Tradition Be Damned – Rebecca Royce

Galilea Hart opened the door to her clean, modest cabin with shaking hands. It had been fifteen years since she had laid eyes on her baby sister—now a woman of power— and she’d hoped to never need see her again. When her sister had been born, her mother had named the baby Willow. But these days she went by the name Sister Katrina, the name gifted to her when she had been ordained a Sister of the Rising Sun. The oncenamed Willow was born one of the few to save them all. If the demons came, she would be able to exorcise them. All the Sisters of her order could. And when Willow had been born, the late Sister Caitlyn had arrived to take her. Their mother never recovered. The Sisters, their saviors, took whom they chose. Galilea clutched her daughter Celine to her heart. Somehow throughout the whole pregnancy, Galilea had known the time would come when someone would arrive to take away the child she carried inside of her. The baby felt different than her brothers and sisters, as though the power the baby would someday wield soaked through Galilea’s pores and out into the world. They’d never had such a string of good luck. Gold, which was so hard to earn, flowed easier, and during this pregnancy there had been enough to eat.

She hadn’t wanted to follow the signs. Once a Sister was born in the family, more came, as though one girl’s abilities suddenly passed into the family and wouldn’t go away. Galilea couldn’t bring herself to open the door. Her husband placed his hand over hers. His voice shook as he spoke. “When word came, we could have run. It wouldn’t have mattered. They see all; they know all. That is how they save us. They will bless us for our gift to them.

Celine is one of them. She belongs with them. We won’t be able to help her. They’ll see to it we have enough for the rest of our lives.” Yes, they would. Galilea’s parents had finally been able to feed their family after Willow went away. “I’m not giving them my baby for a few more rations. I carried her. She belongs with me.” Her husband moved out of the way, despite her words.

It was as though she had not spoken them. Carter was terrified of the Sisterhood. They could save, and they could also destroy. He stepped back even more, and disgust filled her mouth like a bitter taste she knew she would never lose. What kind of man let someone take his baby? Sister Katrina glided more than entered into Galilea’s small home. With her came five men—the infamous Guardians whose sole purpose in life was to protect the Sisters as they eliminated demons. Katrina looked around the room once before her gazed fixated on the baby. Galilea’s body vibrated. The air thickened in the room, and the small candles lit in their eating space blew out. Willow had returned home, now as a Sister, and she come to take Galilea’s baby away.

“I presume you were informed we would be here.” Sister Katrina had none of the accent everyone else from their region possessed. She sounded like the nobles, and every word came across as clipped. The music of their area did not flow in Katrina’s voice. “Yes.” Carter looked down as he spoke to the Sister. “We know you are here for Celine.” Katrina’s face was covered in the traditional Sisterhood garb. Only her dark eyes were visible through the elaborately decorated hood. The higher up the women was, the more ornate the decorations on the hood became.

Katrina’s was a rainbow of colors. The robe covering her body was the same design, and the bracelets peeking out also matched. Every move she made showed off her clothing. “You must be important.” Galilea spoke before she could overthink it. “I have seen a few Sisters in my life, but none of them looked like you.” Sister Katrina held out her bottom skirt. “Thank you for noticing.” She turned to her guards. “Take her husband, whatever children are in this house, and wait outside, all of you.

” “Sister—” Whatever the guard would have said ended with a flick of Katrina’s wrist. He nodded once, and the other four rushed through the house looking for anyone in the structure. They wouldn’t find any. She’d sent them all away to neighbors before this horror could take place. Unlike her own experience, she wouldn’t have them see their sister disappear from their lives forever. The few moments it took for all of the men to leave seemed more like hours. Eventually, she was alone with Sister Katrina. With the final click of the door, Katrina removed her headpiece. Galilea gasped. To do so went against every rule Galilea had ever heard in her entire life.

The Sisters only removed their hoods when they were alone in the sacred homes. It took Galilea an entire second to realize how similar Katrina looked to their late mother. She was a dead ringer. Only Katrina had none of the lines that had seemed to always adorn their mother’s face. The woman must not laugh, cry, nor yell often. Her hair was pitch black and her skin pale, with no visible blemishes. She didn’t work in the sun. Her eyes were the most striking part of her. Galilea had always heard the Sisters lost their human eyes with every demon they exorcised. Hers were violet, so pale they were almost not visible anymore.

Eventually, if the legends were true, her pupils would be pure white. “I am told you are my biological sister.” Galilea swallowed. “Yes. Your name was Willow.” Katrina waved her hand in the air as she had done with the guards. “I don’t recognize that name. I’ve never known it. The only name that matters in the world is the one they gave me when I was born into the Sisterhood.” Everything about this moment was surreal.

“Why did you take off your hood?” “So we might look each other in the eye this once. I will be leaving here with your baby. That can happen one of two ways. The first is you give her to me. She goes off to lead a different life than yours. We provide you with all you will need for the rest of your days. Celine, as you call her, will be responsible for saving thousands upon thousands of lives. Or you force me to call my guards. They kill you. Your husband and children get nothing.

She still has the same life.” Katrina issued her statement with no detectable emotion at all. It was chilling for its lack of any empathy. Galilea didn’t know what she would have replied when her once-sister spoke again. “We share the same blood.” Katrina placed her hand on Celine’s back. “Mine is better than yours. Special. So is Celine’s. We’re special.

We are the saviors. You are a mere peasant. You wouldn’t be able to raise her were I to leave her here. When she is twelve, her powers will turn on. They will be uncontrollable. Demons will be drawn to her, not knowing she can kill them—or at least the small ones will. Soon, you would all be dead. Now, turn over your, daughter, peasant. Move on with your life. This part of it is over.

” ONE “You have not called for a man yet?” Sister Jayne flipped through one of the scripture books across the room. She was bored. I could tell by her tone. She always got a little nasal when she no longer cared about what was going on around her. “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have one between my legs every night.” I took a deep breath. “Not yet, no.” The fewer things I said on the subject the better. I was not interested in explaining why I didn’t use my guards for sex when I wasn’t exactly sure why I was so against it in the first place. I simply didn’t, and that was all there was to it.

I was twenty-two years old, a novice in the Sisters of the Rising Sun, powerful, and more terrified of life than anyone I knew. It wasn’t the demons who scared me—for the last two years I’d taken care of every assignment given to me without fail—but the rest of my world that left me shivering in the dark. “Maybe your sexless existence is why you’re so damned powerful. Maybe we should all become chaste.” Sister Jayne snorted like it was the funniest thing she’d ever said. “Yeah, right. Try and make me do that.” Rising, Sister Jayne defined the word beauty. She was olive-skinned, with thick, curly hair that fell down her back in waves. Her eyes were almond-shaped, and she’d already begun losing the color of her pupils.

In another year, my own would do the same. They would never be human again. “Are you sure you’re doing okay?” I touched Jayne’s shoulder to bring her attention to anything other than the reasons I didn’t have sex. She sighed. “I’m not going to pretend it wasn’t awful. It was a stage two demon. I know that’s not a big hit for you, but for my powers, that’s as far as I go. To lose one of my guards in the middle of it …I mean, shouldn’t they be better trained? I held my sigh. I’d long since learned to restrain my natural responses to things. No one appreciated my plebian ways.

I was a Sister. That made me nobility. Yet I couldn’t help the pang in my heart about what had happened on her last assignment. Jayne’s guard was dead. He’d committed ten years to protecting a Sister, and when his ten years were done, he was supposed to go home a rich man, able to protect his family by placing them outside of the dead zones. But he’d never see his reward now or anything else for that matter. Jayne’s guard had sacrificed his life to save her, as was his duty. His family would be protected, provided for, but they would never see him return. He hadn’t let her die. If he had, all of his years of service would be for naught.

He’d have been executed along with his fellow guards and their families, too. The Guards hated us. Defending us was a means to an end for them, and they resented us for it. I suspected they probably also resented the sex they were occasionally called upon to perform. Or maybe not. Sister Kendra had told me it was quite a feather in their hats to be asked to service a Sister. They were young—all of them beginning their training at eighteen and ending at twenty-eight. My own group was amongst the youngest. Even though I could feel their dislike of me like a vice around my heart, I would be devastated if any of them died. Why didn’t Jayne feel the same? Why didn’t she know it was as much her responsibility to keep them alive as it was theirs to protect her? Four of the five guards I’d started with were still with me.

My first guard Number One had completed his decade and left us to return home, his reward for all his hard work. My other guards had all moved up a rank. Two became One, Three became Two and so on. I would have a new Five start that evening. I was going to screw it up and call someone the wrong number. They’d hate me even more after I did. Jayne kissed my cheek. “Thank you for asking, my dear friend. I’ll let you get ready, love. Good luck.

They wouldn’t be bringing you out a second time in a week if it weren’t important.” I waited for her to leave before I took a deep breath. I had to get ready, and her words bothered me more than I could say. She was right. I was still ragged from the demon I’d rid the world of earlier in the week. We lived in a time of apocalypse. I went where I was needed, as was my sacred duty. But to send us out twice in a week was highly unusual. Every piece of jewelry I put on mattered to the rituals I would perform to rid the world of the demon. I rose, pulling my white nightgown over my head and shedding it.

When I was in the sacred house, with two hundred of my sisters, I never dressed any differently. We were all adorned in the Mother’s white. With my freckled, pale skin, I looked sick in the shade of near nothingness. Not that it mattered. Physical attributes didn’t matter. Even were I to have sex with one of my guards, he wouldn’t see my body or my face. I’d look at him, and he would lift my skirt up to get the job done in the darkness. They wouldn’t see my frayed red hair, cut to fit under the hood, or my too large breasts I had to hide under my clothing, both signs of my imperfection. I shuddered. Fear of meaningless sex ranked amongst my deepest issues.

In my dreams, we were face-to-face, lip-to-lip, and even more important, in love. The faceless heroes of my imagination … I stood naked, waiting. A tap on the door told me my people had arrived. Bonnie, Maxie, and True had been my companions since I had left the nursery. They smiled and curtseyed before they took out the make up to paint my body. It was forbidden for them to address me, but I loved the sounds of their voices—the lilt of their accents as they chattered with one another. I was considered eccentric because I let them speak in my presence. It wasn’t forbidden, just weird. Today, they spoke of a festival in the town. A representative from our order would be sent to bless the festivities, but it wouldn’t be me.

I was too important, too powerful, and too valuable to be allowed in public.


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