Her feet slapped against the smooth stone floor. Each step a heavy thud as she dragged her body forward. The sound echoed against the empty walls, harsh in the silence.
The candles had long burned out. Only the moon filtered through the portico, offering a wash of silver light.
She stopped when she came upon the great statue, and fell to her knees. A cry ripped from her lips, a wail to the heavens so strong that it shook the ground. Tears streamed from her eyes in rivers. Her violent sobs bent her forward, so that she prostrated herself upon the ground.
“Why?” she spoke into the darkness, a broken whisper. “Why have you forsaken me?”
Her fingers curled around the handle of her knife. “Do you not see all, O Wise Warrior?” She brought a shaking hand to her long, dark hair and sliced. One handful after another, in reckless form. “What reason do I have to worship at your feet?” She gritted through clenched teeth, her spit falling along her trembling, bleeding lip.
“I GAVE MY LIFE TO YOU!” The pillars quaked. “And for what…” Her voice faded to nothing. “For what?” She looked up at the goddess, her large blue eyes red rimmed, her expression haggard. The tears were drying white and salted along her cheeks. Her shoulders drooped, exhausted.
The Warrior beheld the child. Fingerprints remained where he had pressed against her fair skin. Her dress laid around her tiny body like a halo, ripped haphazardly, exposing more bruises along her thighs.
“Cursed be this face,” the child said, slicing at her cheeks with the blade of her knife. Her body trembled. She closed her eyes. Blood dripped, thick and wet against her knees. Against the floor.
The Warrior could stand no more. She materialized before her, placing a gentle hand upon her head. “I hear your cries, beloved.”
The child’s eyes flew open, wide and red. “Athena…” Despite it all, she spoke with reverence.
“You speak truth, dearest. In this, I have failed you.”
She dropped her gaze to the ground. Her tears began again. Her broken spirit was more than Athena could bear. “Tell me. What can I do? How can I right this wrong?”
“Strike me down,” she begged. “Please.”
“Grant me the freedom to forget. I will drink from the river.”
“You beg for Death?”
“What else would you have me do?” she cried, her dark brows furrowing. “Live with this? Am I to never close my eyes? To never know another night of peace?” She shook her head, hysterical. “It is too much! Am I to be haunted by him for eternity powerless to stop it?”
Athena looked out at the night. Anger bubbled, slow and hot, within. Her uncle was a cruel man. The imprint he left upon this child, unforgiving. She would not stand for it.
“You needn’t be powerless.” Athena lifted the girl’s chin so that their eyes met. “There will always be men of his sort, ones who will take without asking, who feel entitled to what is not theirs. Can we turn a blind eye? I failed to fight for you, dear one. But who will fight for all the rest?”
“Me?” she asked, in disbelief. “What am I meant to do? I am nothing. I am no one. I could not even save myself.”
“Am I not The Protectress? Do I not possess the wisdom to give you what is necessary to fight?”
Something in this promise stilled the child. A light, dim as it was, shined in her eyes. “I could fight…” her words trailed off.
“Let a man dare to gaze upon you. Let him try. You will be a beacon of power, Medusa. A beacon of strength.” Athena bent to pry the knife from the child’s hands. She placed it on the floor, replacing its touch with the warmth of her own palm. She led the child to her feet. “This I can promise: your legend will live on long after you have perished. You will be the protector of women and this awful sadness will not be in vain.”
Medusa’s eyes were distant. Thoughtful. “My sisters…” she said, though it was a whisper onto herself. “They are lovely.”
“And they have no one to protect them.” Athena squeezed her hand. “But you.”
The child met her gaze. Fierce. Powerful. Alight with purpose. Athena beamed with pride.
This human, broken as she was, was mighty.
Athena let the power leave her, felt it pass through their hands and watched as the young girl’s hair came to life; each chopped piece slithering, the snakes gathering. Her blue eyes faded, pale grey, like stone.