After the blindfolded race, Bob announced that it was time to take a break for lunch. Faine was isolated as the students, most of whom had known each other for their entire lives, grouped up and began eating.
Lucas grinned at Faine. "Come on newbie, there's an empty spot at my table with your name on it."
"Thanks." Faine said. Just as he was about to sit down amongst Lucas and his friends, he saw someone hiding in a clump of trees. Joana. She was sitting alone. Faine grabbed his bagged lunch. "I'll be back in a few minutes." he told Lucas.
Faine hid near where Joana was sitting and watched as she pulled out vials of what looked to be some sort of medication. She injected each on into her arm. When she finished, she coughed up more black ooze and let out a small sigh. She looked so sad. At that moment, Faine coughed, revealing himself to Joana.
"Did your mother never teach you about privacy?" She spat. "I'm clearly not in the mood to make friends."
Faine was quiet as he pondered what to say next. "I think I get it." He said slowly. "You're stained, aren't you?"
Judging by Joana's sour expression, Faine knew he had guessed her ailment correctly. Stained vessels were rare, yet nearly everyone knew of their existence. The phenomenon occurred after failed exorcisms. Bits of the demon would be left inside the soul, devouring it from within. There was no cure for stained vessels, only a short life of medications and suffering. Stained vessels always died within a decade of their initial possession.
Faine sat down next to Joana. "How long--?"
"A year if I'm lucky." She admitted. "Which is why I'm doing everything I can to be placed in the advanced class."
Faine was confused. "If I only had a year to live, I wouldn't waste six months of it in exorcist training."
Joana took a bite of her sandwich. "Have you ever heard the tale of the four gems?"
"Of course. Who hasn't?"
When the first demon in the human realm had been slain, it left behind four gems. The first gem gave infinite wealth to whoever possessed it. The second gave wisdom. The third, power. The last stone had the power to grant any wish. The original owners of the stone abused their newfound abilities to the point where humanity decided they were better off without the gems. Thus, they were destroyed in a ceremony viewed around the world.
"There's a rumor that says a piece of the wishing gem survived." Joana continued. "Some say that tiny shard of the gem has the power to grant one more wish. The problem? No one has been able to locate it. "When I become an exorcist and gain access to their private information, I'll do everything I can to find the gem."
"You want to use the last wish to heal yourself?"
After a long silence, Joana layed on her back and stared up at the clear blue sky. "You probably think I'm stupid. I'll be the first to admit looking for the gem is a wild goose chase, but what other choice do I have? It's the only thing that can save my life."
"I don't think you're stupid. There's nothing wrong with wanting to live." Faine replied.
"Did you know that you're the first person who's voluntarily talked to me since my possession?" Joana asked, changing the topic. "Growing up in the exorcist community, you're expected to know how to perform an exorcism on yourself if you need to, but I failed. That's why I am the way I am. I used to be friends with most of the people here, but now they avoid me like the plague...all because I'm stained."
"I know it feels."
"How could you?"
"I used to be a gymnast. One of the best in the world, actually." Faine said. "But then a demon attacked the stadium I was competing in, and well," He grabbed his sleeve. "It left its mark."
Joana's eyes widened. "I'm so sorry for calling you a cripple when we were on the bus. I'd been vomiting ooze all morning and it put me in a bad mood. It's not an excuse, but--"
"Relax, I've got thick skin when it comes to these things. I have to." Faine said. "Anyways, I know what it's like to feel alone. I don't have many friends because I spent my entire life training in gymnastics. There wasn't much time for socializing. And then the whole arm thing happened, which isolated me even further."
"That's rough buddy."
"It's Jo." She said. "My friends call me Jo."
"So...we're friends now?"
"Yes. yes we are."
Bob announced that lunch break was over. It was time for the final phase of initiation.
The obstacle course.
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