Her motivation was like ice, surprising after the horror in her wake. The determination howled in her blood. Bethany was running so fast that she had left behind all sense of genuine space. She stumbled, fell, got up again, without any loss of the duty that drove her forward. She was clad in a hooded crimson shawl, bleeding and barefoot, thinking that her life was gossamer, a thread whose pearls were these merciless flights from a maelstrom that hung like a wraith at her shoulder.
Her feet no longer hurt. She felt nothing in her body. She was pale and thin, as mama had been, with quick, dark eyes that belied her sixteen years. After the Templar Knights came with fire and burned everyone she felt nothing for the Word of God. Those soldiers of Christ, previously heroes in her dreams, became gargoyles and demon-kissed. Bethany knew well of her mother’s affront to Catholicism, her secret workings with the ancient painted-lady of the shoreline caves. Secrets could not be kept from the devoted. When one of the knights forced mama onto the hay-strewn floor of the stables she cursed in a foreign tongue and spat in his face. The horses bucked and snorted, pawing the earth as though it were them about to be defiled. Bethany hid, as she was told. The terrible knight began reciting a Latin remonstration as he cupped at mama’s breast, forcing her thighs open with his knees.
His face had changed then, it quivered, becoming momentarily feline, then canine, then again the ruthless mask of Man. She remembered her mother’s words just before the knight breached their hiding place, words like a sliver of quartz in her head – you must watch everything.
She watched it all.
Nearly three days now she had been running, resting, keeping close to the imagined spirits of the forest trees. She had found a journal once from Father Calhill, hidden within a bible-binding, talking of the elder guardians of the green places. It was heresy to speak openly of such things, so mama and the priest kept their devotion concealed from all but the inner circle of the Memoria Sol – the Memory Sun. Rome was at war with itself, as it had been since the birth of modern Christendom.
There were demons hiding within the Church - Bethany came to suspect it just as mama had - monsters with an exquisite understanding of the mortal imagination. They were the true dark sorcerers and cruel witches; a score of vampires demanding nothing less than total subjugation, infinite agonies.
Bethany ran a hard, dead flight.
She heard the sea before she saw it. Quickly but carefully she made her way down the slopes and gravel to the broken beach, where huge slabs of rock jutted like the half-buried skeleton of a titan. The mouth of the cave was here somewhere, obscured by grey stone and crashing foam. Bethany had followed mama to this place many times, in secret, lest her mother concern herself with her daughter’s similar interests. She knew the painted-lady lived somewhere in those caverns, at home in the dark, closer to the womb of the Earth. She was one of the most trusted allies of Memoria Sol. Bethany once overheard Father Calhill say that she was perhaps two hundred years old, a keeper of the most sacred magic, her very existence denied.
Bethany feared the Church had somehow infiltrated her mother’s clan of heretical insurrectionists. The Templar Knights spared no souls. When the stables began to burn she did not leave at once, she stayed for many moments; cradling her mother’s defiled, butchered corpse. Bethany tried to collect mama’s entrails and put them back inside, but her young hands were slick with red life and everything kept slipping through her fingers. She was unable to shed a tear. She was now the legacy of the memory sun, barely a young woman; a child who watched her mother desecrated by holy men.
She knew those holy men were coming and that there were monsters among them.
Entering the black space felt frightening, sexual, the sea like a susurration of charmed voices, and Bethany felt the surety of fate flooding her veins. Mama had been dead for only three days. She had made it this far. Any life beyond this was now unimportant. It was warmer and wetter inside than she had anticipated. The stones were slick beneath her bare feet. It was not a complete darkness. Fractures in the rocks above let in shafts of light like a sacristy, and the deeper into the caves she progressed the more like an underground church it became. Even the expectant hush was the same, the poised stillness that she felt inside cathedrals.
When she saw it she knew she was already too late.
The painted-lady was posed on a candlelit altar in mock crucifixion, a stalagmite rising through her punctured chest. Bethany felt a lurch of doom, climbing bile in her throat. She wretched but nothing came. The painted-lady’s robe was a patchwork of dark fabrics, her long grey hair tangled about her skull like bloodied serpents. She had been impaled, and someone or something found this banality amusing.
It was over, Bethany knew. Memoria Sol was now a ghost in the breast of a sixteen year old girl.
She heard the knight scratching in the mud with tip of his sword, and her gaze found his obsidian eyes. It was the same knight that took mama.
“It dies with you, little one. We cannot allow you to be here. We wish to make a mockery of the Church. We need total control of men’s minds. There can be no greater possibilities for them. You have a great love in your heart. You are stronger than me. We both know that. Your love binds, connects. But I am singular and a coward. I am going to take your maidenhead, your blood and your flesh. I want to see a crystalline fear in your eyes.”
Bethany opened her young lips and spoke a rebuttal. “I am not afraid of you, demon, not in truth. You lack the imagination to be worthy of it. It never dies, ugly fool. Take me. I will pity you as you feast on me.”
He smiled then with a mouth that split impossibly wide. Memoria Sol held steadfast to the deepest secret – knowledge of the eternal human soul, a flame without limit, never to be extinguished. She was about to be taken into a birthright beyond claim. As the feral knight approached her, Bethany began to scream the gleeful scream of immortality.