, do you really mean that?” Beatrice felt tears welling up in her eyes, too.

“Why would I lie about that?” Emi laughed and cried simultaneously. “I love you.”

“Even if I’m some boyish peasant with ridiculous life goals?”

“You know good and well you are the smartest, most beautiful, most thoughtful complete jerk on the planet and don’t you deny it like you’re playing innocent!” Emi exclaimed.

Beatrice couldn’t help it– she kissed her again. Emi nearly fell over. A fire lit deep within Beatrice’s heart and burst out through her lungs: “I love you and all your weird quirks. When you blush it’s like I fall in love with you all over again. I wish your name was longer so I could give you a cute nickname. Your hair looks so much better when it’s short and I hope you never change it. Every time I look into your eyes I go nearly brainless. You’re radiant and dangerous, and–”

“No reciting poetry, Tris. That’s cheating.”

“Eh, I didn’t know you knew that one…”

“I’m smarter than I look,” Emi said. 

“Don’t you start… Let’s just shut up and keep cuddling.”



Beatrice flipped through a cross-stitch book, trying to find a pattern that looked interesting. And easy.

She’d been practicing sewing for a few months now, but she still couldn’t manage much beyond very simple things. She could mend a tear, but she couldn’t come close to making an item of clothing. She thought cross-stitching might work, but… it was all a bit difficult for her. How did her Mom do all of this with her own two hands?

Meanwhile, Emi shuffled through some bags in the back of the carriage. The road was old and worn, however, and when a wheel rolled over a bump, Emi nearly lost her balance. She grabbed ahold of the seat with her knees and shook for a moment. Beatrice managed to suppress a laugh, so she wouldn’t embarrass her girlfriend more than usual.

When the girl continued to look even further, Beatrice could no longer keep her curiosity at bay. She asked, “What in Tsubasa are you looking for?”

“Just a minute,” she responded.

“You’re going to get hurt,” Beatrice said. “Why don’t you wait until the next rest stop?”

“Can’t,” Emi said. “Too urgent. It’s–Ah-ha.” She turned around and sat back down on the seat, now holding what appeared to be, well, a black metallic box of some sort. Beatrice couldn’t figure out what it was.

The front panel was white, lined into a grid of hundreds of tiny squares, and there was a crank on the side. But other than that, it just seemed like an oddly shaped, quite heavy box.

“I made this for you,” Emi said. “For a few months, I’ve been working on this project, ever since I figured out how to build machines. It took me until this week to finish, but I’m finally ready to show you.”

“Is this that secret you told me about way back when?”

“The same one.”

“So what is it, then?” Beatrice was overcome with curiosity. 

“Okay, well, see all these squares on the front of the machine? They’re each connected to a gear in the inside, and from the way I programmed the turning positions, each time the gears turn, some of the squares will turn black, and some of them will stay white. Look.” 

She turned the crank one time, and sure enough, some of the squares rotated, turning black, and forming the image of a horse, with a hill in front of it. It was crudely-drawn, but that’s saying a lot when it was made with squares on a machine.

Beatrice wasn’t expecting anything like this. “You can make art with machines? How did you even think of this?”

“Uh, I don’t know, I just put all the pieces together right.” Weird. If this weren’t Emi, she’d be suspicious that she were lying, but she could tell Emi genuinely didn’t know. “And that’s not it,” she continued. “I can program this box up to thirty two times in order, so the squares will flip or not flip in an order before it all turns back to the beginning.”

Emi again cranked the machine, this time faster and steadier. The squares changed. A new image formed. Wait, not completely new– it was like the horse had moved, like it was galloping towards the hill.

The more Emi cranked, the closer the horse got to the hill, until it made a big leap and cleared the hill in one bound. Then it continued walking… and another hill appeared in front of it. 

Emi tapped a button underneath the crank and all of the squares turned white. 

“Emi, this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” Beatrice said. “You made the picture move. It’s like the horse was really moving. I’m just…”

“You really like it?”

Beatrice got up–no, more like leapt- and hugged Emi around the neck. “You’re amazing.”

Emi started to cry. “Want to try it?” she asked.

And Beatrice took the machine and cranked it herself, watching the horse move and jump over the hill, and watching this little animated figure repeat the same action over and over again. It was so cute. And Emi had made this all by herself.

“Gods, this is wonderful,” Beatrice said. “Can you make more?”

Still crying, Emi nodded, and said, “I think so. I think I can reposition the gears and program it all differently to make a completely different picture. But last time I tried it, I messed up the whole thing. So for now… Sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. You’re a genius.”

“I’m not a… Thank you, Tris.”

Beatrice didn’t get tired of this machine, not for the rest of the trip. All of the wonder of the Gods, all the harmony of nature, barely stood up against this box her girlfriend had made. It was just so… cool. Emi had created a harmony all of her own with this machine. A perfect ecosystem of gears and springs that somehow made a piece of moving artwork!

Humanity was amazing. Her girlfriend was spectacular.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 43: Departures

A fleet of six carriages were lined up to depart from Balarand and head on north past the Elincan-Dannark border, up to the base of the Plebias Mountains, where laid Mammoth Pass, the northernmost city in all of civilized Tsubasa. Anything past there, and it was nigh-uninhabitable wasteland known as the Frozen Desert. This really was the furthest place you could get in this continent, so these carriages came prepared.

And in this trip north, Emi and Beatrice had actually first travelled south. Before their journey could officially begin, they went to the great mansions around Lake Geoffrey, where they would be joining some sort of tourist caravan. Beatrice hadn’t been well-informed about the specifics of this trip, but she was prepared for anything.

Well, theoretically anything. Right now, she was overwhelmed beyond belief. She had never experienced anything so fancy in her life. The party at Emi’s house she had attended sure was nice, but this was beyond that entirely. The carriages were white and adorned with all sorts of decorations. Dozens of wealthy individuals wearing wigs and bright-colored tunics loitered around while Beatrice was just here like herself. She couldn’t believe she thought she was going to stick out.

One young boy, dressed in a puffy white coat and wearing a long dark wig, approached Beatrice. “Welcome to my humble abode,” he said. “I am Tia Knoll.” He extended his coat and curtseyed.

“I… uh, hi…” She was NOT forewarned about meeting a member of the Knoll family and then being bowed to like she was an equal! Emi knew the Knolls! Beatrice completely forgot about the fact that the L’Hime Family really was that influential.

“You are Emi’s muse, correct? I like you already. You are likely the only thing keeping her from doing rash and stupid things all the time.”

“Hey… don’t talk about Emi like that.”

“Honey, do not worry about it. She has been my friend for as long as I can remember.” But was he her friend in return? That, Beatrice could not tell. He seemed nice, but Emi had never mentioned him before, not even once. Then again, it’s not like Beatrice talked much about her school friends to Emi. She remembered Emi giving an odd look when she first met Bodhi at the Winter Ceremonies, though she never said anything about it afterwards.

When was Emi going to finish getting changed, anyway? That girl was so slow.

“Have you been to Mammoth Pass for the Winter Festival before?” Tia asked.

“No, I’ve never even left Balarand before,” Beatrice said. “Is it like the Winter Ceremonies?”

“Nothing alike. I would not even be able to consider them the same species of celebration.”

Beatrice was simultaneously perplexed and intrigued.

“I have been to Mammoth Pass each winter for my entire life, and I must say it is one of the more exciting parts of my year. My boyfriend is stuck in Balarand with the flu, so I am truly envious of you and yours. You are going to love this.”

Beatrice couldn’t help but blush.

Finally, Emi came out of the Knoll mansion dressed up in some sort of outfit that looked more like an elaborate costume than a dress. It was huge, poofy, and bright red, making her stick out exactly in the ways she surely didn’t desire. She was more a walking portrait than a human. Still, she was cute enough that she nearly pulled it off. Red dresses always look amazing, I think, and this one worked excellently on Emi.

While I think it was cute, Beatrice was floored by it. This was her own girlfriend standing there, her own girlfriend shining in scarlet radiance. The dress didn’t exactly have the best design, she thought, but it hardly mattered when the person wearing it had the design of a Goddess.

She had grown so accustomed to Emi, so connected to her, but never stopped for a single moment being able to see her beauty, on the inside and out. She knew she was uncomfortable right now, appearing in front of everyone in a revealing, low-cut dress. But the fact that she soldiered on despite that was remarkable. Emi had so much in her life to complain about, so many things that restricted her from doing what she wanted, but she didn’t just sit back and take them; she absorbed them and used her hardships to make herself stronger.

Every step she took was measured and careful, every flick of her hair done with grace. For someone who was so opposed to the regal life, Emi had the ability to make herself look absolutely aristocratic. Beatrice used to be confused about that, unable to understand why Emi didn’t just run away if she hated the rich life so much. But she realized the truth– Emi was born for this. She was too powerful to run away.

“It is time to go,” said Tia, when Emi finally reached them.

“I’m finally ready,” Emi said. “I wasn’t aware that my parents had ten dresses made for me for this trip, but I guess I’ll get to look like a proper lady for the next couple weeks.” She walked over to Beatrice and gave her a quick kiss. “Sorry for making you wait, Tris. I hope I didn’t cut into your valuable study time. How will you ever pass your tests now?”

“Hey, don’t be mean.”

“Uh-oh… I think you’re in for a rough few days if you want nice people around,” Emi said.

“I’ll move to a new carriage.”

“Sure you will. You’d be willing to sacrifice kisses that easily, I’m sure.”

Beatrice playfully shoved Emi. “Come on, let’s get going.”

Tia waved and began walking to a carriage up front. “I will see you ladies when we reach our first rest stop,” he said. “Try to enjoy yourselves. And Beatrice, I am excited for you to experience this trip for the first time.”

“Thank you,” she replied.

They entered the carriage. It was small, only enough room for three or four people to sit on each side and for storage in the back, but it was cozy and the seats were very comfortable. Beatrice wasn’t sure if she would be able to sleep on these seats every night for almost a week, but she was sure they would come to some sort of accommodation on the way. Right?

Emi sat next to Beatrice and unfolded a warm blanket to go over both of them. She wrapped her arm around her and said, “I really hate this dress.”

“It doesn’t look very good,” Beatrice said.

The carriages took off towards the Grand Concourse and eventually the highway towards Mammoth Pass. 

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 41: Gonda Shopping

The tallest building in Balarand, and perhaps all of Tsubasa is Gonda Tower. It towers so far above its peers that even Castle Balarand is dwarfed. It’s said that on special nights, the very brightest of them, if you stand on the top of the tower you can reach up and touch the tips of the moons as they fly by. It isn’t true, but the sky never looks better than when you’re on top of the world. 

I know the owner, so next time we go to Elince, I’ll take you up there to see for yourself. How does that sound? You want me to continue the story instead of giving you travel tips? Oh well.

Today, Beatrice and her Mom had made a visit to Gonda Tower’s vast shopping center, and, as always, every single floor was busy. If Emi were here, she would most certainly be having a fit right now, Beatrice thought. Despite the anti-Dannark demonstrations going on in the streets outside, the shops were just as packed as any other day.

Beatrice preferred the hustle and bustle of the marketplace near the library, the one where she and Emi first met all that time ago. The excitement of finding something new, of meeting people from all over the world and haggling with them over prices, outclassed anything she could find in these huge, clean stores. Well, she never actually haggled before because she never had enough money to buy anything worth doing it over, but she liked the theory of it. The theory of arguing.

Even so, Gonda Tower was nice. Each floor had a different department selling all sorts of things. One floor was filled with art supplies for painting and sculpting, another with stuffed animals and children’s toys, another with Ancient Elincian-style memorabilia that could be used to decorate one’s home. The floor that Beatrice and her Mom were on was a massive clothing store, covered from floor to ceiling, wall to wall, with outfits of infinite variety. 

To say that it was overwhelming was a grand understatement. Actually, Beatrice wasn’t sure if she had ever been in a clothing store before, on account of Mom making all of her outfits herself. That was why today’s adventure was a little bit odd, she thought to herself. Mom rarely left the area around the apartment, that Beatrice knew of anyway, and their first mother-daughter outing in a year was suddenly a shopping trip for expensive clothes.

Mom was also much, much more interested than Beatrice right now. Don’t get her wrong, she liked cute dresses as much as the next girl. But for the most part, wearing a simple shirt-and-skirt combo was enough. Getting into Emi levels of dressiness was just too much.

Mom took a long green dress, so bright it hurt Beatrice’s eyes just looking at it, and held it up against Beatrice’s chest. She examined it closely, and nodded. “It looks good on you.”


“What, you don’t like it?”

Beatrice shook her head. “I like it. It’s just… I’m not sure.”

“Why don’t you try it on and see?”

“Alright.” Beatrice took the dress and went into a changing room to see how it looked on her. She took her glasses off and undressed. As she looked in the mirror at her own freckled cheeks, at her own blue eyes, and her own curly hair. She used to hate this face–it was so plain, so boyish, making her look shy, making her look unkempt when she was neither of these things. But this was the same face that Emi loved. There had to be a reason behind that, right?

She put the dress on and rotated herself around to get a good look at it.

How did it all come to this?

Trying on an expensive dress at Gonda Tower. Going on a trip to Mammoth Pass. Being in love with a diplomat’s daughter, the most beautiful girl in the entire world. A few months ago, she was on-track to join the priesthood just like she had always dreamed about. Then she saw that face at the marketplace, and everything changed so dramatically.

She hadn’t fully wrapped her head around the extent of it, yet. It was just that crazy.

The dress fit well, though a little bit at the waist. But she didn’t like how loud the color was, how much it would make her stick out. Though, why she didn’t want to stick out was beyond her. Was it that she always felt insecure about her appearance, and didn’t want to showcase that to everyone else? Was Emi’s worrisome self rubbing off on her?

Actually, she decided that she did like the dress. She exited the changing room and showed it to her Mom. Her reaction was an immediate clapping.

“So beautiful,” Mom said. “My daughter is so beautiful.”

“Thank you, Mom,” Beatrice said. She would have blushed, were it not her Mom who complimented her.

“You’re going to be the star of every event in Mammoth Pass,” she said. 

“Well, no, I think Emi is still going to be the star.”

“Not after we’re done here. We’re going to get you clothes to make you shine.”

“Mom, are you sure we need to buy all these fancy clothes like this?” Beatrice asked. “I’m fine just wearing whatever you make.”

 Her Mom smiled, and said, “What I make isn’t good enough. A girl like you deserves more.”

“I don’t–” Beatrice stopped herself before she could get in an argument about something as silly as self-deprecation. 

And for the first time in a while, Beatrice saw that lip-scrunching sadness on her Mom’s face, the kind of indignant resignation that beset her in her worst moods.

But why?

Beatrice hadn’t done anything wrong that she knew of. She had never disobeyed her parents. Never gotten in a fight. Never came home late at night with a few too many Balarand brews in her belly. And yet here, and now, her Mom looked like she was about to cry.

And now Beatrice felt terrible.

Could it be that Beatrice was seemingly abandoning her lifelong quest to join the Priesthood, or that she was dating a girl from a family so important her parents were away from home for months at a time? Could it be that she thought she was abandoning the family for whatever pursuits, as if she hated her Mom and Dad because she wanted to see the continent with her own eyes? She wasn’t sure.

“What’s the matter, Mom?” Beatrice asked, instead of skirting the issue and ending up with worse hurt feelings.

“Nothing’s the matter,” she said, eyes filling with tears. “My baby girl’s growing up. And I am so proud of her. It’s just a little…” There went the crying.

Oh. It was THAT kind of sadness.

Beatrice quickly moved to hug her around the neck, but dropped the green dress on the floor. Whoops. “I’m sorry for growing up,” she said.

Mom stopped crying and laughed. “I wish all children told their parents that.”

As Beatrice picked up the dress again, a question occurred to her. “Mom, what do you think about me and Emi?”

“What do I think?”

“About me and Emi… and, the priesthood. I’m going to take the test, but…”

Mom turned away from Beatrice to browse through the other dresses on sale. After a moment to look at a frilly cream-colored dress, she said, “You can’t do both, can you?”


“Pick the girl.”

The way she said it was so instant, so decisive, that it took Beatrice off-guard. 

In fact, she didn’t respond for the duration of their time shopping. She got six new dresses, all paid for with the money her family had been saving up for a vacation to the coast this summer. Today was supposed to be a joyful day, and yet Beatrice was stuck on the suddenness of her mother’s words.

And then she thought about it.

She really was going to pick the girl.

As perplexing as it was, she was going to pick the girl.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 40: Guess Who’s Coming to Supper?

“This whole time it was Emi. Wow,” Beatrice’s Dad said, chuckling as he cut into his potato. “Can you believe I’ve known your girlfriend longer than you?”

“I’m surprised you never introduced me to your daughter, Earl– er, Mr. Ragnell,” said Emi. “But I guess she was always so busy reading all the time.”

“I doubt I would have ever noticed you, I was so into my books,” Beatrice said. 

“You and I both know that’s false.” Emi and Beatrice giggled together.

The four of them sat at the dining table; Emi tried to be as polite as possible, keeping a napkin in her seat and arranging all her utensils properly. The Ragnell Family home was small–genuinely not much bigger than Emi’s bedroom– but by no means was it too cramped for the four of them. Beatrice’s Dad flipped through the latest issue of the Balarand Circle as he ate, but otherwise, their attentions were all completely focused on Emi. In any other situation, this would have given her a panic attack. But now, because she had already stressed out enough about this event, she felt weirdly calm.

Oh Gods, was Emi relieved that Beatrice took this surprise well.

She had been unnerved to the point of shaking at the idea of meeting Beatrice’s parents, even if she had known Earl for most of her life. This kind of supper meeting was ridiculously important in a romantic relationship, and if she messed up it could doom things forever. It didn’t matter if she was overthinking things to the highest degree; this was a mission vital to the success of her continued existence as a human being.

So she had finally worked up the courage and told Earl herself. He helped him arrange the meeting and kept it all a surprise from her own girlfriend–at her dad’s suggestion–just so they could end up like this, happy together at the dining table.

Beatrice’s Mom was basically swooning at Emi. “When you said you had a girlfriend, I never expected her to be so….”

“So what?”

“So beautiful! I mean, look at her hair… It’s so nice and straight and…” Her Mom started playing with Emi’s hair. This was far from the first time someone had done this. For Beatrice’s sake, she let it happen.

“And your food is amazing, too, Mrs. Ragnell,” she told her, trying to keep from being too flustered.

“Oh, I don’t know if ‘amazing’ is the right word for it…”

“Mom, take the compliment.”

Beatrice’s parents were almost like older versions of her herself. It was so funny to look at them and then look at her, because she could perfectly picture how she would age. Her hips would widen, her curls would whiten, but those blue eyes of hers would stay just as vibrant and swirling  She wanted to make the most of her time with Beatrice, but she knew she could be with her for a lifetime. Easily.


Was now the right time?

Of course, there was an ulterior motive to this family supper, which is much of the reason why she had wanted to keep it a secret from Beatrice. There was one more thing she needed to ask.

She’d been meaning to do so for a long while, but she had never found the right time. Now, with Beatrice and her parents together like this, it was the perfect opportunity for it.

If she could muster the energy to do it, that was.

Her palms started to sweat, and her appetite disappeared into the pit of her stomach. Her heart beat in doubletime. “I do have one request,” Emi said to Beatrice’s parents. She pretended that her nerves hadn’t already faded into uselessness, that she had the courage to say it.

“Go ahead,” her Dad said.

Here it went.

“My parents are arranging to meet with me at Mammoth Pass for that city’s own winter festivals in a few weeks, and I am allowed to bring a guest with me. As a way to introduce my parents to Beatrice, would you give your permission to let her travel with me?” She flashed a smile for good measure. That wasn’t so hard, now was it?

Beatrice was stunned, but her parents lit up in excitement.

“Going to see the Mammoths? That sounds like so much fun,” her Mom said. “I’ve always wanted to do that.” She was still playing with Emi’s hair, by the way.

“And in all my studies on ancient cultures, I’ve never been able to visit the cultural museum up in Mammoth Pass.” her Dad said. “But.. it’s quite a lot of time. It’s nearly a week’s journey each way, right? Even if you stay for only a few days, that’s still nearly three weeks’ time…”

“It just isn’t possible, is it?” Her Mom said, a complete reversal of her previous comment. “I mean… just think of the timing, with exams and all…”

Beatrice came back to reality and banged her fork onto the table. “Emi. Why didn’t you tell me about this before?” She looked stern, but Emi couldn’t tell if she was angry.

“I… I wanted it to be a surprise…”

“I need to discuss this with my parents,” she said. “Could you go wait someplace else?”

Emi looked around the apartment.

“Uh, go in my bedroom, I guess.”

“Ah… alright.”


Emi laid atop Beatrice’s bed, wondering why Beatrice had such a weird reaction to her proposal. It was supposed to be a nice surprise, and yet she may have gone and upset her girlfriend.

She closed the door and tried not to listen closely to the muffled voices on the other side of the wall, but it was hard not to at least listen to their tones of voice. There was no yelling, just the natural flow of a reasoned conversation, but it had been going on for long time already.

“..Never done anything you haven’t…” That came from Beatrice.

“…Studies and it isn’t a good…” From her Dad?

“…Too much, you always said. Why now? I’m ready, really. Really!” Beatrice’s voice was getting louder, which was probably not a good thing.

Oh, why did Emi do this? This surprise supper, this surprise request, anything involving keeping secrets. If this escalated into something between the Ragnells, she would never be able to forgive herself for hurting such a wonderful family… 

Keeping secrets. That was practically all Emi ever did. She still hadn’t told Beatrice about her engagement. Hardly even hinted at it. And she was trying to get Beatrice to go with her on vacation. What a load of Mammoth crap she was.

Beatrice’s room was nice, at least. Extremely small, but that probably meant a lot less dusting for her housekeepers– er, for her to do. So tidy, too. Her desk spanned one entire wall except for the door while the bed spanned the other, and there was very little space between them. 

How did Beatrice sleep on this thing, anyway? Emi’s bed was admittedly one of the softest ever, but this thing was like a stone slab. If this was how commoners were forced to sleep, she was okay with being a rich snob.

There on the corner of Beatrice’s desk, sitting on top of a stack of books, was the wooden centaur carving Emi had given her a while back. This was the first time she ever went into the girl’s room, and already she saw a symbol for their relationship displayed proudly. That made her heart melt away for a moment, until she realized she still needed to take something from Beatrice back to her own room. Hmm…

Eventually, the conversation ended, and Beatrice quietly entered the bedroom.  Emi decided to pretend she was asleep to see what she would do. And what she did is pulled out her desk chair, flicked a candle on, and write in her notebook.

What? Was she studying at this hour? The madwoman!

Just as she was getting tired of doing this sleeping charade, Beatrice finished writing  and tiptoed to the far side of the bed. She squeezed in next to Emi, sandwiching herself between her and the wall. The bed was far too small for two people to comfortably lay apart, so they were now in a very close cuddling position. She put her arm around Emi’s waist and breathed deeply, in and out. Her breathing soon slowed.

Oh no. Now Beatrice falling asleep, leaving Emi trapped here on this sheet of bedrock one might charitably call a bed. Laying uncomfortably with the most beautiful girl in the world cuddling her… What a dilemma!

“Tris, are you awake?” she asked, finally, doing her best to act like she was just waking up from a nap.

“Yeah.” she said. “My parents said yes, by the way.”

“Really? That’s amazing!”

“I’m sorry about earlier,” Beatrice said. “But my parents are very protective of me. They don’t like it when I spring big surprises on them.”

“They took it well when I asked them about having a supper together,” Emi said.

“ I told them about you a month ago,” Beatrice said.


“And… Can you not keep any secrets from me like that anymore? Tonight was really fun, but I was just really taken by surprise and it worried me a lot. Maybe I’m too much like my parents after all…”

“That’s not a bad thing,” Emi said. “Your parents are lovely. And so are you, Tris.”

“No more surprises, Emi?”

“I, uh, yeah. Yes.”

Beatrice hugged her tighter. Emi couldn’t see her face, but she hoped that Beatrice was as happy as she sounded. If those deep blue eyes of hers turned to pain, that would break her heart. “But you turned them around on it?” she asked.

“Maybe. My Dad seems fine with it now, and I guess my Mom is going along with it too. They weren’t going to allow it because all my exams are only a few months away, but I had a talk with them and convinced them that it might be the last big trip I get to take for a long time.”

“Because of… your priest stuff?”

“Yeah.” Emi’s heart sank just thinking about it. “But don’t worry about the priest stuff,” she said. “We’ll find a way to deal with it. If worst… If we… uh, well, I love you too much to just leave you be, Emi.”

“Thanks.” Her heart raised again.

“Also, my parents said I have to do a lot of studying while we’re travelling. Is that okay?” Beatrice asked.

“Have you been on the Northern Highway before?”

“No, I’ve never left Balarand.”

“You probably won’t want to study too much,” she said. “Trust me, it’s gorgeous. They don’t call it the Great White North for nothing.”

“I’ll do my best.” Beatrice squeezed Emi even tighter. She was so warm.

“No more surprises, Emi?”

But even still, Emi shivered.

When was she going to tell her about the wedding? Obviously not now, because that would completely ruin the mood. Maybe right after the trip? Or, if Emi introduced her to her parents at Mammoth Pass, that would be the perfect opportunity to shoot it all down at once, because they’d see what an amazing girl Beatrice was.

Or risk everything falling apart in front of her eyes. That would be… less optimal. But she was going to hope for the best, hope that “no more surprises” held true.

For now, though…

“Hey, Tris, can you turn around?” Emi asked.

“And face the wall? Why?”

“Just because.”

“Okay.” Beatrice let go of Emi and turned on her other side. Then Emi wrapped her arms around Beatrice in return. 

“It’s my turn to be there for you, Tris,” Emi said. “You’re the strong one, the level-headed one so much that I figured… maybe you deserve a rest.”

“Oh, Emi…”

“I love you so much, Tris, and I’m so excited about this trip.”

“Three weeks to spend together. It’s a long time.”

“We deserve it,” Emi said. 

“I feel like we’ve been in a relationship so long, but it’s only been… What, a few months?”

“A few months on the calendar, but a few lifetimes in our hearts.”

“Emi, that was the lamest thing you’ve ever said.” Beatrice adjusted herself and moved Emi’s right hand downwards, resting on her belly button. “Hold me tighter, please.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Is this okay?”

“You could afford to be a bit more courageous…”

Courageous. Emi hugged her girlfriend with a stronger embrace and thought about that word. Courageous…. Well…

“Hey Tris, do you think…”

“Do I think what?”

Emi kissed her on the back of the neck.


“I love you.”


Beatrice yelped and then covered her mouth with her hands. “Emi!” she whispered loudly. “What the heck are you doing? My parents are in the other room…”

“Oh! I, uh–”

Emi let go of Beatrice and sat up from the bed. Her hands began to shake. What did she think she was going to accomplish with all of that? What a moron. What a–

Beatrice, still laying on her side cracked up laughing. “Emi, I love you.”

“I’m so sorry.” Tears welled up in Emi’s eyes.

“You’re great. Maybe an idiot, but you’re great.”

“I’m so–Hey, I’m not an idiot!”

Beatrice sat up and nuzzled her forehead against Emi’s. “You’re smarter than I’ll ever be,” she said. “Not about everything, though.” She kissed her on the cheek and stood up from the bed. She went over to her desk and grabbed a notebook. “By the way, I wanted you to have this.”


“In exchange for the centaur carving. This is every note I took for every subject in my AA-grade classes at the junior priest academy. All of them for you.”

“For me? How come?”

“Just a keepsake, something to remember me by. And maybe I have some romantic notes scribbled in the margins here and there…”

“I’ll read every page.”

Beatrice giggled. “I know you will.” She handed her the notebook. “Now go home before Ms. Khami gets worried. We have a trip to prepare for.”

“Yes ma’am.” Emi saluted with the notebook. 

If everything went well, this would be perfect. If it didn’t, everything could come crashing down. But Emi was willing to take those odds.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 39: At the Lab Again

Runa scurried around her lab, placing pieces of rocks all over the room. After that, she placed a shining metallic sphere right in the center of the room, inside that same cage of glass where those unfortunate bunnies used to be kept.

Emi seemed to be glad to be back and see the weird experiments once again, but Beatrice was very much in distress about being made to meet Runa again. Her girlfriend had no clue what haunting memories she had about her time as the girl’s babysitter… Seriously, I really think you should read your history books if you don’t know who Runa Arakawa is. I can’t believe you don’t know her. You’re really laughing about how silly she is? Gods, what has the world come to?

“I am not fooling around here with this deadly science,” Runa said. “There should be no way for this to occur. The sphere, which would normally act as the magnetic core of the golem, is completely separate from its other pieces. And I have drained the magical energy residue from each one, of course.” She pointed up to the large crystal hanging in the air, which made Beatrice wonder for a brief moment if the bunny test was going to be extended to the three humans in here this time. “But once I depolarize the energy and reactivate the sphere, it shall reassemble immediately!”

Runa pulled a lever, and the crystal in the air dropped. It crashed on the ground, shattering into a million pieces and sending magical energy swirling around the laboratory, zig-zagging and bouncing off the walls and curving around Runa’s equipment. Beatrice jumped out of the way of one of the magical beams, and as a result she tripped and fell onto the dirt floor. Emi let the beams pass through her and laughed.

“Runa, what are you doing?” Beatrice shouted, picking herself back up and dusting off her skirt.

“Worry not. This should be perfectly safe for humans, if I have done my calculations correctly.” The look of horror on Beatrice’s face told all, but Runa simply smiled as if nothing was wrong. Emi seemed just as pleased, clapping at the show before her.

The swirling aura of magic did seem a bit uninterested in the humans; it bounced around the laboratory for a while and passed through Emi’s body a couple times, then eventually entered each of the individual rocks spread out across the room. The pieces levitated up and circled together in a humanoid outline, filling in until only the chest area was missing.

“Now, the pieces will look for their core– their soul,” Runa said.

“Which is that sphere, right?” Emi asked.

“Yes. But because I have drained it of magical energy and hidden it behind a physical barrier, the rocks should normally be unable to find it. But if my hypothesis is correct, we will see a miracle happen right about…”


The rocks floated around the laboratory for another minute…

…And then all at once, they collapsed onto the ground.

“Noooooooooo!” Runa ran over to the rocks and cried out in dismay, ranting about magical theorems and whatnot, speaking too quickly for Beatrice to decipher.

Emi looked over to Beatrice, who was still deeply mortified by everything that had just happened. “Runa’s so cute,” she said.

“Have you seen the way she looks at you, Emi?” Beatrice asked. “You may think she has feelings for you, but she wants to use you as a test subject.”

Emi seemed to regard this for a moment, as she put a finger on her lips. It didn’t phase her, though. “Why do you keep visiting her, anyway?”

“She would probably send her creations out to hunt me down if I didn’t show up,” Beatrice answered.


Even Beatrice had to admit that that wasn’t an honest answer. “She’s not the worst kid in the world, okay? And her experiments aren’t too far from plausible. Even if they may be creepy.”

“Well, I don’t think they’re creepy,” Emi said. “I think they’re pretty cool. When they work, at least.”

“Thanks for being a supportive girlfriend,” Beatrice said.


She still wasn’t used to using that term. They had become an undeniable, undoubtedly legitimate couple, and yet she still felt a pitter-patter every time she said the word. Beatrice wondered if that feeling would ever really go away. She sort of hoped it wouldn’t.

Runa was still raving about in the mad scientist mode she was currently in, and had seemed to have forgotten she had guests in the laboratory with her. Beatrice took advantage of the opportunity, and stepped right in front of Emi. She put her hands on her shoulders. Then she leaned in and kissed Emi on the lips. 

Emi locked up like a statue, acting like an electrical surge had passed through her body for a few seconds. This happened every time they kissed. Beatrice giggled. Endlessly cute, this L’Hime girl.

Runa suddenly snapped back towards Beatrice and Emi, and gave a toothy grin. “I’ve figured out my error,” she said. “I know how to fix this!”

Emi tried to shake herself out of the sudden kiss she had just received. “Wh… What was it?”

“I shattered the wrong soul crystal,” she said. “The one I used must have been for a melted ice golem, not the stone golem I had desired. Therefore its metallic core would not react to the rocks. An easy fix…. but my supply of golem cores has run thin and must be replenished. So my quest to create life has been… postponed!”

“We’ll see you next time,” Beatrice said.

“You shall. And bring this lovely lady with you,” she said, staring at Emi without a semblance of politeness about her. “She is a fine specimen of human life.”

“I’m always glad to come,” Emi said.

“Me too,” said Beatrice. If it meant spending more time with Emi, she was glad to do anything.

They went upstairs and met Mrs. Arakawa, who was wrapping up a wooden box full of rice cakes for the girls. “Thank you so much for visiting my dear Runa,” she told them.

“You’re very welcome,” they said in unison.

Beatrice gave a quick kiss to Emi’s cheek and took the box. 

“Tris…” Emi was shaking.

“I love you,” she whispered.

“I love you too,” Emi whispered back. “Let’s go home.”

And they did start to head home, travelling south from the Arakawa house towards downtown Balarand. But as they approached their normal departing point near the library, Emi stopped. Beatrice only noticed after a few steps that she was no longer there, and turned around to see her girlfriend standing, fists balled up as she tugged on her own skirt.

The setting sun hit her back, igniting a glow behind her that made her appear a spectral figure. The flurries of snow whistled in the wind, making the air sparkle around them. And those eyes, just as deep and earthy as ancient buried treasure…

Was this it?

“Will you…” Emi began.

“Will I what?”


It was clear she had something important to say, but it wasn’t coming out like she wanted. She tried again. “I’ve been meaning to tell you about this, and you might get really mad because I didn’t tell you about it, but if you listen to me I think you’ll understand, and maybe it’s a good thing, or maybe a bad thing, I’m not sure. But it’s important, so… I… will you…”

“Emi? What is it?”

Beatrice had no idea what she was trying to say. It was cute at first, but now Beatrice was starting to get worried.

Finally, Emi asked, ”Will you eat supper with me?”

“…Yeah? Of course?”

“I mean…” Emi sighed and grabbed Beatrice by the wrist. “Come with me, please. Let’s go eat.”

Where they were going, Beatrice didn’t know. But as long as it was with Emi, she was fine with everything. So with a smile on her face, she let Emi lead the way to whatever place she wanted to go. It didn’t matter, except that they were going together.

Though it would have been nice to know she was going to her own apartment.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 37: Sitting on the Couch

On a particular couch in a particular house, two girls sat side by side reading, and smiles shined on their faces.

Beatrice, free from her schooling duties and not yet deep into her Priesthood Exam studies, was finally reading a fictional book for the first time in a while–a mystery novel titled Hauntsgiving. It was the first part of a longer saga called The Elf Cycle, and this first one was about a dead mage’s spirit terrorizing a provincial town in some far-off land. 

So far, the book was… okay. The thrills were compelling and kept her hooked like a salmon, but the characters were two-dimensional stereotypes and there was little artistic depth to the story thus far. But Emi had asked her–more like begged her–to read the book, and she was willing to put up with any narrative deficiencies to keep her girlfriend happy.

Emi was on the eighth book in the same series, published just like week, titled The Last Gemini. It was an amazing adventure with the mage ghost and her mythical golem partner, following the two as they solved a series of grisly murders. She adored every mystery and every twist and every line of witty dialogue. The tragic star-crossed romance between the ghost and the golem, hopelessly in love but unable to admit it to each other in all their dual immortality…. It was an enthralling experience. Trapped in time, and trapped in romance…

The two women said little as they read. There wasn’t much to say. Well, besides one very specific phrase:

“I love you,” whispered Beatrice.

Emi giggled and her face lit up. She took a deep breath and inhaled her girlriend’s scent. It reminded Emi of the marketplace from all that time ago…The memory of autumn air blew against her cheeks. Sweet and crisp as ever. She could still see the tables of fruits and veggies; she could still taste the crunch of the salmon bind in her hand; she could still absorb herself in the deep lakes of Beatrice’s eyes.

Beatrice saw Emi’s look, felt Emi’s breath, and couldn’t help but blush as well.

It had been a long time since Beatrice and Emi had first met, since they first studied together at the library. Then, they were so ensnared by each other’s exuberant beauties that neither could keep their attention away from one another. Over time they had grown more comfortable together, more solidly in love, and that skittish infatuation had faded. Now, spending alone time together was no more nerve-wracking than taking a nap.

And speaking of that…

Beatrice set her book on the arm of the couch, stretched out for a moment, and then laid down and put her head on Emi’s lap. She closed her eyes. Emi’s thighs made for excellent pillows; they were firm, smooth, and wonderful.

Emi wasn’t about to quit reading her book, not until she figured out the golem’s hidden secret, but she felt the warm head on her lap and began moving her fingers through Beatrice’s winding curly hair.

“Mmmm,” Beatrice muttered like a purring snow leopard. She took her hand and rubbed her fingers on Emi’s face, down her pointy nose, over her lips, and then across her cheek and through her still-shockingly short hair. Emi let the girl’s soft fingertips send a jolt of electricity down her spine and overwhelm her senses, each and every one of them. She took the girl’s hand away from her hair and clasped it within her own.

Emi giggled again. “I love you,” she said.

But Beatrice had already fallen asleep.

It was a great thing, Emi thought, that their lives had ended up a lot better than that of the ghost and golem from The Elf Cycle. If Emi hadn’t sat down at the desk in the library that autumn day, they may have gone their whole lives without knowing each other’s embraces. And yet, due to whatever miracle of luck that graced them, she did sit down, and they did meet, and they were together now.

But even as she continued to flip through The Last Gemini, where it turned out that the dead mage may have been alive, but astrally-projecting her ghost body the whole time, a worrying thought scratched through her mind. Many worrying thoughts, in fact. Emi was notorious for her ability to fret and ponder over every little thing, whether that was about the secrets she kept or the clothes she wore or that embarrassing thing she said to a shopkeep six days earlier.

But then she looked down at Beatrice, sound asleep in her arms, and those worried disappeared. Because in reality, it didn’t matter what was coming, what worries she had or what insurmountable challenges faced them. Because they were in love.

Emi reached the end of her book; it ended with a captivating cliffhanger, but she couldn’t help but keep her attention on the woman laying on her lap, the woman holding her hand. She set it down and leaned her head back on the couch.

She could hear Beatrice breathing in, and out, and in, and out, and in… and out… Even the way she exhaled was cute. Without thinking, Emi matched the rhythm. Their tempos synchronized. Emi not only heard Beatrice, but felt her very being, in a sense. They breathed in and out together just like this.

With her free hand, Emi continued to play with Beatrice’s hair. She put her fingers into the jungle of curls, letting the hairs wrap themselves around her hand, and then unwind as soon as she pulled it through. Like a spring in a machine, they bounced back into their original positions. 

Life would be easier if people were built like machines, Emi thought. Life would be easier if…

Before she could do any further reflecting, she fell asleep.


Beatrice giggled as she entered Emi’s bedroom. “You must have tidied up recently,” she said. “There’s no way the Emi I know would be this clean.”


“Am I wrong?”

“W-Well, this is the new me, the new and improved Clean Diplomat Girl,” Emi said. She noticed her outfit from yesterday laying on the floor and kicked it under the bed. “How do you like the place?”

Beatrice took a tour around the bedroom, walking while rotating herself in a circle, apparently trying to capture it all. Emi didn’t think this was a good sign. Finally, she answered: “Your room is as big as my apartment.”

“I knew you’d say something like that…”

Beatrice went over to one of Emi’s closets and opened it to reveal even more space. “You have a closet you can walk in!” she exclaimed. “Who in the world needs so much room? You should be renting this place out to a whole family, and then you could make a whole bunch of money off of it.”

“I don’t exactly…” She didn’t want to come off as a rich brat. She had to watch her words. “One day, I want to give the whole place away to people who need it, if I ever can. Though, I guess my brother Touma will probably inherit the house, not me…”

“Touma L’Hime? THE Touma L’Hime?”

“Don’t you start that again,” Emi said.

Beatrice snickered. “Your room looks nice. Especially this painting over here.”

“Oh! Do you recognize it?”

“No, but it looks pretty.”

“It’s a famous painting called The First Winter Ceremonies, by Tormod Benici. It depicts, uh, the first Winter Ceremonies. He said he was inspired to make it after receiving a vision from Bk’Man Himself, so he used the stark white snow to plaster on a dreamlike haze to the whole event.”

“And you own this famous painting?”

“No, it’s just a copy,” Emi said. “The real one is up in a museum somewhere in Dannark, I think. It’s way bigger.”

“It’d be nice to see someday,” Beatrice said. “Maybe you could prove to me fairies aren’t completely fake nonsense.”

“They’re real!” Emi shouted. “I mean… They don’t live in Balarand so the painting isn’t accurate, but nobody said the painting was real… Well, I guess…”

Beatrice giggled. She loved seeing Emi flustered, no matter how easy it was to accomplish. In fact, she did it again by stepping to her side and wrapping her arm around her waist. She recoiled for just a moment, but then relaxed and let Beatrice hold her.

“Just the two of us in your bedroom…” Beatrice whispered.

“Just the two of us in my bedroom…” Emi whispered back in a much more apprehensive tone.

“Ah, I see. You must have cleaned up in here just for the occasion.”

“I… Uh–” Emi froze up for a second, then shot back to life in a burst of energy. She left Beatrice’s side and then walked over to a shelf containing a very familiar item. “Look at this! Remember this thing?”

“Oh, that’s the centaur carving from our second date!” Beatrice exclaimed. “I forgot all about that.”

“What a night, huh…”

“A gondola ride, a light snowfall, and a dance at a fancy party… That was an awful long time ago.” Beatrice let herself get swept up in the amazing memories of that night spent wandering Balarand with Emi.

“It hasn’t been that long,” Emi said. “Only a few months, I think.”

“But so much has happened since then. I feel like a completely new person by now.”

“You do?” Emi asked.

“Don’t you?”

“If I became a new person, you might not love me anymore.”

“There isn’t a world out there where I don’t love you,” Beatrice said. “That fact is etched into the fabric of the universe.”

Emi suddenly choked up and had to fight back the incoming tears. After a moment of sniffling, she calmed down and picked up the centaur carving. “Tris, can I give this to you?”

“Eh? how come?”

“I thought maybe you’d like to have it as a reminder of, um, how our love is etched into the fabric of the universe.”

“I’m not really big on gifts, and I know you aren’t either. So I don’t see why.”

“Not really a gift or anything,” Emi said, “but just so we can have something of each other’s to remind ourselves of… This is embarrassing to say out loud.”

Beatrice went over to Emi and kissed her on the lips. “You’re so sweet. I’ll take it. One day, I’ll give you something of mine, too.”

“That’d be great.”

“Of course, speaking of gifts…” Beatrice winked and put a hand on Emi’s cheek.

That same cheek, of course, lit up in rosy red. “Tris!”

“Hehehe–Oh, what’s that over there?” She pointed to a bundle in the corner of the room that was covered with a blanket. 

“It’s, uh, well, it’s just some blankets, of course! Yeah, just blankets.”

Beatrice’s eyes narrowed and she smiled slyly. “Yeah, just blankets. Not that mystery thing you keep mentioning, just some blankets. I get you.”

“Haha…” Emi’s laugh was incredibly insincere, but she was sure it fooled her. Definitely.

Next, Beatrice’s attention turned to Emi’s bed, freshly made-up and adorned with pillows of all sorts. Emi was actually proud to have made her bed, all by herself, with no help from anyone. It was a work of art that could never be replicated.

“That’s a really nice bed,” Beatrice said. “It looks so comfortable.”

Emi beamed. “Yep. It’s one of the best beds in all of Balarand.”

“Yeah, I bet it is. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen one this big, either. I’d love to try it out…” She took a hop and landed on the bed on her knees. “Gods, this is soft.”

“Haha…” Emi’s face had turned completely red. “Too bad we took a nap on the couch earlier. Hey, why don’t we go see some other rooms in my house? Doesn’t that sound fun? Here, I’ll show you to the storage room downstairs. It’s where my family used to keep the horses.” Without hesitating for a second she left the bedroom. 

Beatrice lingered in the bedroom for a moment. She wore a mischievous grin on her face.

<== PreviousNext ==>

Chapter 36: The Cure for Lame Feelings

“Gods, Tris, your hair is getting so long,” Emi said as she circled around to their usual table at the library. She sat down with her brand-new book and added, “It looks amazing, though.”

“Mm.” Beatrice sat at her side of the table, books and notebooks out, but her gaze was directed off to the side as she stared into the distance.

“Weird, isn’t it? When we first met, I was the one with long hair, now yours is just as long as mine used to be. Not that you had short hair back then. I think it’s better now, but it’s hard to say what your perfect hairstyle is. There’s a… Hey, Tris, are you okay?”

Finally, Beatrice snapped away from her trance. “Oh, Emi. Yeah, I’m okay. I was just thinking.”

“Hm, you don’t look okay.”

Beatrice’s shoulders slumped over. “You know me too well. I’m not feeling too great right now. I’ve got some lame feelings going on.”

“Oh, Tris,” Emi said with her most sickly sweet sympathy voice. “What’s wrong?”


“You don’t wanna talk about it?”

Beatrice shook her head.

“Well, that’s alright. Leave the talking to me.” Emi set down her new book and adopted the most confident, princessly posture she could muster. “See this here? This is my very own copy of The Last Gemini. What is The Last Gemini, you ask?”

No reply. Beatrice was back to looking lame again.

The Last Gemini is the eighth and newest book in The Elf Cycle, my favorite book series of all-time. It’s filled with romance and mystery and adventure and peril and every single page just hooks you because it’s all so exciting. I’ve recommended it to you before, but… You’ve just got to read this series, Tris! I’ve been waiting for years for the new one to come out, and so the moment it did, I went and bought one of the library’s copy. It’s sold out everywhere else. Nothing in the world is better than reading a book series with a loved one, so I really hope you read it someday.”

“Heh, Emi. My Dad loves that series too, you know.”

“Yep, he’s the one who got me into the series!” Emi exclaimed. “He left work early today just to get a head start on me. What a devious man.”

“So go ahead and get started,” Beatrice said. “I’ll just be here, um, being your friend.”


Beatrice gave a deep frown and said, “Actually, I do wanna talk about it. Emi, sweetie, can you move your chair over here?”

“You’ve never called me ‘sweetie’ before… Boy, this must be serious.” Emi took her chair and plopped it next to Beatrice. The moment she sat down, Beatrice rest her head on her shoulder. It felt like a big win, except that seeing her like this was certainly not giving a winning feeling.

“I talked to Mr. Statusian yesterday, you know, my teacher from St. Helens,” Beatrice said. “He told me… He told me that I…”

“Tris…” Emi put her hand on her thigh and let her take it. She squeezed the hand a lot tighter than Emi had expected.

“He told me I’m going to be something special,” she said. “Special as in the kind of priest who single handedly brings a new era for the church. What in Bk’Man’s name am I supposed to do with that kind of comment?”

“You’re already something special to me.”

“Shut up with your corny, lines, you amazing woman,” Beatrice snapped. “The Priesthood Exams are in a few months and if I pass, they’re going to offer me to join the church, and then I’m going to apparently become a hero across the world. And that’s everything I’ve always wanted, but…”


“Oh, Emi, I feel so lame. I can’t be a priest when I have my family and friends and you, can I? It’s… Ugh, I shouldn’t even be talking about this with you.” Beatrice buried her face further into Emi’s shoulder, like a bird taking roost.

“Why shouldn’t you be?”

“Because you’re… Because this is all about you.”

“Exactly why I need to–” Emi cut herself off the moment the image of Lady Khara popped into her head. Or, her imagination’s image of Lady Khara. “Tris, you don’t need to worry about me. I chose to love you and that won’t end for any silly reason like this.”

“Becoming a priest is silly?”

“Well…” Emi had to choose her next words carefully. “I want you to be happy, Tris. The most happy. You’re not happy now, and it’s starting to upset me too. So whatever I can do to help you, that’s what I’ll do.”

“You don’t have to do anything,” Beatrice said. “Just listening is enough, and you’re an amazing listener.”

“Thank you.” Emi took a deep breath and added, “But.”


“I have decided that I’m going to make sure you’re happy. I will be your guardian spirit, compelling you onto the path of harmony.”

“Why are you talking like that?”

“Let us go forth,” Emi said, taking her book and putting it into her handbag. “We will use the best parts of Balarand to cure the lame feelings of one Beatrice Ragnell!”

“Oh my, you’re in one of those moods again.”

“Indeed I am! Let’s head out on an adventure!”

Beatrice shook her head slowly, but she got up and followed her out of the library. 

Emi had the perfect plan.


But first, they had to get groceries.

Beatrice already felt a lot better, to be honest. Just talking a bit about her worries to Emi had cleared away most of the doldrums bubbling over inside of her. But Emi had acted with such decisive, adorable energy that it’d be a crime to stifle her now.

Even now here in the marketplace, as Beatrice picked out vegetables to bring back home for her Mom to cook, Emi was clearly restless, obviously antsy to get on with whatever crazy plan she had thought up. If they didn’t go do that soon, she was likely to explode outright.

“There’s a lot of the same vegetables here,” Emi said, not so subtly hinting that Beatrice was taking too long. She was starting to get annoying.

“I’m sorry, the selection isn’t very good this close to closing time,” Beatrice said. “Why don’t you go people-watching or something?”

“Oh, right. I’ll go do that.” Emi turned around in a huff. But then, of course, she actually did start people-watching.

It was hard finding the right produce when most of what remained were the damaged, unsightly, or just plain small ones that none of the morning shopper particularly wanted.

Beatrice decided not to turn this whole endeavor into some strange metaphor for her indecision and mixed feelings about the priesthood and about her entire life’s goals being turned into some looming threat, because she didn’t feel these vegetables really deserved the pain of being forced into that kind of weak comparison.

Instead, she found some acceptable-looking onions and daikons to–

“Oh, isn’t that your friend, that Bodhi guy?” Emi asked.


Beatrice turned around to look and see Bodhi, and there he was, walking by on the other side of the street. He noticed her, and then tipped his hat and waved his hand. But then he kept on walking and was soon enveloped by the crowd around him.

“Yeah, that was Bodhi,” Beatrice said. “Why did he… not come and say hello?”

“He didn’t want to bother you, I guess,” Emi said.

“But I haven’t seen him in ages. Where has he been lately…?”

“Hm.” Emi didn’t say any more than that, but her face seemed telling. Exactly what she was telling, though, Beatrice couldn’t quite discern.

That was so weird. Bodhi used always say hello. He even used to come to the library sometimes to see her, usually to nag her into hanging out with all his junior priest friends. Now that they had graduated, he seemed to be keeping a distance. Literally.

Now Beatrice was starting to feel bad again.

Emi noticed it and grabbed both of her shoulders. “Okay, you have your veggies. Now, let’s go cure those lame feelings of yours!”

“Okay, okay, lead the way.”

“I can’t lead if we’re side-by-side, you know,” she said.

“Is that a request to hold my hand?”

“You know it!”

Beatrice couldn’t help but smile at her girlfriend’s infectious silliness.

They walked a ways west in town, away from the library and Castle Balarand, away from the marketplaces and restaurants and towards a series of large apartment buildings. Beatrice hardly knew this neighborhood. But Emi did?

“Will you ever tell me where we’re going?” Beatrice asked.

“Don’t have to. We’re already here,” Emi said.

Here they were, standing in front of a building marked “Pets & Pleasure.”


They walked in and from that exact moment, everything clicked into place for Beatrice. She heard some growling and whimpering and other excited animal noises, then the odor of furry creatures hit her nose with some 

“My friend told me about this place,” Emi explained. “It’s a shelter for greyback bears that get picked up off the street and need a place to stay. It’s really important during the winter, where lot of stray greybacks face hunger and harsh weather, but it’s open year-round and anyone can visit.”

“I thought you hated greybacks.”

“I, uh, do. But I’m willing to put up with them to cure your lame feelings. Because guess what they have here? A cub petting area!” 

Aww, Emi was really putting her own feelings aside just for–Cub petting area?!

Beatrice dashed over to the tiny greyback cubs and nearly attacked them with love and affection. Awwwww wooooowww…

Emi did not join her in petting the cubs; in fact, she continued to keep her distance the entire time. For some reason, that just made Beatrice love her even more. All of this, just because she was feeling a little down today? She was the best. 

Wow what amazing creatures. Beatrice began petting two of them at the same time. It was a spectacular feat that made her feel so happy.

Nobody in the world deserved such a wonderful woman as Emi L’Hime. And nobody in the world deserved such wonderful furballs to pet for hours. But Beatrice had them both.

<== 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 34: The Winter Ceremonies

Snowflakes kept falling on Emi’s head. 

Her eyes were going to turn red soon if this didn’t stop.

She meant to wear a hat, but when she actually opened her closet to find one to suit her black dress, she couldn’t anything that matched. All that organizing she and Pip had done to her bedroom… it ruined everything. Just like the man whose feet were too big for his bed, nothing seemed to fit…

Those snowflakes were falling on her head. And they kept falling. 

Emi stood by herself in the middle of a crowded gathering area near the statue of Jon Knoll, to whom Knoll Park was originally dedicated. Apparently that man was a direct ancestor to our present-day Tia Knoll, his great-great-great-great grandfather or something. The statue sure looked like him, too, minus the wig and dresses.

She felt a bit weird standing around with a bunch of students from a school she had never been to, all dressed in the same exact too-thin-for-the-winter uniform Beatrice sported almost every day. Then there was her, who had on an elegant and warm-colored dress. She stood out, and she was sure everyone was staring at her, making comments about her. Being in a crowd, and one where she looked unique, made her sweat from the stress, even in this weather. The things Emi did for Beatrice…

Despite being angry that they would leave so suddenly, she was also glad her parents were still out in Zahn; if they were here, she would never have been able to get out of all the stupid parties today. So many balls and dances and creepy older men hitting on her. And as unfortunate as it was, she was happy King Kline’s processions weren’t happening this year… 

Yes, she had decided to be in favor of a hostile takeover of her kingdom’s government just so she didn’t have to go to as many parties this year. It was worth it.

Situated right in the center of Knoll Park, the Winter Ceremonies ritual was about to begin, and Knoll Park was soon to be shielded from harm for the rest of the year. Emi only knew the basics of magical incantations from what she studied to impress Beatrice, but she knew well that, when people channeled together their souls together with the correct strength, they really could do amazing things. And that’s how this ritual here was supposed to work.

A local priest, dressed in a traditional white-and-orange Elincian garb, began pounding on a drum to a rhythmic cadence. On cue, dozens of robed individuals, apparently Beatrice and her classmates, stepped out and encircled the Jon Knoll statue, taking each step in beat with the drum. They all had their heads down and Emi most definitely could not tell which of them was Beatrice herself, hard as she looked; anyone who says they can pick their loved ones out of a crowd like this are bald-faced liars.

One more priest, the man Emi identified as Beatrice’s teacher Mr. Statusian–she had mentioned him a few times and always mentioned his boyish good looks–stepped up in front of the circle of junior priest and clapped his hands. The drums stopped, and the park fell silent, aside from some chirping birds.

“We gather here to begin the Winter Ceremonies,” he shouted. “These junior priests, graduating this winter from the St. Helens Academy, have gathered here to send praise on up high and make sure the Gods know our devotion. If there are no objections, we will begin.”

Mr. Statusian waited for a moment, and then clapped once more. “Good. Junior priests?” The junior priests began moving their hands together in a rhythmic, circular motion. It was not in-sync, but instead staggered, each person’s orbit of hands leading into the next. It conjured up the image of a spiraling orb flowing through a field. At the same time, some of them also moved their positions forward or backwards. These things together made the image appear to move in and out of the depth of field.

The group continued this rhythmic motion, moving about until their formation was that of a sort of star, and then, all at once, they clapped their hands together bowed at a forty-five degree angle.

A glowing magical field formed in the spaces between them, casting a purple hue over the entire surrounding area. Like a funhouse mirror it warped the image in front of Emi’s eyes, and she could no longer clearly see what was going on except that the junior priests were staying in position. This energy was similar what she had seen in Runa’s laboratory, though unlike that time, the magic was not moving around erratically like lightning bolts, but instead focused in a steady position, almost standstill.

Silence struck the entire park, as if time had frozen just as much as the snow that covered the ground. And then, Emi had a sudden burst of inspiration about how to finish her machine. The way these junior priests had moved, the way they had created a picture with only their own movement… Wow. The gears in her mind began rotating, and– Well, she would think about it later. For now, she needed to pay attention to the ritual.

The silence was finally broken in a symphonic booming of voices. “Bk’Man, we honor Thee,” the junior priests said in unison. “Keep our winters wet and warm. Protect our city as we protect Your lands. And bless Knoll Park. Let Your delicate harmony wash over us.” They added something in a dialect that Emi couldn’t parse, and then unclasped their hands.

Immediately, the magical energy on the ground surged upwards into the sky, creating a literal barrier around the park so thick even snow could not pass through; it piled up at the top of the shimmering, purple dome thirty feet in the air.

After several moments and many gasps of awe, the junior priests threw down their hands all at once. The barrier dissipated and the snow gathered at the top came torrenting down.

A giant ball of snow and ice hit Emi in the head and covered her hair. That figured.

“Knoll Park has been blessed for the new year,” the junior priests said. “Thank you, people of Balarand, for keeping your spirits strong once again.” They exited just as they came. Apparently, the park was now blessed by the God Bk’Man. 

The crowd cheered. Now that the Winter Ceremonies had officially begun, it was time to have some fun, with the knowledge of a safer Balarand at the back of everyone’s minds.

Emi had no idea how that barrier worked, but it was exciting to watch. The idea that someone could manipulate the forces around them with only the energy of their own soul, that someone could be greater than the nature that had shaped them… Well, it was very interesting. Though, she wondered why the barrier suddenly disappeared like that. From what little she studied about magical incantations, she couldn’t explain this ritual in the slightest. It probably took a better understanding of religious rituals to figure it out.

The life of a priest–or even a junior priest–intrigued Emi. Beatrice hadn’t much discussed the priesthood since they started dating, so all she knew was what she gathered from her history textbooks. And, unlike you, my little lazy grandchild, Emi studied a lot, so she was very well informed. She knew what the priesthood meant to Tsubasa, but most of all, she knew what it would mean if Beatrice became a priest. 

Emi tried to keep it out of her mind, but if Beatrice really was going to go off and become some celibate warrior-monk off in the Frozen Desert, fighting sabertooth tigers or whatever priests did, then Emi was probably going to… Well, as long as Beatrice was happy with hunting giant animals in the tundra, that was what was important, she guessed.

Okay, perhaps Emi isn’t the best example of an educated woman. I stand corrected.

Anyway, she wasn’t going to think about that anymore, because Beatrice was here now, out of her robes and into a heavy winter coat. A boy in a tattered jacket followed closely behind.

“Emi, how did you like it?” Beatrice asked, giving her a quick hug.

“It was fantastic,” Emi said. “I’ve never seen something like that before. But.. Do you feel any different now? I don’t. Does that mean the ceremony failed?”

“That’s not how the blessing works,” Beatrice switched into lecture mode. “It’s difficult for humans to detect, because it’s not a physically occurring effect.” 

Emi wasn’t quite convinced. “The barrier physically occurred, though….”



“Hi,” the boy said. “I’m Bodhi. Bodhi Makala.” He was nice, with a wide smile and light, turquoise eyes. He was what she always pictured when storybooks would feature a magical prince or dashing knight, his stature so tall and broad that you’d think he was a professional sportsman. He looked like a princely celebrity much more than he looked a low-class junior priest.

“Nice to meet you. Emi, current assumed head of the L’Hime Family household.” She extended her hand and Bodhi reluctantly shook it. She realized how formally she had just introduced herself, and with a half-lie considering that Ms. Khami was effectively the head of the household while her parents were away, even if Emi had legal status… Oh, why did she always mess up with things like these? And why were they still shaking hands?

Beatrice noticed her flusterations and put her arm around Emi’s shoulder, getting her to let go of Bodhi’s hand. “Sorry,” she said. “This is my girlfriend. She’s just being silly right now.”

Emi tried to giggle but it didn’t come out right.

Still… that word. Girlfriend. It made her heart melt just hearing it come out of Beatrice’s mouth.

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Bodhi said. “You’ve got to be something special to get a girl like her away from studying all day.”

Beatrice rolled her eyes, but Emi laughed. “She still studies all the time, don’t worry. She wouldn’t be such a genius if she didn’t!”

“I’m no genius…” whined Beatrice.

“You’ve been a genius since we were toddlers,” said Bodhi. “Now you’re just old enough that it’s not scary to everyone.”


“Good to see Emi’s as beautiful as you deserve, though. That haircut is excellent.”

“Isn’t it?” Emi patted the back of her head, where there was once so much more hair covering it. 

Beatrice sighed and mumbled something along the lines of, “…can’t believe you…” 

“Well, nice to meet you, Emi,” Bodhi said. His smile, she realized, wasn’t as strong as when he introduced himself. “I have to go meet up with my family. I guess I’ll see you around, Bea?”

“Not if you call me Bea you won’t.”

He laughed, and said, “Well, I hope you do well in the Priesthood Exams. Beatrice.”


He left, and Emi wondered for a moment how much Beatrice realized about her own situation with that boy. Then… she felt a wave of bliss when she realized Beatrice’s arm was still around her.

“Let’s go explore the festival,” Beatrice suggested.



Alongside the Winter Ceremonies is the biggest festival of the year in Balarand, and perhaps all of Tsubasa. Hundreds of thousands go to Balarand every year for the Winter Ceremonies, from all across the entire continent. It truly is something special, I will tell you that.

Even during this time of occupation by Dannark, people from all over Elince still flocked to the capital to enjoy the festivities, and in this year in particular, Dannark citizens came in droves as well. There was hardly a hotel room open, hardly a shop with empty space during this year’s festival.

For as cold as the city was, the vibrant atmosphere of the Winter Ceremonies was as warm as the spiciest salmon bind.

Situated downtown was a massive display of snow sculptures of endless design, some of them so intricate and detailed that they could be looked upon for hours and still you could find new details to appreciate. One of the biggest sculptures was an entire miniature village of more than a dozen snow buildings and hundreds of snow people going about their snow lives. Another featured an expressive rendition of Empress Nievol’s face, though this sculpture was guarded closely by four Dannark soldiers and attracted few to give it a thorough examination.

Beatrice and Emi looked at a sculpture that seemed to be depicting two human children having a snowball fight, but the anatomy was misshapen in a way that made it look more like a fierce battle between humanoid snow leopards… or maybe a mating ritual between two birds.

It was a bit perplexing, and they studied it for far longer than it was worth.

And yet… There was something interesting about such an odd ice sculpture, something so…. Actually, both of them had become quite bored quite quickly. 

It was better to try out all the snacks!

“I love food so much,” Emi said.

“You love food, and you love getting drastic haircuts without the faintest warning to your own girlfriend,” Beatrice said.

“You’ll never let it go, will you?”

“Not until I forget it thanks to too many sweets.”

Emi had already purchased and eaten three different stuffed salmon binds, each a different flavor from a different food stand. The marketplace always had these kinds of foods on sale, but on the Winter Ceremonies day, there were ten times the options, all with different prices and reputations to uphold.

If she were a more discerning girl, she would take the time to study the prices and figure out what was the best value for her money. That’s what Beatrice did right now, looking at two nearly-identical cake stands with as puzzling a look as she had given that snow sculpture.

“If it’s about price, I can buy you anything you need,” Emi said.

“No, no… it’s not that,” said Beatrice, her eyes locked on the two separate chocolate cake stands in front of her. The vendors were starting to get worried about her intent, intense staring. “I want to make sure any money I spend is a good choice. Even if it’s yours.”

“I could buy both of these stands and then make both of these vendors my personal chefs, Tris. It really doesn’t matter.”

Beatrice ignored that comment.

 After several more moments of deliberation, Beatrice finally chose the cake stand on the right, buying one piece of chocolate cream cake. She offered a bite to Emi, and then nibbled at the rest.

“Wow, this is pretty amazing,” Emi said. 

“You see? We’re getting our money’s worth. That’s why it tastes so good.”

Emi wasn’t really sure about that.


The parade down the Grand Concourse was about to begin, and thousands of Balarand citizens lined up along the bridges in wait. 

“I used to come watch the parade with my parents every year,” Beatrice said. “I stopped going when I got older, because I thought it was boring to sit and watch carriages pass by for an hour. But I’ve realized something, Emi.”

“What is it?”

“Parades are pretty great.”

“You know, I used to be in these,” Emi said. “When I was little, they always made me play a snow fairy who circled around the main carriage throwing candy out to the audience. It was really tiring, you know!”

“You probably threw candy to me at some point.”

“Huh. Isn’t that weird? That’s another time we could have met but didn’t.” Emi thought back to that time, wondering how her life would have changed if she had, as a young girl, met eyes with this girl next to her. 

How different would her life have been if she had met the love of her life that long ago? Her parents may have even approved of Beatrice if they had met at that age, even if she was a commoner. She would have never had to hear the name Lady Khara, or read the woman’s stupid letters, or deal with any of the nonsense that went along with an arranged marriage to someone she had never met.

Suddenly the parade stopped.

“What’s going on?” Beatrice asked.

“I have no idea.” Neither did any of the other people watching the parade, it seemed, as they looked around at each other and out at the floats with collective confusion.

A large group of men and women wearing bandanas over their faces entered the stopped parade procession and began blockading the carriages’ advance. They held up large signs that read, “Free Balarand!” The same man wearing the Mammoth mask in the style of the God Nexurk was in the protest group, and stood in the center, waving his arms around like he was conducting a worship song.

They quickly began their chant. “Winter Ceremonies are for Elince! Elince is not for Dannark!” It wasn’t a particularly catchy phrase, but some in the audience joined in and yelled alongside them. Emi was tempted to yell as well, but she knew Beatrice would get upset.

It was only a few moments before Dannark soldiers stormed onto the Grand Concourse. Soldiers entered and the protestors piped down, put their hands behind their backs, and surrendered themselves without hesitation. The soldiers rounded them up peacefully. One soldier threw the mask-wearing man onto the icy ground and kicked him, but it elicited no counterreaction.

As they nudged the blockade of protestors out, one officer unraveled a scroll and yelled at the crowds to disperse from the scene, ending the parade prematurely. People were slow to leave, despite the increasingly loud orders from the soldiers dispatched to facilitate it.

“Do you know what this is all about?” Emi asked. “If there’s anything specific that’s going on, I mean.”

“My Dad said they wouldn’t parade organizers to use the Jewel of Elince at the parade this year. That’s probably got some people angry,” Beatrice said, her tone muted and neutral. Emi appreciated that. “Let’s… let’s just go someplace else, I guess.”

“Agreed.” Emi leaned in and pressed her cheek against Beatrice’s.

“Ack, you’re so cold,” Beatrice said.

“Well, warm me up then.”


With the snow falling and festivities to participate in throughout the rest of the city, the two young women soon forgot about the disruption at the parade and proceeded to enjoy themselves elsewhere. 

They passed a row of festival booths with fun games for children to play for prizes, and then reached one street intersection where an elderly man in a pointy hat was juggling tiny balls while telling kids a fairy tale story about the first Winter Ceremonies, held thousands of years ago. If there truly did exist people in this world who could perform magical feats on their own, surely it was this guy.

What a good day this had been, Emi thought. Together with Beatrice, watching her perform a sacred ritual, eating delicious cake. And now…

“You know, Tris…” Emi began. “There is still one thing we haven’t done together.”

“What’s that?”

“Have our first kiss.”

Beatrice audibly gulped. A kiss? Was she really ready for that? Were the two of them in a relationship long enough for that? What was the standard, here? Oh, why was SHE the one overthinking everything now?

“I think we should… kiss,” Beatrice said. “It’s the Winter Ceremonies, after all.”

“Yeah, whatever that means.”

They puckered up their lips and leaned in towards each other, Emi craning her neck down to reach her girlfriend–

But they stopped short.

“Actually, I think my lips are too cold,” Emi said. “They’re kind of chapped.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of dumb to do this in the snow.”

They both giggled nervously, thinking about how stupid this situation was, and why they were building up such a moment like it was something special. It’s not like kisses were the best thing ever, or anything…

Beatrice looked around, and then grabbed her girlfriend by the sleeve. “Let’s go in somewhere where it’s warm.”

“Will do!”

They hurried over to a small shop that sold souvenirs to tourists, mostly wooden toys and other tiny trinkets. There was a log was burning in the fireplace, and both of their body temperatures raised instantly. Emi began licking her lips to make sure they weren’t as dried out, while Beatrice clutched hers with her gloves. 

After a moment, it was time to try again.

“Okay, now we can do it,” Emi said.

“Yep. Here we go.”

They faced each other and took both their hands together and leaned in…

They planted their lips on one another. A good old-fashioned smooch.

Emi was stunned. She finally did it. She kissed her girlfriend. “Tris… I–”

Beatrice couldn’t help but squeal, and the whole shop turned towards them.

“Yeah!” she shouted, before literally running out of the shop. Beatrice felt so energized, so oddly powerful, that she couldn’t help it. She raised her hands to her mouth, looked up at the sky and screamed, “I kissed Emi L’Hime!”

Emi hurried after her but the power of love was not enough to overtake the speedy yelling girl. “Triiiiiisss…. What are you–”

“I kissed a gorgeous tall short-haired amazing woman!” she screamed again.

“Tris! You’re being a weirdo!”

“This is the happiest day of my life!” Beatrice stopped running and danced around in a circle. It was just so exhilarating that she– Ouch!

A snowball collided right with Beatrice’s face. When she turned to see the perpetrator, the would-be assassin, she saw only her girlfriend, her dark brown eyes morphed into the most mischievous glare imaginable.

“What was that for?” Beatrice asked.

“Revenge for running away right after we kissed! You have dishonored my family name.”

Beatrice bent a knee and began scooping up snow with her hands. “Is that so…”

“It most certainly is, my love.”

That’s when Beatrice saw it. Three snowballs in Emi’s left hand. A volley waiting to be launched.

“Winner gets to make the next kiss,” Beatrice said.

“I will not be defeated!”

And thus began the ultimate snowball fight in the history of mankind.

<== 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 ==>