The Graduation Class

(An Alice Band story. Alice has been teaching for just over seven years at the Assassins' Guild school, from its first year of co-educational status. She has seen the first intake of girl pupils arrive, settle in, and grow through seven years' of training and education. She has taught them, been Housemistress to those assigned to her care in Tump House, listened to their confidences, bonded with them, shouted at them, sympathized with them, shared in their successes and failures. But now that first intake of eleven year olds are eighteen. They – and their teacher – now face the greatest test of all.)

Alice stood in the gloom of the Assassins' Guild chapel. This was a simple multi-devotional facility, with the principal Gods and Goddesses of the Discworld each honoured at his or her own wall niche, sometimes with a small altar.

She was unsurprised to see she was not the only person present.

Johanna Smith-Rhodes stood in fierce devotion before the altar of Offler, a god even White Howondalandians honoured, hands clasped and head slightly bowed.

Madame Emmanuelle-Marie Lapoignarde les Deux-Epées was similarly silent in front of the Goddess Kay-Li, the fearsome battle-deity portrayed as holding a different weapon in each of her six arms, even whose protruding tongue was depicted as a double-bladed scimitar.

Joan-Sanderson-Reeves, the Domestic Science mistress, primly attached a small silver devotional spatula to the altar of Anoia, Goddess Of Unsticking things That Get Stuck in Drawers. This was a new addition to the Chapel, added largely at Joan's formidable insistence.

Even Mericet, a man thought to be seeking Zombie status in advance of physical death, was in quiet contemplation at the altar of Fate.

Stepping discreetly forward, Alice paused at the representation of Blind Io. The old memories and mixed feelings started to surface. She bit down the bile, and subvocalised a prayer:

Now let's get this straight. I don't like you. I have to accept you exist because I've seen the proof. I believe you exist. But I just don't believe you give a damn. My father during his life was your Bishop on Earth, or at least in Quirm. If prayer means anything, and I frankly don't believe you care for our prayers, it works best when it's selfless and given up for the welfare of others, yes? That's what my father always taught me. And he worked for You, so listen: get them through tonight alive.

That's the all and everything I ask: get them through tonight alive. Then you and I might start having more of a dialogue more often. You know who I am. Bishop Band's daughter. Remember him? He served you loyally in the diocese of Quirm, he was beaten to the very top job by Hughnon Ridcully, he died of disillusionment and a crisis of faith. Now as it happens I don't have a crisis of faith as I lost my faith in you when I was fourteen. You exist. It's up to you to prove I'm wrong, and then maybe we can have more of a dialogue more often. It's up to you. Just get them through to tomorrow morning.

Alice made a perfunctory bow to the altar that would have drawn applause from atheists, then turned and left. In the dull Ankh-Morpork evening sunshine, she noticed a raven regarding her with interest. She nodded to it, just in case, and walked on. Two hours to go before Briefing, and then we take our places.

About now, the pupils, soon to be pupils no more whatever the outcome, would be contemplating their own preparations.

Alice contemplated an early dinner. No High Table tonight, she thought. The teaching faculty would be eating in a separate refectory, as their other duties allowed. And tonight was the biggest Duty of all.