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One crisis at a time. Gabriel isn’t coming for you. Cheese on a cracker, a bit of salty fish.

No. Gabriel won’t be coming for you. Too fear to move. You too pebble to stone. Too saddle to horse. Too crime to pay. Gabriel, no. Not anymore. You too gone to save. Too bloodless to martyr. Too diamond to charcoal. Too nation to earth. You brute, cruel pebble. Gabriel. God of man. No. Cheese on a cracker. Mercy. Mercy.

— Kaveh Akbar, “Pilgrim Bell”

 

 

 

 

Her arrival carries a weight of expectation. Born on the eve of a new year—at the cusp of change, Beatrice arrives when dawn sits right under the horizon. With eyes squeezed tightly shut and a newborn’s cry as she’s exchanged between unfamiliar hands and wrapped in a soft yellow blanket.

Later, tucked into the crook of her mother’s elbow, she’ll open her eyes to the world around her, pupils illuminated by light that spills over the edge of the world. Mesmerized by the warm rays of starlight passing through the windows, she’ll laugh, bright and gilded with gold. 

Later, her father will call her the girl who woke the world. 

For now, her mother sits in meditative silence, watching the sun’s rise, slow and spiritual. 

It's here, she receives her name.

Chenguang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She wonders why so much of Creation begins with a Separation. You are not born until you emerge from your mother’s womb. Earth doesn’t exist until it is torn from Heaven. Evil doesn’t come to be until Cain denies himself a brother.

Sister Beatrice doesn’t remember her name. What does it mean to forget yourself?

 

 

 

 

Something jagged grows and shakes inside of her and Beatrice feels blinded when the girl behind a fruit stall offers her a sample to taste. She reaches for the slice, shaky hands brushing against warm, sure ones. She pulls back immediately, heat buzzing in her fingertips, and hastily pops the fruit into her mouth. The mango melts on her tongue, flooding her mouth with honey sweetness and the warmth of the sun. An uneasy fluttering in her chest opens up as the girl continues to watch her with sharp eyebrows arched in amusement as if to say, well? And Beatrice, on the receiving end of such undivided attention, panics.

She forgets words, composure slipping as she acts outside of her age, back to a juvenile awkwardness that Beatrice thought she had finally abandoned when she entered her teenage years. 

It feels like a well opening up inside of her, cavernous and consuming. In another life, Beatrice could have been friends with this girl. In another life, Beatrice wouldn’t be boarding the first flight out of Thailand next week. 

Someone grumbles behind her, moodily shifting on his toes as he waits for Beatrice to finish making her purchase. She hurries to pick out some gooseberries that match the color of the bandanna around the girl’s neck. Her chest expands with an odd warmth when the girl’s lips quirk up into a secretive smile. The well inside of her rolls and tumbles and—Beatrice tears her gaze away, not wanting It to linger any longer than it already has. 

She glances down, focusing on the display of fruit, then at the hands that grab the money from her, silver rings on fingers softly clinking together and glinting in the sun as the girl begins to count out the coins. Her cupid’s bow deepens, and Beatrice’s eyes trace the movement of soft lips whispering the count: Hâa…hâa…sǎawng…

She swallows the stone that sits in the back of her throat, feels it fall and fall and fall. Realizing then, that there is no end to this. Her hands shake when she grabs the bag. Beatrice mumbles out an embarrassed thank you to the ground and rushes off to catch up with her parents. 

There’s something growing inside of her—something she already knows that she isn’t allowed to keep. She knows that one day she’ll have to cut it out of her or bury it so deep that she forgets it was ever there. 

But the thing grows and grows. 

 

 

 

It’s a knife slipping into an already open wound, one she had never noticed until now. It seeps, infection pulsating around it. Beatrice feels it shrink and bury deep when her parents frown at two women sitting close to each other, pink-cheeked and heads bowed. Temples brushing, they murmur quietly to each other, exchanging secrets in the millimeters of space between their lips.  Her gaze feels stuck, the cavernous hole in her chest opening up again as she stays rooted in place, compelled by a force beyond her control to stay. To see. 

She startles when she realizes that her parents aren’t looking at the women anymore, but her.



 

Beatrice isn’t one to take unnecessary risks, especially when she knows the outcome will be less than pleasant. Especially when her parents are due to arrive home any minute. Maybe that’s why she does it, runs the risk of being caught because she hasn’t been afforded many exceptions in her life and there’s a certain thrill in walking the tightrope. So she allows herself this one moment of indulgence, letting what’s inside of her click into place before it’s ripped away. 

Beatrice pulls away from the other girl when the front door clicks open. They both giggle nervously before Beatrice quickly untangles herself as she hears luggage bags being rolled into the foyer. She pats down her clothes, smoothing out any wrinkles and absently wiping at her mouth before going downstairs to greet her parents. Her classmate trails along behind her.

“How was Prague?” She asks cordially, standing at the bottom of the stairs. 

“Fine. The food was divine,” her father replies politely, still bringing in their belongings. He tucks the car keys into the front pocket of his jacket.

“Who’s this?” Her mother asks. Her words curl into each other, fatigue softening her consonants and bringing back an accent—not entirely recognizable in origin after years of language studies, but still an echo of her childhood. 

“A friend from the summer program, mama. We’re partners for a project.” 

“What project?” Her mother bends down to pick something up and her necklace falls out of her shirt, the silver of her cross reflecting against the light. 

The girl’s hand strays close to hers but doesn’t touch. Beatrice doesn’t move. “Biochemistry. It’s enzyme inhibitor research. We present our findings to faculty at the end of the term.” 

Her mother hums, sharp eyes trailing over the girl then Beatrice, taking in both of their appearances. Beatrice wonders what she sees. Her mother, with her keen eyes, always reading Beatrice better than she can conceal. Her father’s keys jingle in his pocket as he straightens up, murmuring something low enough for only her mother to hear. 

Beatrice waits patiently, unwilling to break eye contact with her mother. 

“It’s getting late.” Her mother punctuates this statement with a half-hearted glance at the grandfather clock collecting dust, devoid of the tick-tick sound that’s supposed to accompany it—because it hasn’t worked in years. Then, putting a hand on her husband’s elbow, she issues a final command, “Your father will drive her home.” 

Her parents are observant, it’s something of a necessity in their line of work. By proxy, Beatrice has developed the same skill, despite them being mostly absent in her upbringing. She understands her mother’s glances, understands that what she saw was enough for her to reach an accurate enough conclusion about who Beatrice was becoming. Who Beatrice has always been.

 

Nobody sits down at the kitchen table for this conversation—that’s not the kind of family this is. When you’re in a career that requires constant travel and long hours embroiled in negotiations, everything you do becomes streamlined. Even a conversation with your family. If there is a problem, it only takes a few moments of observation for it to be identified. Afterward, a solution will shortly present itself in the form of a sentence of two and that will be the end of it.

Beatrice isn’t approached until a week later. It happens when she’s getting ready for bed. Her mother wheels out a suitcase for her, informing her that she will be joining them on their trip to Switzerland in two days time. Her father mentions that he knows someone who can set up an appointment for them to tour nearby schools for something more permanent. Her mother nods in agreement, pleased that it will help Beatrice study hard without any distractions. 

It’s a conversation that happens without Beatrice, despite her being present for it the entire time. 

 

In the end, there is no tour of anything. They fly to Switzerland and Beatrice starts her new school at the end of the summer. It turns out to be a boarding school. Catholic, because if they couldn’t discourage her unnatural inclinations, then maybe religion would. 

She keeps to herself now more than ever. It’s painfully obvious that she’s not like any of the other kids and while those differences were usually less apparent at the international schools she used to attend, it is much harder to mask them here. 

Her schedule is strict, and classes are rigorous and demanding. Beatrice welcomes the change of pace, throwing herself headfirst into everything if only to spare herself from thinking about before. Mornings are led with prayer, followed by a thirty-minute break for breakfast. Classes last until early evening. Afterward, everyone breaks for their extracurriculars. Beatrice fills up this time with martial arts and independent language studies. 

During their four years stationed there, her parents only visit her three times. Beatrice doesn’t leave campus for any holidays or long breaks, opting instead, to do further reading in the library and continue her training undisturbed in the empty gyms. It’s how she gets ahead of her peers, slowly adding new skill after skill to her budding arsenal.

Phone calls, while occurring much more abundantly, are very brief—squeezed in during seven-minute breaks between meetings and the tail-end of the day. Nothing but an afterthought. Soon enough, even those start to wane, first in length, then in frequency. 

It’s the beginning of February when she’s approached by a visiting priest. Beatrice sees him making the rounds, talking to some of the top students in her graduating class. It’s early evening when the priest catches Beatrice as she’s on her way to the library. He introduces himself as Father Hans, a member of the Order. He doesn’t clarify which, and Beatrice gets the sense that she’s not meant to ask. He asks her about her studies, her future plans, and whether she’s given any thought to joining the order.  

He leaves with an invitation. She’s offered a place, a purpose, and a community. Where she would be valued for her skills. 



It’s early April when she sends her parents an email informing them that instead of applying to colleges, she will be undergoing an aspirancy to begin the process of becoming a nun. Their response comes in the form of a call, two days later from the airport. 

She picks up her phone, greeted by a soft static then the background noise of an attendant on an intercom, announcing a gate change. Beatrice waits, holding her breath. She’s not sure what she’s hoping for. 

The call lasts exactly forty-seven seconds and consists of only two sentences.

There’s the faint sound of a throat clearing, then a low voice saying, “We are leaving for London.” It’s not meant to be harsh, just matter-of-fact. The voice drops off and Beatrice hears nothing but the sound of breathing. She doesn’t think about how she’s only being told after they’ve already left. When there’s a surety that she can’t follow. She wordlessly acknowledges the news and stays on the line, knowing there is more coming. 

Beatrice waits, phone held to her ear, looking out her dorm room window, distantly focused on the group of girls playing football in the garden below. 

It feels like ages before the final, more jagged remark comes out, “This is not what we expected from you.” Disappointment.  

The line clicks.

Beatrice still holds her breath. 

The ball bounces off the stone facade of the building before landing in the shrubbery below her window. When a girl breaks away from her group to retrieve it, Beatrice turns away, phone still hot against her ear.

She doesn’t go home that summer. 

 

 

 

 

 

God created the World in seven days. So goes the story of Creation. 

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.

 

 

Mother Superion is the first face Beatrice sees when she transfers to the OCS to complete her novitiate. 

Footsteps pass through the hallway, accompanied by the rhythmic click click of a cane striking against the ground until they stop just outside the doorway. 

Beatrice stands up from her chair just as Mother Superion appears. She’s tall—uncompromising and statuesque, donned in black from head to toe. She steps inside her office, fixing her sharp gaze on Beatrice. Both hands come up to rest on top of her cane as Mother Superion quietly regards her from the doorway.  

“You’re the novice?”

Her voice is softer than expected, weathered but melodious all the same. A scar runs down side of her face, from forehead to nose. From nose to ear. Beatrice’s eyes can trace the path a gentle hand took to sew the skin back together in a manner that tried to leave as much of the area as undisturbed as possible. 

Beatrice bows her head in deference, eyes catching on the heavy cross necklace that rests on Mother Superion’s sternum. “Yes, Mother.” 

“You’re familiar with the workings of the Order?” Mother Superion circles around her desk, taking a seat before motioning for Beatrice to do the same. She props her cane against the side of her desk. It looks quite strong—sturdy enough to withstand any strikes made against it, maybe even make a few of its own. 

“I completed my postulancy with the Swiss chapter. Father Hans believed I’d be best suited to complete the rest of my training in Andalusia.” 

Mother Superion nods in agreement. “Yes, after your presentation last month, I spoke with Father Hans and requested you to be brought here for your novitiate, should you accept.”

“I—“ This is the first she’s hearing of this. Father Hans had only approached her with an offer, not a command. 

The conflict must show on her face because Mother Superion calls out, “Speak your mind, child,” firm, but gentle. 

She isn’t understanding her place here. It’s hard to gauge what’s being expected of her. Where she had failed. “I’m sorry, Mother. But I don’t understand. Was I…lacking?”

The hard lines of the Mother’s face soften minutely. “On the contrary, you performed admirably. You have a mind for tactics—strategy is invaluable in our line of work, but that’s not all we look for. Sister Shannon and I agree that you’ll be invaluable to the girls here. Brilliant. Dependable. Compassionate. All qualities that make a good Sister Warrior.” The praise sends a pulse of a relief. Mother Superion leans back in her chair, looking out the windows where the light is unforgiving and the afternoon glows bright in the blazing heat. “And, I think the warmer weather may do you some good.”

Beatrice bows her head again, “I understand, Mother.” The back of her chair has grown warm from sitting in the sun and she feels her body relaxing under the glow. 

“Good.” Mother Superion turns back to her. “Now, becoming a part of the OCS means becoming a part of a new life. You’ll find that many of the Sisters take on a new name when they join. Have you given any thought to yours?” 

The library at the boarding school was vast and well-funded, with books from every genre to occupy Beatrice’s time when she stayed during holidays and long breaks. And when she finished with those, she went to the basement archives, browsing through stacks of books long forgotten—ones that went out of print or were retired by the library long ago. It was here she found a small volume with stories detailing the history of female sainthood. 

Stories of women who said No to the world that demanded their personhood, and turned to cast their eyes on God.

Saint Caterina, who refused marriage and motherhood by cutting her hair, rejecting food, and becoming a nun. A woman who didn’t allow anyone to compromise the power she held over her own body. 

Saint Jeanne d’Arc, the first of her people on the battlefield. A woman who heard the message of angels and took the sword upon the call of Saint Caterina. Who cut her hair, refused the dress, and went against a world that tried to remove every part of her. A protector of her people until the very end, even as she welcomed the fire.

Saint Thecla, who resisted marriage and turned to faith. And when punishment came for her, neither the beasts nor the flames touched her. 

Saint Triduana, who tore out her eyes and gifted them to the suitor harassing her. Choosing blindness to preserve her life, liberty, and choice. 

Tucked away in these pages was also the story of a woman undone by the one closest to her. Imprisoned to be forgotten about. A woman who heard the call of the Blessed Virgin Mary and founded a new Order. Saint Beatrice of Silva, who tore down her prison and built a refuge out of its remains. 

Sister Beatrice invokes her name in the faith that she, too, can transform her pain into something worthy. 



 

When Beatrice first arrives at Cat’s Cradle, Sister Shannon has been carrying the Halo for only three years. The Halo-Bearer cuts a tall, imposing figure; firm in her instructions, steady in leadership. But with the authority comes warmth and affection. Sister Shannon indulges in pranks, makes the girls laugh. Beatrice doesn’t know what to do with these things—once unattainable and now offered bountifully, as if they’re worth nothing.

All of the Sisters have a story, but Beatrice’s wonder about the other girls has never lingered. She keeps to herself, mostly. Preferring to carry out her daily tasks alone. Others have wondered about her, enough to ask her outright during mealtimes or sparring. Beatrice humors them, giving enough details to be left alone, to never have her story questioned further. Half-truths offer a better deterrent to unwanted prying than silence. But Sister Shannon, whose light casts no shadows, would see through Beatrice’s cloaked words from just five minutes spent with her.  And so, she prefers to keep her distance, to interact only in passing. Never alone, never in a closed space.

Beatrice especially avoids her when Mary is present. Mary, whose long, well-worn coat brushes against the back of her calves like a cape, twin shotguns always within reach. Mary, an outsider only in name, not a Sister but a sister nevertheless. Mary, who holds no secrets about who she is and where she came from. And yet, still one of the Order’s biggest enigmas. 

Beatrice is talking with Sister Adelaide near the steps of the dais when she sees them. Mary returning from her latest mission, Shannon doing rounds and offering advice to some of the girls are training in the center. As soon as Shannon spots Mary, hers shoulders loosen, posture relaxing as she breaks away from the girls to meet Mary near the entrance of the room. They tuck themselves away in a corner between two pillars. 

Mary, who is even followed by the Halo-Bearer, herself. 

One of Shannon’s hands come up to rest on Mary’s shoulders and she pats one of the shotguns strapped to her side, murmuring something that makes Shannon laugh. Mary steps in closer—enough for their noses to brush before she tilts her head to the side, letting their faces touch, cheek to cheek. She wraps her arms around Shannon, who leans in to the touch, lips moving to murmur something in her ear. 

No one says a thing. Not the girls training. Not Sister Adelaide, who only gives the pair a quick glance before resuming her chatting. Not Mother Superion, briefly passing through the room on her way to the courtyard.

Beatrice feels heat rush to her cheeks. She feels like a voyeur—like an ugly, sinister thing inside the walls, partaking in a moment not meant for her. Something curls inside of her, taking shape, rising, a slow sharpening of its blade against her rib. It rattles, dislodging something deep within her with every shake. And she can’t bear it. 

Beatrice has never felt more of a coward than in this moment as she quickly excuses herself, biding a hasty farewell to her Sister and making for the terrace on the south side of the compound. She stops for a brief detour to her room on her way there, picking up her equipment bag. On the terrace, she tries to work through her forms, but her motions are frenetic, barely controlled. Her focus wanes, always drifting back. She skips dinner that day, deciding not to return until the sun is long gone. Until she’s sure that all of the Sisters have retired to their rooms and Mary has stepped out on another covert mission sanctioned by the Order. 

It’s on the rooftop of the Cradle, when the sun dips low, gentle in its goodbye, does Beatrice finally understand. Why Mary stays. Why she always takes the most unsavory jobs in the Order before the other Sisters can. Mary, who shares the light with Shannon. Champion. Chosen in her own right, both by the Order and the Bearer, herself.

Mary, most beloved. 

Gruff, but compassionate. Always the first to step into battle. Always in front of her Sisters. 

 

 

She meets Sister Lilith during an early morning training session. Beatrice is always the first of her Sisters to wake, preferring the early hours of quiet to complete her solo training without spectators. It’s a habit she acquired from her boarding school days, one that she likes to keep up. She takes advantage of the quiet to seek out her favored terrace on the south side, where the rising sun won’t blind her vision, but still offer a spectacular view of the morning rise. 

As Beatrice nears the top steps of the terrace, she can hear the sound of feet moving. Someone else must already be up here. She decides to at least see who it is before turning back. When she steps out onto the space, she finds Lilith. The revered Next-In-Line. Always spoken about, but hardly spoken to. Given a wide berth by all of girls, and yet, still trailed by their whispers. 

“I was here first.” Lilith calls out, hardly sparing a glance for Beatrice, as she runs through her forms with a crusader, practicing quick strikes and slashes.  

Beatrice nods. She hadn’t expected the terrace to be occupied this early in the morning, but it seems that Lilith favored the quiet just as she did. “Perhaps we can share.” 

Upon hearing the offer, Lilith abruptly stops, letting her the sword drop to her side. Her chest rises and falls unsteadily, breaths coming out in controlled bursts as she fixes Beatrice with a hard stare. Beatrice patiently waits as Lilith continues to watch, analyze—or perhaps intimidate, other Sisters usually leave when Sister Lilith turns to them with hostility. Her jaw flexes before she turns away, disgruntled. “Keep to your side,” she gruffly orders before going back to her training. 

The rest of their time up there is spent in silence—almost companionable, if not for the displeasure punctuated in each one of Lilith’s movements. 

The next morning, when Beatrice returns to the roof, it is empty. Beatrice picks up her Jo and begins to move through the motions of each kata, steady and sure maneuvers guiding her staff under the watchful eyes of the sun. Here, in the meditative silence, her thoughts fall quiet. There is no sound other than her steady breathing and the early morning birds. It’s only when she stops to take a break that she hears the very faint sounds of a sword cutting through air—sharp, quick, familiar, motions that can only be attributed to a deft hand.

Lilith, who is always in the vicinity of Mary, shrouding the periphery until Shannon appears. Lilith, who always meets prepared with veiled words. 

Beatrice listens. And understands because this is a familiar and well-treaded path, an undergrowth of shared experience. This god trick of seeing something before it occurs. To deny before you’re denied. Saying no before others can do it for you, because there’s only cruelty in allowing yourself something you know you’ll have to give up.

Lilith, First Woman. The first to Choose. The one who sought independence away from Adam, fleeing the garden and invoking the wrath of God. 

Lilith, always forgotten. 

 

If Beatrice is looking for solidarity, it won’t be found here.

 

 

 

In the Bible, when God needs to punish someone, he always sends an angel.

It’s an angel that kills the firstborn of every home in Egypt that’s not marked with lamb’s blood. When the people of Israel break their covenant with God, it’s an angel that curses them to be tormented by the very people they had idolized above Him. And when David sins, it’s an angel that punishes him by bringing destruction upon Jerusalem. 

Beatrice sins in His name, breaking God’s own commandments to uphold their Church. Such is the life of a Sister Warrior, a path full of contradiction and doubt, all in the name of a Greater good that only they have the privilege of working towards. A confirmation of their beliefs, a hand in something greater—all in exchange for their life, loyalty, and service.

Sister Beatrice, ever dutiful, carries out God’s mission. Always with one wing dipped in blood.

 

 

 

Beatrice’s first meeting with their new Halo-Bearer doesn’t happen when a limp body falls into her arms; one hand holding a tranquilizer gun, the other curled around the waist of a once-dead girl. 

No, that’s not how introductions work. 

Her first introduction to the Halo-Bearer happens in a flash of brilliant, blinding light. Bright and Divine. 

Only seconds pass, but in those quick flashes of time, Beatrice feels the warmth of the rays rippling across her light-ached flesh as they soak into skin, traveling through blood, muscle, and tissue until sinking into her very bones. It’s a tongue of fire; it’s a cold wetness trickling into her veins. A phantom rush into her body; the sun in her chest, radiant, holy as her eyes meet Ava’s and—

Beatrice is thrown backward by the force of a panicked shockwave. Her head cracks against stone and everything goes dark. 

 

 

 

Their new Halo-Bearer is a peculiarity. 

She isn’t interested in anything but herself. Her own interests. Her own wants and needs. For a girl who was just brought back from the dead by their artifact, there is unapologetic entitlement in the way she wants to live her life far away from them. It’s selfish, but also refreshing. Ava is reckless, self-centered, and her intentions are as clear as day; she chooses nothing but herself. 

 

 

This Halo-Bearer, whose every touch feels like a benediction, folds herself into Beatrice’s arms, clutching at her in comfort with a gracelessness and vulnerability ill-fitting of someone in her position. Beatrice stands frozen, one arm lightly grazing Ava’s back, the warmth of the Halo permeating through, filling her fingers with a strange sort of buzzing, the other–hovering over the back of Ava’s head as her shirt turns darker with tears. 

 

 

Later, she finds Ava pressed into a small alcove along one of the hallways. Beatrice observes her for a moment–her unnaturally still posture, a sort of demure presence clouding over her otherwise exuberant nature. Ava sits there with her knees hugged to her chest, candle flames dancing beside her. She looks so unexpectedly small at that moment. This loud, unabashed girl, now silent in her grief. 

Softly, Beatrice steps into the light and rests her back against the wall across from Ava. And waits. 

She hardly has to wait a moment before Ava speaks up, “I didn’t kill myself.” She’s still facing forward, eyes focused on the flickering flames. 

“Okay,” Beatrice says, patient.  

“I’m serious,” Ava stresses, turning to finally acknowledge her. 

Beatrice is careful to keep her hands clasped behind her back. Stepping forward, she angles her body towards Ava. Her approach means no harm. “Do you remember what happened that night, before you woke up?” 

Ava’s posture loses some of its tenseness from before as she recalls the events of the night of her death. At the end of the retelling, Beatrice feels a darker, graver possibility slowly uncoil. She doesn’t voice her concerns and instead diverts the doubts taking root in her mind. “Perhaps the medical report was wrong.”

“What does it matter? No one believes me anyway.” 

Beatrice takes a breath and steps closer, compelled to offer reassurance. “Don’t let her get to you.” Another step. The fabric of her habit faintly brushes against Ava’s leg. “She’s messing with your head. It’s what she does.”

“So it’s not just me.”

Beatrice shakes her head. Makes a joke. The first of many she’s made in a long time.

Ava’s lips twitch. There’s a moment before her mouth curves into a truer, more gentle smile. 

‘What?”

Light dances in Ava’s eyes. “Just trying to figure out if you’re more or less nun-like than the others.”

More or less. Beatrice has never done well being contained by system of binaries—she’s learned that the hard way.  

“My parents are in politics,” she begins hesitantly. “Diplomats back in England.” 

Ava’s eyes sharpen with knowing. “Conservative?” She whispers.

Beatrice concedes with a nod. “And concerned about appearances.” Ava is staring at her intently now and Beatrice is finding it very hard to meet her gaze. “I wasn’t falling into line, so they shipped me off to Catholic boarding school.” The words taste bitter. “I guess it kind of stuck,” she shrugs. 

“There’s more to it than you’re telling.” 

Beatrice’s chest stutters. She huffs, throat closing and looks away because Ava managed to read her in a span of minutes, despite knowing her for hardly a week. Beatrice steps up behind Ava, bleeding back into the shadows, concealing herself once again. 

“There’s always more.”

 

 

Beatrice is the first of her Sisters to see the paper. Father Vincent passes it to her. Large, shaky letters written with unpracticed fingers. I want to live. A proclamation. A plea. 

The average lifespan of a Halo-Bearer is 36 years old. Beatrice only knows this because she read the histories and did the math one late night after Sister Shannon’s first overnight stay in the infirmary. And in matter of two days, after touring the compound with Father Vincent, Ava reached a conclusion similar enough to hers.

The life of a Bearer isn’t very long. For Ava, it would be even shorter. 

I want to live. 

To be Chosen isn’t for everyone. Next-In-Lines are selected long before they even know their own name. It’s not a position Beatrice envies. She prefers being in the periphery, to stand beside—always warmed, but never the source. It allows her to do her job as sentry, dedicating herself to protecting the Halo-Bearer, getting her Champion out of every fight alive, so they can live for the next—hoping every effort of hers adds up to an extra year or two for them.  

Sister Shannon was 37 years old when she died. 

Beatrice was only twenty feet away when the Divinium shrapnel pierced through their Champion’s armor. Watched with her heart stuck in her throat—with failure— until Shannon shrugged off them like they were nothing, adrenaline and willpower pushing her through to the very end. It wasn’t until they began retreating, huddled in the dark interior of the van, that they noticed the terrifying blue glow of multiple holes from her chest and the light of the Halo flickered and dimmed. 

No, Beatrice doesn’t have it in her to be upset. A small part of her—the selfish, self-less part that cares about her Sisters more than her Church—buried deep in the basement of her heart, hopes Ava stays away. One less Bearer for them to lose.  

 

 

The afternoon light passing through the windows sits like a stain on her back. Beatrice can’t believe the words on the page in front of her. 

Father Vincent comes in behind her. “What is this?” 

“I’ve been reassigned,” her tone is incredulous, bordering on disrespect. “To a convent in Malaysia.” A place where the OCS has no chapter. And she’s not the only one, but that hardly brings her any relief. If anything it causes more worry. For the girls that will be left behind. For the ways in which the OCS will change.

Mother calls the letters a gift. “The Cardinal could have had you excommunicated for insubordination. He chose a more compassionate solution.” The words are spoken to Father Vincent, but they are meant for the both of them. 

“By cutting us off from everything we love and care about?” She has never shown defiance to the Mother before. But she’s never had her trust broken by Mother either. Beatrice understands the position the Cardinal has taken against her. She’s a threat to the new order so she must go. To a place far away where she can’t influence or interfere. Her faith to God, not enough—not the right kind of faith for the Cardinal. 

And not enough for the Mother either, it would seem. “He’s giving you a second chance.”

“By kicking us out of the OCS?” It’s the loss of a chance. Because it’s happening again—she’s being sent away. 

“There are many ways to serve God.” And despite the steady words, Beatrice can sense the waver in Mother’s voice.  

“Mother, please.” She can’t help but beg. This one time, if it allows Mother Superion to reconsider what she’s doing. “The OCS is my home, too.” 

Mother won’t meet her eyes. It feels like betrayal. “There are plane tickets and cash in those envelopes. I think it best if you leave immediately. To spare the other Sisters the turmoil.”

“The Sisters…Or you?” Father Vincent retorts. 

Mother Superion gives them no response. 

 

 

Beatrice looks down, busying herself with unsheathing another weapon, unwilling to bear Camila’s pitying look. She runs her fingers over her shurikens, fingertips gently skirting near their sharp edges. When she bends down to unlatch a blade tucked into her boot, her movements are uncoordinated and stuttered. 

Then, Camila surprises her by saying, “I’d secretly kind of wish they’d kick me out too.” 

The confession gives her pause, but she quickly recovers herself. Beatrice’s head tilts in genuine perplexion, “Why would you wish that?” 

She’s so young. Camila only came to the OCS a year ago, but there’s not one girl in the convent who doesn’t already love her. Talking to her is effortless. She’s effervescent like that, always drawing people into her light. There were days in Beatrice’s life when she’d wake up with a clouded mind and feet unsteady on the solid ground beneath her. On these days, faith felt slippery in her white-knuckled grip and prayer hard to center herself with. But then, soft notes of Camila’s mezzo-forte playing would filter through to the training room. And in the late hours of the night, Beatrice would find a warm cup of nettle tea resting on her table when she finally looked up from the tome she had been transcribing and slowly, steadily, her heart would settle. 

Camila shakes her head, shoulders hunching the slightest bit in self-consciousness. “I don’t know. Just…” Now it’s her that looks unsteady, distant eyes and an anxious posture. “Everything’s changing and I’m not sure I could handle it without you guys.”

Beatrice thinks of the convent in Malaysia, far away from the OCS. From her Sisters. Isolated. She locks her jaw and offers up a tremulous smile. “You can, Camila,” She reassures, keeping her voice steady, eyes bright and clouded with a green that she quickly blinks away. A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. How do you take out a rot that’s everywhere? Not just bone, but blood, muscle, and tissue. How do you extract a wrongness that circulates throughout your entire body, pumping in and out of your heart? 

Beatrice puts on a smile of confidence. “I know you can,” She repeats, the conviction in her tone stronger this time. 

Camila returns a watery smile at the comforting words, shyly ducking her head down. “How?” She sounds helpless. Lost. 

She’s reminded of mezzo-forte tunes, quiet acts of care done by sure and steady hands, and a mind that’s even steadier. In her parting words, Beatrice feels compelled to try and offer a piece of her faith in return, “God sends messages to guide us. Heed them and you’ll be fine.” 

Camila’s eyes fill with tears before she engulfs her in a hug. Pained, Beatrice clenches her eyes shut. If this is the last she sees of her Sister, may the memories of their time together bring her only peace.

 

 

The pew boxes her in, slowly encroaching into her space from her periphery. If Beatrice had left half an hour ago, she would be sitting in an airport right now. But Mary had stopped her on her way out of Cat’s Cradle, an unspoken plea written on her face as she made one last request of her Sister. The desperation heavy in her voice that Beatrice felt compelled to help, one final time before she wouldn’t be able to anymore. 

Mary’s request of Beatrice calls for her participation in a plan that requires to compromise her position within the Order. 

Whether she made the right decision to come here isn’t as clear anymore.

“—But I joined the Church to save my Eternal soul.” 

“Oh, is that the version of the story you’re telling?” The scathing retort is fired back immediately, almost as if Mary had been anticipating it. She hardly spares a glance for Beatrice, but there’s disappointment in her tone. Still? it says, and Beatrice can’t offer anything in return except silence. Mary has always been good at finding vulnerabilities. No matter the person, she’ll find the soft underbelly and tear a knife right through, pulling back the ribs to expose your blood-soaked innards for everyone to see. 

Beatrice’s words spin in her head, the aftertaste heavy and stale as she tries to swallow back half-truths far more revealing than they have any right to be. 

The threat of excommunication looms over her head like a swinging blade. It’s either this or nothing. It’s being with them or being alone. Still, she can’t stop herself from giving something up. Mary’s desperation reaches out to her, tugging at all the jagged ill-fitting parts of her that she had long buried deep. Mary’s fervent need to punish those responsible for Shannon’s death runs wild. Mary, who isn’t held in place by her fear. Mary, who doesn’t let anything stop her from having what she wants. 

So when Mary asks her if she’ll come, eyes hopeful and expecting, it takes everything in Beatrice to keep her voice from cracking as she says the words that she’s been repeating inside her head for longer than she can remember. 

“I can’t.” 

 

 

It is the girl with the name Beatrice that is now being sent away from her family. Exiled from her home yet again, for not falling in line. The girl who thought she was finally enough—fluent in eight different languages, proficient in an array of martial art disciplines, rule-follower, oath-holder, servant of God—falling short yet again. 

Every movement feels locked and heavy. The duffel slung over her shoulder is lighter than it has ever been. Her weapons and combat suit have been returned to the armory, habit carefully folded and left on the edge of her bunk. All she’s packed are toiletries, her rosary, and a well-worn Bible. 

Her body sits folded on the bench, posture as stiff as ever, face forward, and eyes anything but focused. The afternoon light casts its glow upon the wall behind her, cutting through the slats on the windows and permeating into every inch of empty space and leaving behind the eerie shadow of prison bars on the ground. 

For a moment, Beatrice entertains a foolish thought. Maybe the tree next to her will catch fire. Maybe a brush of the hand. Maybe–

A car honks, the sound golden and bright, like a trumpet. It puts an abrupt halt to all of her thoughts. Expectation announces its arrival as a faint rumble and four tires rolling across gravel. Beatrice looks up, eyes catching on the familiar stark white of the airport shuttle. She doesn’t breathe as the bus slowly pulls in next to the sidewalk, engine-tired as it releases a plume of smoke from the exhaust. 

Beatrice lets the passengers exit the vehicle first, eyes following each one as they drift by. She makes no move to get up, even after the last of the occupants have trailed out. Like a magnet, her eyes pull back to the open door, steps leading up to another unfamiliar place. Not home. Never home.  

Where’s her message now?

 

 

 

Ava, the familiar of Eve. Her name touched by divinity long before she ever was. 

The first to be remembered. 

Eve, carved from the rib of another, whose only downfall was that she chose.

Beatrice thinks of fate, of the names that tie them together. And maybe there is where her message lies—where it has always laid. In names. In choice. 

Ava Silva. 

Saint Beatrice of Silva. 

There’s comfort to be found in sharing a connection with another. What was once a solitary oath has revealed itself to have a tether. Beatrice has sworn her life to protecting their Champion. It means something—that perhaps, she was always headed down this path. 

It’s what brings her back to Cat’s Cradle. Brings her back to Ava. Purpose. Belonging. Curiosity. And because Beatrice has never liked walking away from business left unfinished. 

Beatrice comes back. To teach an old foe a new lesson. To ensure that Sister Shannon’s mission is carried out. To return to where she belongs. 

After that, everything happens much more rapidly. A gun is pointed at her and there’s not enough time to do anything until Ava yells and they’re all being blasted back from the force of a shockwave. Sister Crimson is disarmed, but Ava is incapacitated again. Beatrice rushes over to Ava, carefully lifting her so that she can loop one arm over Beatrice’s shoulder, making it easier for her to support all of Ava’s weight. 

This close, the heat emitting from the Halo is intense. There’s a static buzzing in her fingertips where her hands touch Ava’s skin, soothing. And instead of pulling away, Beatrice grips tighter, carrying Ava out of the corridor and into chaos. She rips a divinium-tipped arrow out of Ava’s shoulder and angles her body in front of Ava’s, ready to defend before Camila comes to their rescue, firing enthusiastic warning shots to cover them as they make their escape. 

As soon as they’re inside the van, Beatrice gets to work on staunching the bleeding so that the Halo can heal Ava faster. Warmth spreads under her palms as the cloth pressed against Ava’s shoulder soaks up all the blood. And when Ava’s hand brushes against hers, Beatrice looks down at her Champion—her protector—with a deep sense of conviction that something has just been answered. 

“You’re going to be okay.” 

 

 

 

She can’t help the instinctive smile that forms at Ava’s joke. Juvenile, yet effective at lifting the mood. With a shaky breath, Beatrice begins to recite the entry. She keeps herself focused on translating the words on the page, not on Ava’s tone deaf attempts at levity or the maelstrom inside of her. It’s not until she nears the end of the passage, that her control begins to unravel. 

“Lesbich.” Here is where the slightest shake in her composure begins to make itself known. “I drew the Holy Sword and cut them down. Each slice was an act of hate.” Unsteadiness begins to threaten her. Ava’s eyes never leave hers, pouring their light into the depths. “Hatred that they had made me afraid to be myself.”

Every inhale a swallowed flame in her chest. Burning. 

“—I felt unbound. Unburdened. I felt finally myself.” 

Something inside Beatrice cracks, so strong and so deep that she practically hears it. 

She takes a deep breath to compose herself, looking up at the ceiling to push the tears back. Ava’s gaze on her is heavy, burning—a slow progression from confusion to a dawning realization. It comes with a soft, well-intentioned, do you wanna talk about it, that Beatrice immediately shuts down. But Ava, never one to take things at face-value—burned, and still putting her hands into the fire—pushes and Beatrice can’t help but push back. 

“Your ignorance is really a downer sometimes. As usual, you've managed to miss the point.” 

She feels guilty for the words before they even leave her lips, but still she continues. Even as Ava sees right through it and continues her bullish attempts to understand. A light so merciless that it takes no shadows. Beatrice tries to redirect. Focus on the mission. Always the mission. 

It’s not until the apology leaves Ava’s lips, the small, I’m sorry—not as consolation but as grace—that Beatrice finds herself abandoning the half-truths. 

“It’s not you.” A small, sun-weathered smile, “it was everyone but you.” A tremulous breath, lungs burning from spectral heat as bloodlight spills from the cracks. “My whole life, people have tried to make me into something I’m not. To make me normal. Or at least, ‘acceptable’.” It’s the feeling of being stretched between two worlds, forever doomed to be a barrier. “I became skilled at so many things just so I would still have value, despite my flaws or what I’d been taught was a flaw.” Beatrice exhales, a laugh of weary acceptance. “Of course I tried to fit in, but when you’re punished just for being different, you begin to hate what you are.” She turns to Ava, eyes shining, “And what you love—what should make you happy, only brings you pain.”

The words sit heavy between them, the weight of her life leaning on her bones. And in the midst of the turmoil, comes daybreak in the form of a final half-truth—the one that sent her down this path. “Pain is what made me a Sister Warrior.” It’s the path she took in spite of it. 

Beatrice chose to turn away—to move forward. And perhaps it brought her a different kind of pain, but at least this is pain she can control. With pain comes freedom. And with freedom comes pain. There will always be pain, but never regret. She rejected the world’s demands of her and pledged herself to an entity the world bends to. Her loyalty and service will always be to a power Greater than them. 

But her life will belong to herself, always. 

 

 

 

 

The distance between Heaven and Earth is insurmountable, the path unknown to mere mortals. Beatrice wonders for how long Lucifer fell when he decided the light was too much for him. 

She traces the Halo’s dim outline, warmed by its light as its wearer recites crude jokes about bones and ancient tombs. Beatrice follows Ava deeper into the tunnel, thinking if given the choice, she, too, would let this light poison her. Would spend her final moments with wings dripping in tragic glory, if it meant that she could feel the memory of this warmth forever. 

After—she’ll think of Adriel, wonder where he came from. If he, too, was chasing a light that blinded him.



 

 

They stand at the edge of the wall, at the precipice of something unknown where the shadows get darker and deeper. Inevitable. To a place where she can’t follow Ava anymore. But they’ve practiced for this and she has faith that Ava will make it through. And should anything go wrong, Beatrice has prepared contingencies for a quick exit. 

“In this life, or the next,” Ava says before she steps inside. And Beatrice thinks, see you on the other side because she will always rise to meet her Champion. Will always walk the path that brings her to Ava. 

Always beside her.

 

 

 

Adriel reveals himself to be an imposter that rewrote history to cast himself as an angel. The truth is bitter but not entirely unexpected. Beatrice had long suspected the Church had secrets of their own. No matter how much they concealed, her Faith would remain true. For as much import the Church holds for her, it’s nothing compared to the loyalty she holds for her Sisters. 

What hurts is Father Vincent’s betrayal. It’s the uncertainty that threatens her now. Is this what plagued Shannon during her final days? Her doubt in the Mission, in the people around her as she slowly uncovered secret by secret—as the list of people she could trust became shorter and shorter. The Halo-Bearer has few they can share their burdens with. To walk the path of light is lonesome and heavy. 

These seven minutes are the longest of her life. They all move together, a hybrid attack of claws, knives, bullets, and arrows, hoping to inflict some damage. Tire him down. But Adriel rises, again and again. He meets every attack of theirs with immeasurable power, drawing on something much more sinister than anything they’ve seen before. 

Still, Beatrice stays. Spins in and out of range, launching hits while trying to evade Adriel’s own. Helplessly, she watches as Adriel catches Lilith by the neck and picks her up, gripping her throat. Beatrice pulls the knives strapped to her chest, launching them at Adriel’s back one by one but he takes the hits and doesn’t let go, crushing Lilith’s windpipe. It’s not until Mary emerges, all raging storm, bashing him in a violent frenzy—targeting ribs and neck and spine—that he finally lets Lilith drop. 

She looks back at Ava who leans against the fountain, still recovering—whatever happened in that cave had taken more energy out of her than any of them could have foreseen—and launches into another set of attacks again.  

They bring Adriel down to their knees and Beatrice feels a hollow victory, knowing it’s only temporary before he rises again. Because he will. But then Ava is meeting them with a draw of the Holy Sword, taking her position at the front as she challenges Adriel, and they have their chance. 

The feeling doesn’t last for long. Not when Adriel looks at them with satisfaction as if they’ve played right into his hand. He raises his arms, summoning an invisible foe. Beatrice doesn’t see the fog of red that descends upon them, but recognizes it all the same when the air becomes heavy with sulphur, threatening to choke them. With grim realization, she accepts that they’re outmatched. 

This very well may be their last stand. 

And as Beatrice starts to consider the options before them: fight or flee, Mary rushes forward in righteous anger, seeking justice. Mary, matching the ghost of Shannon step for step even as she is swallowed by a horde of the possessed, red fury reigning down on her.

Heaven help us, Beatrice thinks. And like always, God responds in silence. 

And yet, she remains steady, decisive—immovable against the monstrous face of the world. Beatrice, whose light was always dissonant and turned inwards. Before Ava. Now, she steps up beside her Champion, shoulder-to-shoulder, radiating a quiet warmth of her own.

An awful inevitable is coming but she will not turn away. They have a choice: to fight or allow unmitigated annihilation. And if they must start a war to ensure a dawn in time, then so be it. 

If death is to be the next step, she will take it. 

(She is not afraid. She was born for this.)