Animus Lost

On Difficult Decisions

“Vera, Celeste, please sit.” The Abbess’ voice was soft, yet commanding, her distinctly northern accent punctuating her already pristine aura of poise and dignity. She gestured with her hands as she spoke, indicating two chairs opposite her desk, and seated herself once her two guests were comfortable. “I thought you might like to know that Zoe is going to be alright.”

Vera and Celeste, backs straighter than an arrow, both let out a sigh of relief, and exchanged a look of mutual concern with one another. The Abbess continued. “The damage is far more emotional than physical, but, assuming she can move past this, she’s going to be just fine.” She paused for a moment, as if to reflect on what she’d just said, then leaned forward onto the desk between them. “But that’s not why I wanted to speak with you.”

Celeste hung her head slightly in what resembled a gentle bow, and Vera blinked slowly as a soft frown threatened at the edges of her mouth. “We know,” Vera said, barely above a whisper.

Time slowed to an agonizing crawl as the three of them searched for the right words to begin the conversation that none of them wanted to have. It was the Abbess that eventually found what she needed to shatter the oppressive silence. “How long has this been going on?”

Vera turned her head slightly to examine Celeste next to her, who had yet to raise her head. “This is the first time he’s done anything like this, Abbess.” Sadness tugged at her cheeks and lips as she spoke, and she had to blink rapidly to keep her vision clear. “We never knew about this, you must understand!”

The Abbess gently held up a hand in arrest. “I believe you, Prioress. You are both pious Ladies of Ash, I do not need any convincing on the matter.” She returned her hand to the desk. “But I wanted to hear it from you.” Her gaze drifted to her hands, which she folded together, in what was likely to be the greatest gesture of discomfort she would ever show. “Have you spoken to him?”

Vera responded, clearly holding herself together better than Celeste, who now had both eyes tightly shut, and was focused heavily on keeping her breathing level. “Yes, Abbess.”

“And what came of that?”

“He does not understand what he did. He…” She looked around the room for a moment, searching for the right words, somewhere in the rafters. “He knows that he used magic, but, right now at least, he doesn’t realize it was any different from ours. From Cinder.”

The Abbess nodded gently at that, and took a moment to process it fully before speaking again. “You must teach him, then.” Celeste raised her head at that, and both Prioresses stared wide-eyed at their Abbess, confusion painted clearly on both their faces. “You must explain to him what he did, and explain to him what it means. He must be made to understand what…” She hesitated, and sighed. “What he is.” Celeste put a hand to her mouth, and drew in a broken breath through her nose. “And how he must leave that part of him behind.”

Vera put an arm around Celeste and pulled her close, who was now quietly sobbing into her hands. As it had before, the room fell quiet; Celeste’s occasional, muffled gasps as the only real sound amid the silence. After a long while like this, Vera raised her head, and looked at the Abbess across the desk. “And then what?”

A look of profound, empty sadness came over the Abbess, who looked away as she sighed. When she opened her mouth to speak, it was not her voice that came out, but the voices of shame and regret, heavy with the burden of what had to be done. “In a few weeks, the Cartographers will be coming by, asking for any orphans that might be interested in a future with the Guild.” Her eyelids fluttered briefly as her gaze remained fixed out the window. “Archibald will leave with them.”

Somehow, Celeste found it in her to regain some of her composure, and leaned over the desk with imploring hands. “Please, Abbess. Please don’t send him away.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have any other choice, Prioress,” the Abbess said, a grim frown creeping across her face. “The boy needs to grow away from his magic, and that is not a life we can give him here.” She sniffed a bit, making a marvelous performance of hiding her shame. “Beside that, Archibald has always had a love for maps. The Guild will give him much that we cannot.”

Vera remained stoicly quiet as Celeste pleaded with their superior. “I cannot do this,” she said. “I cannot send him away. Please do not ask this of me.”

“I’m sorry, Prioress,” The Abbess responded. “I’m sorry, but the decision has been made. Archibald will become an apprentice at the Guild, or he will find something else that suits him. But he will not find it here.” Celeste resigned, and slumped back into her chair, where Vera resumed holding her. “Thank you for coming to speak with me,” the Abbess eventually offered. “You should go to him, now.”

The two Prioresses nodded, stood, and excused themselves, taking care to clean their faces and tidy their hair before entering the hallway. When they’d closed the door behind them, the Abbess rapidly drew in a deep breath, and quickly exhaled it through trembling lips. She closed her eyes, and leaned forward over her desk as the tears she’d been holding back finally made their way out.

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Kissarai Arikiba

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