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There was only one day when the Saint Loretto Chapel was full of song and cheer, and that was Saturday.

The local congregation wasn't close to many places, and the main roads connected to the chapel grounds through a series of convoluted, wriggling paths through the forest. Really, there was no reason to go and visit the old wooden building, or the many children under its care, unless it was time to pray.

It was always time to pray on Saturday.

Everyone packed their meals early in the morning, and ventured the trails from the two villages nearby, all so their families could reach the Chapel.

While the flock eagerly sat to listen to Father Enrico read the Book of the Saints, everyone worked hard to make it a day worth the trip. The few nuns under Enrico's guidance prepared hot milk and yerba mate, plus some of their famous "Surprise Bread" for those who didn't pack food. The surprise was the many bubbles in the sourdough, filled with delicious, nutritious air.

The girls tidied up the benches, lit the candles, polished the pipe organ, and then they changed from their usual rags to their "Good Day Clothes": beautiful blue togas with shiny golden vines wrapped from the bottom of the skirt and squirmed around their breast. These robes were the single most expensive possession in the chapel... and there would be hell to pay if they dared to even think of wearing them outside of their Saturday duties.

As the visitors arrived and took their seats on the many wooden benches in front of the chancel, all the chapel girls rushed to sit down on the little pyramid of seats reserved for the choir.

All but one.

As the girls neatly took their places, there was one who could not join them. One who was not allowed to enter the chapel when there were others visiting. One who could only observe from far, far away, behind one of the doors leading to the rest of the building.

Gabrielle was not supposed to be there. She had to clean the chicken pens on Saturday, and usually she was quite good at following orders... but today, she was struck with an odd feeling.

Yearning.

She clung to the door and stared as the girls smiled and hummed in unison, swaying in their beautiful clothes as they prepared the first hymn, albeit some more fervently than others. Amid the light shining through the painted glass, they radiated a blessed and peaceful aura... who could have guessed that such a mischievous bunch could blossom into these sweet singing cherubs?

Gabrielle had never been allowed to don the habit, much less sing in public – she felt much better singing by herself anyways! But that wasn’t what held her attention.

Her eyes were on the empty seat.

Among the choir there was a single empty spot, a vacant seat all girls avoided like a plague that morning: the seat belonging to Donnatella, one of the sopranos. No one had seen her since last night, so while her disappearance might have gone unnoticed by the congregation, all of the girls were thinking about it.

They had all been told that during the night, she had escaped the chapel. Few of them believed it of course, if any. Before mass, they had whispered their theories about what could have happened...

Did Father Enrico sell her off? Did the nuns chase her away? It was no secret that Donnatella provoked them at every opportunity, and that the sisters took every chance to rap her knuckles in turn.

But they were all so, so far off from the truth, Gabrielle knew. She had been there that night and had stood right beside Donatella in the basement, the one room no one was allowed to enter unless you were REALLY in trouble.

Gabrielle had stood with Donatella as she raved and she wept, racked with an emotion the girl still couldn’t understand that morning.

Gabrielle had bore witness to her Ascension.

It was foolish to try and remember, but Gabrielle tried anyway. The memories of a night of Ascension turned foggy every single time, just like the faces of those around her.

The frustration made her knuckles ache, white and boney as her fists clenched with the effort. Why was it always like this? She saw those faces, she lived those events. In the moment she had no problem perceiving either of them, but when she tried to recall faces, Gabrielle's mind could only see botched, gray blurs.

It happened every time she tried to remember what happened during the failed Ascensions.

The start was usually the easiest part to recall: it arrived in waves crashing to the back of her skull and a terrible pain behind her right eye. Every time, she would try to open her eyes out of reflex, but there was nothing to see. A rough cloth covered her eyes.

Her ears still worked, though.

She would hear the sound of slow steps on a stone floor… that was to be expected. It was the Father, walking from side to side, anxiously waiting for the other girl to wake up. There was always another girl. Every time.

She would hear something scratching on paper furiously, probably one of the nuns? Gabrielle never heard their voices, but she recognized the way they sighed whenever the Father told them what to do. Sometimes, Gabrielle tried to imagine what it was they were doing…taking notes, probably?

Father never dictated much to them and imagination had never been the redheaded girl’s strong suit, so she always abandoned those efforts.

Then, there was the rattling: chains shaking violently from side to side. The other girl had awoken – there was only one last night.

A young voice snarled, high pitched and broken by fear and rage. It was feisty, fast spoken, almost lyrical in its insults…

Donna...?

Gabrielle couldn’t really put a face to the words, but voices were very easy to tell apart. She tried to call out, but something was quickly wrapped around her mouth. Those cold, callous hands were the Father’s, for sure. The little girl sighed, of course she was forced to quiet down. She wasn't ever supposed to speak during these.

There was always something inside of her that wanted to reach out to the other girls and ease their fears. She rarely understood them, but this time she knew what to say! It was fine! Everything was fine. Things would hurt for a moment, but it would be worth it in the end.

They would be angels in the end.

With a bit of luck, so would she.

But each time she had tried to explain the Ascension, the girls seemed to panic even more. Sometimes they told her to go to Hell... maybe that's why Father wanted her to quiet down.

Resigned, Gabrielle had closed her eyes once again. Trying to see wasn’t doing her any good here, so she simply relaxed and listened as the night played out like so many others.

She heard insults and struggles. Father usually tried to stay quiet at this point, but the girls usually bit or kicked him... Donnatella must have bitten somewhere particularly soft, because all of a sudden Father howled like a stuck pig.

There was a loud smack, and then… silence. They always ended up calming down, and to Gabrielle that was simply fascinating. Father must have known something that she didn't about calming people down, or how to talk to others in general! After all, everyone wanted to hear what he had to say.

Then came the part where he rubbed something on her face, a piece of cloth with some spicy, nasty smelling water on it... but he had been doing it less and less each time. Whatever it is that he wanted to scrub off, it was probably gone now.

“Forgive us, oh Mother. Let your Saints guide our way to your grace…” Father mumbled a prayer as he moved around.

Something long, cold and metallic pressed against the back of Gabrielle’s neck, prodding until it pushed into her flesh.

Once that was done, she felt one more on each of her arms... then, the one she hated the most, pressing into her lower back. That one usually scraped against bone...

It hurt and itched like ants walking under her skin. She used to move a lot at that stage, but Father would sound so frustrated when she did. He had hit her and berated her every time she moved an inch, yet for all that she never ended up Ascending. After so many tries, she simply learned to take it.

“May your eyes open to lands beyond...” whispered the Father, “and may your voice carry the Mother's Will back to our disgraced land. … Amen.”

Gabrielle heard the click and felt the prodding irons in her body heat up until her flesh burned. The heat pushed through her whole body in a matter of seconds, attacking her skin with pain she could never truly understand.

Something would shake her from the very core, forcing her body to jump and tense no matter how hard she tried to stay still. But she could see the light. It shined so brightly that not even the cloth on her eyes protected her from it. Not even squeezing her eyes shut could keep the void of white light away.

But then everything just... blurred away...

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