That was the day the monster Medusa was born.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Start with Chapter One
That was the day the monster Medusa was born.
Medy spent extra time the next morning getting ready. Her hands shook as she combed out her hair. She hardly slept the night before. To avoid her family, she had to leave early. She grabbed the water pail and left before any of them woke.
When she arrived, Cithara was there with a white dress clutched in her hands. The material was thin and Medy could see the wrinkles in Cithara's finger joints beneath it.
"What is that?" Medy was pretty sure that any woman who wore the dress in the sun would give a clear view of her bare body to the world.
Cithara raised an eyebrow. "It's your clothing for today."
Medy felt unusually conscious of her nipples and the light pubic hair between her thighs. "I can't be naked in public."
"Of course not," Cithara said. "That's why you're going to wear this. No one will get to see you without it for free. It'll give them enough of a taste to whet their desire."
Medy sighed, wondering what she had gotten herself into.
Cithara smiled. "It may feel awkward at first, but you'll get used to it. Now, let's get you changed inside."
Cithara walked into the building, but Medy froze. She knew the kinds of things that went on in there, but she'd never seen it.
Cithara stuck her head out and waved. "What are you waiting for? Come in! There's nothing to be afraid of."
Medy's feet walked one in front of the other, as though they no longer belonged to her. A more daring woman controlled her movement; she was light-headed and petrified.
As she passed underneath the stony archway, she was hit by the smells of dirt and pleasure. Lamps burned in every corner, filling her lungs with smoke. They flickered and illuminated the gray walls seductively. She heard grunting to the right and saw a naked old man on top of a young woman. She lay on a stone slab and both their faces were scrunched in ecstasy. The doorways were archways into open rooms, where everyone served the clients in full view of anyone walking by.
Another woman stood to the left. She was on her knees in front of a man, sucking on him. Most wives in Athens found this act shameful, but the woman moaned and stared into his eyes.
Medy struggled to shut her mouth, which was hanging open.
Cithara followed her gaze. "This is why men come here. We give them things their wives won't. Our threesome will thrill many."
Antonius was bent in front of a man who cried out with every thrust. The man periodically slapped his butt. Antonius smiled and winked at Medy. He looked so giddy, she was surprised he wasn't laughing out loud. "I'm back in business!" he mouthed and then let out a loud moan, obviously intended for the satisfaction of the customer.
Medy's face warmed; the walls were closing in on her. She wasn't sure how much more she could take.
She heard whimpering up ahead. Someone was in pain. Medy flinched, hoping the job didn't demand her to be beaten by clients. She had heard of men who had fetishes for whips and blood.
"Ambrosia is having her baby!" Cithara announced in excitement and Medy's shoulders relaxed. "She's been in labor since yesterday, swearing because the baby is taking so long to come out!"
Medy struggled not to vomit as Ambrosia's shrilly scream met her ears. Her room smelled like copper and brine. Clear liquid and blood covered the sheets spread on the ground. Her legs were parted. Her face was red and sweaty, her hair plastered to her forehead.
Medy wanted to look away, but the horror of what she was seeing wouldn't allow her to. Another prostitute sat in front of her. She must have been the closest thing they could get to a midwife.
Between Ambrosia's legs popped a bloody head of hair. She shrieked again. Medy gagged and turned away.
They went to a private corner of the brothel and sat down across from each other. Cithara ordered Medy to change her clothes as she pulled several items out of a sack. She took a vial and smeared red liquid over Medy's lips.
"What are you doing?" Medy mumbled.
"Making you look beautiful. I dab berry juice on my face every morning. It gives you more color."
Medy nodded appreciatively. She had always noticed that Cithara's lips were unusually red and plump.
She also handed Medy a necklace. It held a tiny bottle at the end of its chain. She uncorked the lid and smelled roses. Perfume was expensive. She spilled a few drops on her neck and wrists.
"I want you to have this for good luck," Cithara said. "It was given to me by my mother when I was a little girl."
Medy handed it back. Cithara's mother had died a few years ago from a fever. Cithara had scared customers with her crying and punched the teeth out of a man who called her mother a good-for-nothing whore.
"I can't keep this," Medy said.
"I'll be insulted if you don't. Hide it under your clothes, so your parents won't see it, but use it every day before you come to work. Consider it an initiation gift."
The sound of a baby crying filled the air. All the whores stopped what they were doing and ran towards Ambrosia's room-even the ones in the middle of pleasing their clients. They pushed one another out of the way for a glimpse at the tiny, red mess, ignoring the complaints of the naked men around them. Bare breasts and asses were shoved everywhere.
The baby was a little girl. Medy's heart broke as she saw her. From this end of the process, she was beautiful. Ambrosia took the child to her breast and fed her.
Cithara and Medy went outside with smiles on their faces. They wondered whether Ambrosia would let anyone else hold her daughter or be too protective. Medy pretended that she wasn't trying to solicit men, but soon someone approached them.
He was overweight and balding. He smelled like a pig and had the round face of one. Cithara had warned her that some clients might be repulsive. This man fit the bill.
His eyes wandered up and down Medy's body. She had to fight the urge to cover herself; her skin suddenly chilled. Cithara grabbed Medy's hand and spun the two of them around, so he could get a full view of what he was purchasing. He licked his greasy lips.
Cithara demanded money if he wanted to see any more. If she waited for the payment until afterwards, more often than not the men would pull their pants up and run without giving a single drachma. Coins jingled in the man's hand as he dropped them into Cithara's palm. She clenched them and led the way inside.
They stretched out in an unoccupied corner and the man rubbed Medy's shoulder. She leaped out of the way as Cithara slapped his arm. "She is not to be touched. That isn't part of the deal. She only watches."
Medy stared at the ceiling as they stripped naked. She was used to seeing Cithara nude, but was frightened by the man pig. He had rolls of fat. His belly swallowed up his penis in its folds. He jumped on top of Cithara and jiggled in a way that made her skin crawl.
He ran out of breath as he thrust in and out of her. The room smelled like something had died. His skin grew slick from the movement.
Cithara gave her a warning look and Medy rubbed herself fervently. It hurt after a while. She watched the faces Cithara made and tried to imitate them. The whole experience was awful, but was over more quickly than she thought it would be. She was pleased because she could go out and breathe fresh air again.
Cithara split the money with Medy once he left. The weight of the coins lying in her hand made her heart leap into her throat. She had never possessed this much power over her own life and future. The whole thing was worth it.
Cithara crossed her arms. "You're lucky he didn't demand his money back."
Medy's eyebrows met. "What do you mean?"
"You looked like you were in pain."
"You could tell I didn't enjoy it?" She had thought she was doing so well, too.
"Yes," Cithara said. "It's not something you should fake. You need to orgasm for real. You think of someone else. Imagine a beautiful young man with muscles you'd like to stroke. Pretend you're on the beach, rolling around with him in the sand. Use whatever fantasy helps. I think of my boyfriend, Bartholomew."
Medy smiled. "So that's the name of your slave lover boy!"
Cithara's eyes glowed. "Yes. Our love gets me through all of this."
She seemed so happy and it made Medy doubt herself for a moment. Maybe she could find joy with a man as well. She shook the idea out of her head.
Medy knew she should probably leave. She only meant to try this one time, but before she knew it, they had reeled in another man and she was agreeing to go back into the brothel.
This man was young and handsome. In fact, Medy felt jealous of the fact that Cithara would be touching him. His gray eyes were lighter than his tan skin. His blond hair was long, his stubble scruffy, and his body rough and muscular. She felt a warmth pool into her stomach and tighten it. This is what lust must feel like.
She kept her eyes open as they pulled off their clothes. She was satisfied by every inch of creamy skin he revealed to her. She longed to run her fingertips up his abs. She shivered as she wondered what it would be like to kiss him on the lips and the chest. Her breath hitched as he positioned his erection over Cithara. She rubbed herself as he entered her.
She sighed and closed her eyes. She imagined herself alone with him, his heated body pressed against hers as he pleasured her instead. She gasped as her insides contracted. Her nerve endings tingled as she shuddered. The urge to shout in excitement choked her as the waves took over.
This time when Cithara handed her money, her body felt shaky. She would remember this moment so she could daydream about it with other customers in the future.
Cithara smiled. "If you can do that every time, we'll have a lot of good business together."
When she headed home, as the sun was beginning to set, she wondered what to do with the money. She'd hand it directly to her mother, but she'd be questioned on where she got it. Women couldn't make a living through purity.
Already, as it was, her father was sick of "providing" for his family. He threatened to kick them out all the time. Her new job was a good excuse to get rid of her for dragging down the family name and making it hard for him to do "business", which for him was just gambling. Besides, she knew her dad: he'd act like she'd cut his balls off if he knew she was making more money than he had in years.
She bought a pair of fancy shoes on the way, the kind her mother loved to dance in. Ceto had sold most of her pairs and Medy could see the sadness in her eyes every time she did so.
She also stopped by the well and quickly pumped some water into the pail. Juggling the shoes and carrying the water was a heavy burden for one woman, but she would manage. She wished she hadn't lived a life of leisure, so she would have the muscles to drag stuff around more easily.
When she got home, she left both the shoes and the drachmas in her father's room while her parents were fighting. Her father had gambled away the money for the next day's food and Ceto was angry. She announced her return by dropping the big pail of water at their feet, sloshing it around a bit.
She knew her father was too drunk to question it when he found the money. He had been so privileged all his life that he was used to the idea of it popping up out of nowhere. He'd probably think a friend had let him borrow it and assume he'd blacked out the entire conversation. Ceto would find a way to take enough of it to feed them.
Her father complained about what a waste of money his family was, but shut up once he realized that the satchel at his desk was full of it. Ceto found the shoes and gave Phorcys a sloppy kiss on the cheek as she twirled around the room in them. Her father grinned at the feel of her mother's lips. She wished she could punch him for taking all the credit. At least her parents weren't fighting, but he'd probably gamble away at least half the money she'd made. There would be no thanks for selling her body to help them live.
Over the next few months, she threw herself fully into her new business. She pretended to have made some friends and told her mother that the lavish dinners and flowers she came home with were presents from suitors. It wasn't a complete lie and it made Ceto happy. She found a carpenter to fix the roof and a slave girl to clean part-time. She told her mother that Phorcys had hired them. Ceto thought that her husband had suddenly become more responsible.
He still wandered the streets drunkenly as he always did, swearing at his friends until they'd make bets with him over stupid things like dog fights and dice rolls. Not that Medy was doing much to help the family's reputation.
The brothel's dinginess was driving rich customers away. Cithara was negotiating prices with a tax collector one day when Ambrosia ran out of the front door, screaming at the top of her lungs as a naked man ran for his life.
"He sucked the milk from my tit!" Ambrosia said. "That's how I feed my child! If he wanted dinner with the show, then the little shit should have paid me more!"
The tax collector's face twisted in disgust. He ripped the coin purse from Cithara's hand. They had been discussing an alternate form of payment for their taxes and instead they had lost all the money they'd struggled for that day.
"I think it's time we start working for ourselves," Cithara said.
Medy's eyebrows rose. "We can do that?"
Cithara smirked. "You can when you attract customers like we do."
They tested the idea by accepting an invitation to a party hosted by an Eastern merchant. They were given wine to drink that tasted sweeter than the bitter stuff Medy choked down at home. The food was rich with spice and piled high onto their plates. Medy was drunk and full by the time the merchant started to kiss Cithara's neck. He unclipped her chiton and let it fall to the floor, while the other guests grabbed one another and released their passions.
The merchant threw Cithara on the table and fell on top of her. As the room spun, Medy danced to the music strung by the harpist, who, as evidenced by his erection, was fully aroused by the sights. She threw off her clothes and rubbed each curve of her body, enjoying the fact that she had been born a woman. The merchant thrust into Cithara, but kept his eyes on Medy, enchanted by the seductive way she ran her hands over her soft skin. He cried out as he finished.
The girls were given the drachmas they asked for, along with a set of silk dresses and combs. Sleeping with a merchant had its advantages.
The two girls were invited to another party later that week. Medy was surprised to see no other female guests except them. They had only been paid enough to sleep with the host, but the other males stared at their chests.
Cithara looked into the host's eyes and crossed her arms.
"I haven't forgotten the deal," he reassured them.
Medy's knees shook as she sat at the table. The men stared as if she was a piece of meat. None of them made jokes. They hardly spoke and didn't eat. Medy gulped her wine too loudly. Her mind grew hazy from the alcohol.
She frowned. She had only one glass-she shouldn't be this drunk yet. Cithara swayed in the seat next to her; her eyes fluttered. She had swallowed more.
Medy stood and one of the men grabbed her by the arm. "Cithara and I need some fresh air. We'll be right back, I promise." She hoped her lie was believable. She couldn't feel her lips.
The man pulled her towards the table and the world lurched around her. "You look tired. Why don't you rest awhile and then go outside?"
The air was sucked from the room. "No, I need to go now."
Cithara giggled. "Stay. It will be fun." She was slurring her words.
"See? You can't leave-your friend doesn't want to go." The words were meant to be reassuring, but the tone sounded threatening.
Cithara's face turned green. She clutched her stomach. "I don't feel so good." She grabbed the man holding Medy as she passed out. He had to let go so he wouldn't fall on top of her.
In the commotion, Medy hobbled to the door and opened it. The men wouldn't follow because there were too many witnesses outside; still, she wanted to distance herself from them. She ran into a few people who yelled at her and pushed her. The crowd swirled into a sea of angry faces. She called for help, but no one wanted to help a prostitute. She vomited right before the ground met her face. The world went black.
She woke hours later covered in her own sickness. She had shoeprints on her arms and bruises on her body. People had walked on her, not caring whether she were alive or dead. She didn't see Cithara anywhere. Maybe she should go back for her, but she didn't know how much time had passed. She could have escaped already. She might be at the brothel.
When she arrived, there was no sign of her. No one had seen her either. A heavy stone grew in Medy's throat and fell into her stomach, weighing her down. What if she wasn't okay?
"What happened exactly?" Antonius asked her.
Medy hugged herself. "Cithara and I went to a party and I think we were drugged."
Antonius placed his hand gently on her shoulder. "Were you hurt?"
"No, I escaped."
He pulled away, disgust on his face. "And you just left her there to be taken advantage of?"
Medy felt sick. "I was dizzy and I couldn't have fought all those men off by myself. I didn't know what else to do."
"She would never have left you behind." The venom in his voice was unmistakable.
"I'll apologize to her as soon as she gets back."
"You're assuming we ever see her again."
He left her alone. Each thought of the consequences of her actions felt like a punch to the stomach.
An hour later, Antonius and another boy dragged a woman inside. Her skirt was soaked with blood. Her face had been so beaten that it had turned purple and one of her eyes was swollen shut. Bruises covered her arms and legs. Her breathing was shallow. The woman opened her other eye and Medy screamed as she realized it was Cithara.
The whores yanked off Cithara's clothing.
Antonius shook out the bag of coins Cithara carried everywhere to hold their profits for the day. It was empty. "The bastards stole everything. How am I supposed to pay the doctor to see her?"
They washed her clothing and shred it into little pieces before wrapping it around her waist like underwear. They were trying to stop the flow of blood. She had been raped raw.
Medy wrapped a blanket she found around Cithara and felt her forehead. She had a fever. Infection might have already set in. There was a chance she wouldn't make it through the night.
Medy didn't care what her parents thought. She held Cithara for hours and cleaned her bandages. Cithara screamed for Bartholomew more than once. Medy would have fetched him if she knew what he looked like and how to get inside the temple.
Cithara grabbed Medy by the collar, cutting off her air, and screamed about how she'd make them pay. Her grip grew weak and shaky until she collapsed again. Tears from Medy's eyes soaked Cithara's face as she apologized over and over again.
Medy was forced to finally go home. She wasn't even worried that it had grown dark and that men stood in the streets smirking at her because she was out of place. If she got robbed or raped, then she deserved it.
Medy forced Cithara to drink every day that she came over. Neither of them ate anything and they both lost weight. The bruises started to heal, but the tantrums got worse. When she vomited up the water Medy gave her, she was certain that Cithara's death would come, but miraculously the next morning, the fever broke. It took weeks, but she finally recovered enough to stand on her own, although she was weaker than she had been before.
"I need to get to work," Cithara announced.
"No," Medy said. "You need your rest."
Cithara shrugged. "I also need to eat, which I can't do without money."
"I'll buy your food." Cithara sighed. "Don't lie. You're as poor as I am and you can't make a dime without me giving you business."
Medy swallowed roughly and wrapped her arms around Cithara. "I'm more afraid of you being hurt. Aren't you scared after what happened? I can't allow something to happen to you again."
Cithara stroked her hair. "Of course I'm frightened, but what other choice do I have? I must have been destined for this. My dad raped me as a child and it happened again now. It must be my fault if I was violated twice in a life-time."
Medy pulled away. "Don't say that. It isn't true. I'll sell my body instead of you. I don't care about my virginity anymore."
Cithara's voice was gentle. "Yes, you do. I want you to be true to yourself. You were lucky enough to be given choices in life and I don't want that to change."
Tears poured down Medy's cheeks. "You can't do this. It's not fair. I abandoned you when you needed me. I don't deserve to have the things I want anymore."
Cithara's eyes were far away and sad. "I'm glad you left, actually. You would have been hurt, too, and you might not have been strong enough to make it as I did."
Medy had a bad feeling about that day. She kept looking over at Cithara to make sure she wasn't about to collapse. She looked frail enough to be carried away by a strong wind. Medy's mother had warned her many times that women who chose to live on the streets suffered for it and "deserved what they got", but all she felt was sorrow that they had to live in such a way.
A man approached the two women. He smiled and said hello. She could see in his eyes that he recognized her, but Medy couldn't place him. Maybe he was an old customer. Either way, she kept her ignorance to herself.
He laughed as he looked Medy in the face. "You don't recognize me, do you?"
"Of course I do. I'll never forget the time-" She had no idea how to finish that sentence, but something in her subconscious triggered alarms. He wasn't one of Cithara's rapists. She was positive the two of them would have recognized him if he was, but he made her uneasy.
"I think you'd be scared that I'd tell your mother what you are if you truly recognized me."
Medy's face paled. "What do you mean?"
"To think, my son almost married you when this entire time he could have had you for just a few coins." He grabbed her left breast.
Cithara growled and shoved him. With her dark expression and fading bruises, she looked like a creature of the underworld. "Do not touch her without her permission or I'll kill you!"
Medy held her back, knowing that Cithara was reacting this violently because of the way the men had taken advantage of her.
He pursed his lips and raised an eyebrow. "Feisty, aren't you? I should have paid first."
Medy's stomach flipped as recognition hit her. This man was Stynos, Aischylos' father. He looked a lot like his son, except with gray hair and a crooked nose. He gambled with her father regularly and it took the mention of payment for her to recognize him. He always had that same glint in his eye when he spoke of money.
"You're mistaking me for someone else." The stupid lie slipped out of her mouth effortlessly; she had to do something or he'd tell her father.
"No, you're the daughter of Phorcys." Stynos smirked. "You forget that my years of betting have given me the ability to smell when someone's lying to me."
Medy's body went numb.
Stynos slapped her on the back and Cithara gave him a warning look. "It's not as bad as you think. I'm not going to tell anyone, but you may want to stay at home for the next few days. People are gossiping about you. They say that you think you're prettier than Athena and plan to take over the town as head whore. I hope you're not actually telling people that. It could have horrible consequences."
Medy gasped. "I would never speak such blasphemies."
He lifted up both hands. "I'm not here to judge you. Zeus knows that I've done some horrible things for less honorable reasons than making a living."
Medy's shoulders drooped. "Thank you. If my mother and father found out the truth, I don't know what I'd do."
Stynos nodded. "But I think you are about to find out."
"What do you mean?" Medy's heart stopped.
"Stheno was the one who told me. She might have already let your parents know."
Her soul drifted from her body. She gazed down at herself as if she were looking into the eyes of a stranger. It made sense. Her mother was the type of woman who would make up a lie about her blaspheming the gods to explain her crazy behavior.
"I have to go." Her stomach lurched.
He swung his purse in front of her face. "What about me? I have some good coin here and you may need it."
She shoved him and ran down the street, blinded by all but her impending doom. She knocked people over and kicked up dust as she raced towards her destination.
Maybe it wasn't too late. She was providing for her family. They'd understand if she explained herself to them.
Her diaphragm was spasming and her chest was sore by the time she arrived in front of her house. There, on the lawn, lay all the stuff she owned thrown haphazardly on the ground.
She ran up to the front door and yanked on the handle. Locked, the door didn't budge. She pounded on the wood. "Let me in!"
Her parents had to forgive her. Her mother wasn't the type to abandon someone she loved, regardless of what kind of gossip she spread. Besides, they needed her money. They'd been living off it for months. Her heart thudded. Something was wrong; they should have opened the door and tried to talk to her by now.
Her mother peeked out at her through a curtain. Tears were pouring down her face and her left cheek had been bruised. Only one person would have touched her in such a way: Phorcys must have hit her.
"Mom, let me in." Medy's throat felt sore from screaming and crying.
Her mother's mouth drooped as she looked down and shook her head. Medy saw the fear in her eyes. Phorcys must have threatened to kill her and her sisters if they let Medy into the house. A knot welled up in her stomach. Phorcys commanded them to behave respectably even though he was the idiot of the town. He probably thought it was her ruining his reputation. Medy was tired of being blamed.
"Please." She fell to her knees. "You can't do this to me. I'm your daughter. I'll protect you from Dad if he tries to hit you again. Just let me in!"
Ceto's face hardened and she shut the curtain, turning her back on her daughter.
"I'll provide for you better than Dad can. Don't abandon me! I did this for you!"
Medy's screams became unintelligible as she clawed at the door. Her chest was tight and she couldn't breathe. Her family didn't care about her anymore and no matter how much she begged, it wasn't going to change.
Her tears blinded her as she packed a few of her possessions. Most of these things she wouldn't need while living on the streets. Besides, she couldn't carry them all and she didn't want to return later.
She felt the neighbors' eyes on her and even caught one of the slaves staring as she tended the garden outside the house she lived in. The shame of being a whore burned through her body and settled in her cheeks. She had lost everything because of it and wished never to sell herself again, but if she wanted to live, she didn't have a choice.
She took longer to pack than she thought she would. The sun was starting to set once she finished. She heard stories about girls getting stuck on the streets after dark. Some of them got stabbed and others were raped. She wrapped a cloak around her body protectively and then swung her pack over her shoulder.
She could have waited around the yard for her parents to open the door. They'd have to leave eventually to go gambling or fetch some water, but she didn't want to be stuck on the streets until the next morning. She needed somewhere to sleep and the only place she had to go to was the brothel.
As Medy walked, she thanked the gods for Cithara. She was the only true family she had left. The girl would never judge her, regardless of what choices she made in life.
She stuck to the shadows, trying to sneak past the dirty men with swords hanging from their belts as she neared the agora. They chuckled when they spotted her, some even making faces at her. She picked up her pace when a large group of drunk men spotted her. They yelled,"Run faster!" She fled.
The walk to the brothel felt like it took an eternity, but that was partly because the depression was weighing her down. She was exhausted by the time she arrived.
Cithara was standing out front with a few other girls. She took one look at Medy and charged towards her with her arms open. They embraced each other.
"What's the matter?" Cithara asked.
Sobs convulsed Medy's vocal cords. She was barely able to choke the words out. "My parents kicked me out of the house."
Medy could have said more about what had happened, but even though she hadn't spoken the words, Cithara understood the whole thing.
"I'm so sorry." She stroked Medy's hair. Her voice was just a whisper. "This was all my idea. It's my fault this happened to you."
"Don't say that. I didn't have to agree to it. Besides, this whole thing has taught me who will really be there for me when I need them."
Cithara smiled. "You're the closest thing to a sister I have, which is why I refuse to let you stay in the brothel your first night on the streets. It's uncomfortable and you're scared. It will be easier to adjust to the changes slowly." She pulled away and grabbed Medy's hand. "I know a place you can go for the night."
Medy's eyes widened, her heart lightening a little. "Really?"
"Yes," Cithara said. "It has a nice straw bed for you to sleep in, too. It's Bartholomew's room at the temple."
Medy gasped. "Isn't that inappropriate? He's your boyfriend and I'm a woman."
Cithara rolled her eyes. "I'm not one of the nobility. Just because a man and woman sleep in the same room doesn't mean they're having sex. You'd never do that to me. Besides, I've been meaning to have the two of you meet for a while, although I was hoping it would be under better circumstances."
"If only my parents would think so highly of me."
Cithara laughed. "There's one catch, though. You have to be as quiet as possible. Although I know you won't sleep with Bartholomew, the priestesses don't believe that. If they find out the truth, they'll hang both you and Bartholomew for blasphemy. There's no sex allowed in the virgin goddess Athena's temple. Bartholomew and I don't even hold hands while we're inside it."
Medy dug her feet into the ground. "Maybe I shouldn't go then."
Cithara yanked on her arm. "No, I've snuck in there a ton of times. They won't figure it out unless you do something stupid. They don't like to go into the slave quarters because they view it as beneath them. It's just one night; you'll be gone before they notice."
Medy thought about it a moment, tempted. Tonight might be the last night of her life where she got to stay in a beautiful place. Not to mention, she had always looked up to Athena and it would be fitting to begin her new life under the goddess' roof.
"Okay," Medy agreed.
They traveled to the temple. Medy had never been this close to it before. She had always wanted to visit, but it wasn't open to the public. Taking in its beauty, Medy admired the white marble and statues decorating the outside.
They tiptoed towards a side door rather than the main entrance and looked both ways to make sure no one was around. Cithara tapped her fist in a certain rhythm as she knocked. It must have been a secret signal.
A tan young man opened it wearing a huge smile. His black hair shone in the moonlight. "I didn't know you were coming to visit me tonight."
He raced out the door and grabbed Cithara by the waist, kissing her so passionately that Medy blushed. She had seen Cithara do sexual things with men, but none of them had felt this intimate. She now saw love behind the act, something she'd never seen her father or mother share. Suddenly, she understood why poems were written for lovers. She shook her head, most of those verses ended in tragedy. Pleasure was how men tricked women into being owned by them.
Cithara pulled away and gestured towards Medy. "As much as I like seeing you, I actually came over because my friend needs a place to stay."
Bartholomew looked over at Medy for the first time, his eyebrows raised. "Oh?"
Cithara nodded. "Medy, this is Bartholomew. Bartholomew, Medy."
She shook his hand shyly, but he smiled at her warmly.
"I've heard so much about you," he said.
"Really?" Medy asked.
He nodded his head. "Follow me."
Cithara excused herself, saying that the other prostitutes were waiting for her back at the brothel. This would have frightened Medy if Bartholomew wasn't so welcoming. He chatted to her quietly as he led her down a few hallways in the direction of his room. She smiled and whispered, "Thanks for everything."
He opened the door to his room and Medy followed. She jumped when something shifted in the hay, thinking it was a rat. Instead, she saw a man who was so quiet she hadn't noticed him at first. He looked amused at her surprise.
"This is Horius," Bartholomew introduced. "He works at the temple as well. He's mute."
He winked at Medy and she giggled. He had the kind of smile that someone could only have if they were a child at heart. It made her want to get to know him better.
"He witnessed something that he wasn't supposed to," Bartholomew continued. "So they chopped off his tongue."
Horius nodded his head and shrugged. He pointed to his mouth and opened it to show her, but Medy shielded her eyes. "No, I don't need to see it."
They didn't have much for dinner, but they shared what little bread and cheese they had. She was grateful for it because she got insomnia whenever she went to bed hungry.
She had never slept in a pile of hay before, but found the arrangement more comfortable than she expected. She was frightened by the idea of insects hidden inside crawling over her; she'd heard too many stories of bed bugs and lice in hay. The temple didn't take care of their servants well, but they were healthier and cleaner than most in Athens. It didn't seem as bad as sleeping in the brothel on the stone floor.
She stretched her legs. Staying limber would be difficult, cramped that way every night.
The candles were extinguished. She heard Bartholomew and Horius breathing heavily as they fell asleep. Medy tried to join them, but she was too anxious to rest. Her life had been turned upside down. She kept imagining herself dying of hunger on the streets every time she closed her eyes. She remembered her mother once spitting on a prostitute who was sick on the side of the road. Would that happen to her?
She got up, lit a candle that she found, and covered the flame. She was afraid she'd wake someone with her actions, but they continued to snore. She walked out the door, even though she knew it was risky.
The little flame reflected red against the gold that decorated the building. She gasped as she gazed at all the beautiful images carved into the marble. She recognized Poseidon and Pandora, Zeus and Prometheus.
She probably shouldn't have wandered this far, but she was addicted to the beauty. She felt like a mortal who had just broken into Mount Olympus–too humble to walk on such holy ground.
She turned a corner and saw a large statue of Athena. The ceiling was higher than any she'd been under before and Athena's head brushed the top of it. Medy collapsed to one knee. Athena stared down at her, covered in white glory from the marble she had been carved out of. This was her hero. She looked so powerful that it moved Medy.
She wondered whether this was a life-size replica or not. She heard that the gods looked like humans, but were much taller than them.
This was a sign. In the morning, she needed to ask the goddess for advice. She had enough drachmas left to buy a humble sacrifice. It would pay for a dove and Athena would grant her the fearlessness and wisdom she needed to move on. Just standing in the same room with her statue was inspiring.
Feet shuffled behind her, causing her to jump and spin around. She grabbed her heart, expecting screaming men holding swords to burst through the shadows. She had been caught and Cithara's boyfriend could be killed. She'd just have to lie-say she broke in by herself, so that no one else would be punished. If she had been more patient, maybe Bartholomew would have let her peek into this room in the morning.
When no one emerged, she held her candle towards the corners of the room where the darkness was most thick. "Who's there?"
No one answered and her heart slowed. She allowed her tense muscles to relax. It must have been a mouse. Virgin priestesses and soldiers didn't like to sneak up on people in the dark. They viewed themselves as worshippers and warriors of the light.
This was her cue to leave. She turned around to admire the statue once more and blew it a kiss goodbye. Her breath caught in her throat. She wished she could see the goddess in person just once. She didn't deserve such an honor, but knew she'd never be the same again if it happened to her.
An arm wrapped around her waist and a hand covered her mouth. She tried to scream as she struggled, but every noise she made was muffled. She was lifted from the ground, kicking and punching as a male body pressed into her back. Her face was shoved against the floor and her legs parted. Her body ached as her bones cracked under the pressure of being smooshed against the hard floor.
Had one of the servants noticed her? They didn't seem like the kind of people who would attack someone. Maybe a criminal had broken inside. But he seemed too strong to be just one human. Who was this and what did he want from her? Was she going to die?
He lifted her dress and immediately tears flowed down her face. No, he couldn't possibly want that. She refused to give it up to a stranger. She beat her fists against the floor and tried to crawl away. She deserved to keep this one thing after all she'd lost.
The smell of the sea overwhelmed her and made it hard to breathe. He was pinning her down so tightly that she couldn't move forward. His skin was slick and covered in sand. It tingled where he touched her as power radiated off him. Much taller than a normal man would be, he could crush her with his bare hands.
His erection was huge. As it pressed against her entrance, she wondered how it would be possible for him to fit it inside. She begged for him not to do it, imagining the blood that would result, but he ignored her. It felt as if he was ripping her in half as he filled her up. He might as well have been pummeling her with a knife. Her hymen broke, a tiny tear, but it ricocheted throughout her abdomen. His grunts were loud and his thrusts were deep.
She bit and clawed at his hands, but he took no notice. In fact, she was pretty sure that the more she fought him, the more he was turned on. She wished he would hurry and finish so that it could all be over. She wasn't sure she could make it through the whole thing alive and kept picturing her mother's disapproving face. Ceto had warned her that she could get hurt, but she hadn't listened. Was this whole thing her fault?
With one last moan, he finished. He left her with a mess of sex juices and blood dripping down her thighs. She ached too much to move and get a glimpse of his face before he disappeared, but she had a feeling he would be gone anyway, even if she had been quick.
The one thing she valued-her virginity-had been stolen from her like everything else. Her body trembled all over and she thought about searching for the knives the priestesses used to perform sacrifices and cut herself with them. Or maybe she could still find the man and kill him. She couldn't do it, though. It was too much effort.
She lay there for what felt like an eternity and once her legs stopped shaking, she stood. She winced and almost fell over as she tried to walk. She had to grip the wall to make any progress. She was leaving all the evidence of the attack behind. She wanted to clean it and make it go away, but she didn't have the energy or tools to do so.
When she finally got back to Bartholomew's room, she blew the candle out and lay on the hay. Her eyes were stuck wide open and she couldn't breathe, even as she rested her head. She wanted to light the candle again, so she could see what was happening in the room, but the two of them could get angry with her. She was scared the man would return and rape her again. Her two roommates would probably try to protect her, but that being had been strong and what if they couldn't fight him off? What if he covered her mouth and was so quiet that they heard nothing?
She contemplated waking them, but wondered whether they would blame her for what had happened. Bartholomew knew she was a prostitute, after all. Maybe he'd make a joke and say she was probably just upset because he hadn't paid her or yell at her for wandering the temple alone. She couldn't take that.
She wanted to tell the authorities, but knew that would help nothing. Being in the temple, in a man's room, was illegal. She'd be the one punished rather than the mysterious man who had hurt her.
She hiccupped as she cried. It wasn't fair. She was ruined and possibly pregnant. She made bad decision after bad decision and she'd be suffering on the streets soon for all of them.
Medy eventually drifted off to sleep and morning came too quickly. She begged Bartholomew and Cithara for permission to make a sacrifice in front of Athena's statue. Bartholomew hesitated before saying yes, which made Medy feel terrible, but this was important. They went into the agora to purchase a dove. The man wouldn't haggle for it, so Medy was forced to borrow a drachma. Cithara left; she'd be back to get her later.
Bartholomew found a beautiful young brunette dressed all in white with a childish face. The other priestesses stared at the two of them as if they were teachers looking down at unruly students. The dove cooed in its cage, which cut the silence like a hammer banging against the wall.
Bartholomew claimed in a whisper that she owed him a favor, but he still bowed his head and didn't look her in the eye as he asked the priestess to perform the sacrifice.
Her mouth formed a tight line and Medy felt certain she'd say no. "Very well. Follow me."
Bartholomew left to perform his duties. Medy hid her face behind her hair and didn't meet anyone's eyes as they traveled down the hallway she had been in the night before.
"Most people aren't allowed into this place," the young priestess said. "If you touch anything or speak, you will be forced to leave immediately."
Medy nodded her head. The mess she had left was gone. She wondered whether they'd cleaned it.
When they neared the statue, Medy kept her eyes on the ground. The priestess set a pile of logs on a golden altar to the side and lit it on fire. She grabbed the caged dove from her. It flapped its wings wildly as she pulled it out. She took a bronze knife and slit its throat, barely noticing its struggle. Blood dripped down her hand as she removed the meat from the fat and bone; the priestesses and slaves would consume it later. She threw the fat and bone on the fire and soon the flickering flame was reflected on each gold plated wall.
Medy bowed her head and clasped her hands. This would be the end of foolish decisions. The sacrifice of this pure, white bird would cleanse her for the future.
She gazed at Athena's feet and swore that they were glowing. It must have been the morning light playing tricks on Medy's eyes. The toes twitched and she wondered whether the hallucinations were because of a lack of sleep.
She looked up slowly as the white marble turned peach where Athena's skin lay. Her armor burst with color: in some places bronze, in others gold.
Medy stumbled backwards. A servant carrying water shattered the pottery on the ground as she dropped it. All the priestesses fell to one knee.
The owl on Athena's shoulder blinked and flapped its wings. Her hair flowed down her shoulders unlike any color Medy had ever seen. In some lights it shone red, in others blonde, and in the rest brown. It changed every time she moved. Her lips were pressed together, her chin stuck out, and she glared downward. She raised her spear and pointed it at Medy's forehead.
Medy froze, her eyes wide and her mouth open.
"You have defiled my temple!" Athena shouted.
Tears streamed down Medy's face. Her knees felt weak. "I'm so sorry. I would never purposefully do such a thing."
"Silence! I will not hear your excuses. I saw you sleeping with Poseidon in my temple last night! Or are you saying my eyes deceive me?"
Medy's face paled. The one who had raped her was Poseidon? It couldn't have been.
Athena's eyes narrowed. "I've heard about your bragging, too. You've been telling everyone that you're more beautiful than me. Is that why you slept with the man I was pursuing?"
"No, that was-"
Athena shook. "Time for your punishment! I'll make you as ugly on the outside as you are in your soul."
Athena reached down and touched Medy's forehead with her giant finger. A white light radiated from her. It enveloped Medy in its beauty, but stung as it filled her. She shook, feeling unlimited power sizzling through her veins.
The priestesses began to scream and run.
Medy shook all over. Her whole body felt wrong, like her bones needed to be cracked. "What's happening to me?"
Her back itched as pain laced through her shoulder blades. Pressure built up and relief shuddered through her as two giant bat wings burst from her. They ripped her clothes to shreds and left her naked. She didn't bother to cover herself.
She was too frightened to move, but scared she'd harden in place from the tightening of her skin. Scales crawled up her once silky flesh. Her smooth hands darkened and grew hard as metal. Her hair swirled around her head as if it was alive. In fact, the strands had grown fangs and were biting her repeatedly. They tickled her skin with their tongues and when she saw they were snakes, she expected to swell and die. Fortunately, she was immune to the poison.
That wasn't the worst part, though. The worst thing was when she met the gaze of Bartholomew. He didn't run like everyone else. He watched as her eyeballs fell from her face and red irises grew in their place. She should have been blind, but she had never been able to see the colors of the world more deeply.
He screamed, horrified by her ugliness. He turned to run, but his body grayed and froze. His death and the moment Medy hurt her friend Cithara worse than anyone else could was immortalized in an eerie statue, twisting and running from her presence.
She wanted to beg for Athena to make it stop, but she had disappeared and been replaced by her beautiful marble statue. Her judgment was finished.
Everyone else screamed along with Medy. Some of them grayed and others escaped. She wondered how many had families.
Soon nothing moved.
Medusa collapsed as the world turned black.
That was the day the monster Medusa was born.