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Holding Fast

It takes years of study and excellent test scores to be selected as a Steward of the ‘medicinals’ for the Church of the Builder. Sister Loxely began her studies in the area at a young age and took to it naturally. She quickly gained her place amongst her sisters in the convent of Caraca as their Steward and took up that same position when she transferred to New Babbage two years ago.

Lox quite enjoyed the authority her duties gave her. It was left to her to ensure that every member of the order functioned at their highest capacity. Diet changes, illness or sluggishness could mean hours of calculations to adjust the dosages correctly. That is why it was often left to Lox to arrange the food for those in her charge. She was the provider of sustenance and efficiency and was very good at it.

However, there was one major drawback in the responsibilities of a Steward: the Fast of the Squared Week. Once a year when all in the Church abstained from caffeine, stimulants and the like the Steward was the one to make certain medicinals would not be administered. This year is the Sister’s twelfth Fast in her position.

When her brethren complained of the tradition of cleansing she understood their sincerity but in her own thoughts believed that she hated it the most of all. On the first day of the Fast, Lox began her annual ritual of carefully cleaning and securing the medicinal cabinet. There was no room for error. Once the final padlock clicked shut she refastened the key to a long necklace which she always wore under her clothing and hid it accordingly.

For a moment she stood there staring at the locked cabinet before bowing her head and whispering, “Builder be with us as we cleanse and strengthen ourselves. May Logic and Knowledge sustain us.” Lox then made the sign of the Hammer in the air with her hand and turned towards the dining area, setting about to making breakfast.

That morning was not particularly different than most, other than the noticeable lack of coffee and medicine served at the table. The mood was that of nervous joking and just plain dread. None of them enjoyed this time in the year but they also knew they had no choice. Lox worried for her younger students, she knew the first few years experiencing the Fast were among the hardest.

As the day wore on every member of the order began to slowly show signs of withdrawal in their own ways. On some their hands were beginning to slightly tremble, others struggled with mental focus, headaches started to spread and on whole they became much more socially withdrawn. Words were few and far between, often more curt than intended.

Feeling a dull ache in the back of her head, Lox drew a deep breath before entering the main study room of the Institute for their first evening study session of the Fast. She knew what was coming. All eyes turned to her as she opened the door and walked through the group to stand against the back wall. Their gazes were unmoving for many uncomfortable moments. She stared forward with her practiced calm countenance, doing calculations in her head to remain focused. The hungry looks from her brethren finally broke as they focused on their individual studying. This was only the first day of fourty-nine. Lox knew it would only get worse.

The following morning it was extremely difficult for Lox to drag herself out of bed. She had a fitful sleep as she heard the others in the room restlessly moving and pacing. Later, as she slowly finished preparing and setting out their morning meal on the table she noticed that all had begrudgingly gathered except for one.

Lox mulled over the fact that she had managed to prepare a decent breakfast for everyone despite her nagging headache and the fact that her left hand had developed a slight tremble. Everyone else had managed to drag themselves out of their beds and be silently polite to one another. Who would have the self-centeredness to not show to a group meal? Especially during this season? Lox fought back anger by counting through calculations and stepping outside for some fresh air. Her back straightened as her eyes met a round figure across the way. Brother Scorpio. Of course.

Lox fought back everything else she wanted to yell to him and said in a loud, direct tone, “Breakfast! Now!” The figure waved in indication that he heard. A wave. How nice. Lox’s mouth formed into a straight line, as it always did when she was upset or unimpressed, and she quickly returned into the dining area. She gritted her teeth and opened her lips into a forced smile as she grabbed a nearby pitcher and walked up to the table, “More milk?”

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