The Dualists: Chapter 5

(Chapter 4 of The Dualists can be found here)

 

 

“I should just say something,” Ivy thought, as she ate lunch with Coco in silence. “It’s not like she’ll think I’m a weirdo or anything. She’ll probably be thrilled to hear about something so spooky. I just need to say something.” But she didn’t. While the two were usually quite talkative, something was different today. Each wanted to say something, but couldn’t quite force themselves to, and was too wrapped up in their own thoughts to notice how unusual the other was acting. “I just need to say something,” Ivy thought once more. She took a deep breath. “Hey… remember when you said to tell you if something strange happened last night?” Coco asked, right as Ivy opened her mouth to speak. “Huh? Oh, yeah,” Ivy said, “I was actually going to say something about that too.” “Really?” Coco said, “Do you think they might be related?” “Oh, mine’s probably just nothing,” Ivy said, knowing full well that it wasn’t just nothing, “You go first.” “You sure?” Coco asked, “You look like something’s bothering you.” “Please, I insist,” Ivy said. “Very well,” Coco said, “Last night, I-”

 
“Do you mind if we sit here?” Regina asked, gesturing to two seats at the table, one of which Clover was already setting her tray at. “Well, well,” Coco said, “If it isn’t the drama queens of Noether High. To what do we owe the honor?” “What the Hell’s that supposed to mean?” Clover asked, indignantly. “I’m just saying, I was told that assembly was for an election,” Coco said, “Not focus testing a Lifetime original movie.” “It sounds like you’re the one who’s starting drama, here.” Clover growled. “Ah, c’mon, I’m just messing with you,” Coco said, “But, for real, election season’s over. Why are you so interested in hanging out with a couple of bozos like us?” “I just wanted to make sure our new student is feeling welcomed here,” Regina said, “It really is fine if you’d rather we didn’t sit here, though. I won’t be offended.” “But what about the thing we came here to talk about?” Clover asked. “What thing?” Coco asked, suspiciously. “Oh, I was just, uh, wondering if you two knew each other before Ivy moved here,” Regina said. Clover rolled her eyes. “Yes,” Ivy said, “We were best friends in elementary school.” “And now!” Coco said, “But why’d you think we knew each other before? Do you really think it’s so unbelievable that I could make a friend so quickly?” “I apologize,” Regina said, still standing, “I didn’t mean to offend.” “Because it is!” Coco said, “I mean, I’ve been here for years without making any friends. And the student council president sure as hell never made sure I was feeling welcomed!” “I apologize for not making your acquaintance sooner,” Regina said, “I hope we can be fast friends.” “I doubt it,” Coco said, “I don’t get along with normies. Except Ivy.” “What did you just call her?” Clover demanded with her mouth full. Regina stifled a laugh with a cough. “Then I think we should get along just fine,” Regina said, “A normie’s just someone you don’t know well enough. Everyone’s a weirdo, deep down.” “If you say so,” Coco said, “Speaking of weirdness, what’s with your face? Are you a ghost? If I ask, you have to tell me, that’s the law.” “Gee, I wonder why you haven’t made any friends,” Clover said, sarcastically. “I’m albino, actually,” Regina said, “I mean, I’m also a ghost, obviously, but I was this pale when I was alive, too.” Clover laughed. “Nice.” The mood lightened up a bit. But then Coco asked “So what’s with her face?” while pointing at Clover. “Nothing’s wrong with my face!” Clover said, “What, you’ve never seen a girl with freckles before?” “She’s a lich, actually,” Regina said, nonchalantly, “That’s just part of the undying process.” “Badass,” Coco said, “But where’s her phylactery?” “I’ve got a phylactery for you right here!” Clover said, flipping her off.

 

Ivy and Coco gasped in shock. “Clover, please,” Regina said, “They won’t cooperate if you keep being so rude.” “What?” Clover asked, “I’m just showing them the ring.” She wasn’t lying. On her middle finger was a ring with a red jewel shaped like a three leaf clover. “Does this mean that we all got rings?” Coco asked. She showed a similar ring, with a red, heart-shaped jewel on her ring finger. Ivy and Regina nodded. “But if mine is a heart, and hers is a clover,” Coco said, “What’s yours? Ivy?” “It’s not a clover,” Clover said, “It’s a club. Regina’s is a spade, so Ivy’s would be a diamond, right?” “Yeah,” Ivy said, showing the ring on her pinky to everyone at the table. “Also, why would you think the rings are based on our names if yours is a heart?” Clover asked. “Coco Roe is a pun on ‘kokoro’, the Japanese word for heart, because my dad is a fucking weeb,” Coco said, “Although, if yours is a club, why’s it red? Shouldn’t it be black?” “Don’t ask me,” Clover said, “But Regina’s is black, like you’d expect.” Regina, still standing, set her tray down to show her ring. “Oh, uh, you can sit with us, by the way,” Ivy said, “Sorry for making you stand for so long.” “Thank you,” Regina said, taking a seat. “Awww, you’re no fun,” Coco said, “I wanted to see if she’d stand there for the entire lunch period.” Clover sighed. “Since we all have similar rings,” Regina said, “I take it we all had similar dreams?” “Mmhm,” Ivy said, “I don’t remember too much, but Clover and two other girls I didn’t really recognize were there. I’m guessing that was you?” “Probably,” Coco said, “I’m pretty sure they were in my dream. I suspected something spooky was afoot, and figured that may have been the real reason they wanted to talk.” “So you’ve just been messing with us this whole time?” Clover asked, angrily. “Mostly just you, to be honest,” Coco said, “Did it really take you that long to notice?” “You know what I mean,” Clover snapped.

 

“Anyway,” Coco said, “I think that, in the dream, the rings gave us some kind of powers that we used to kick ass. Does that sound about right to everyone else?” Everyone else nodded. “I know it was my idea to meet here,” Regina said, “But perhaps we should continue this conversation elsewhere. If someone overheard us here, they might think we’re lunatics.” “People thinking you’re a lunatic’s not so bad,” Coco said, “It’s really quite freeing, not having to care what other people think.” “Not all of us can afford to be as unpopular as you,” Clover said. “It’s a damn shame you let everyone else control your life,” Coco said, “I think you could be pretty cool, if you just lived on your own terms.” “I don’t let everyone else control my life,” Clover said, defensively, “For instance, I don’t give a damn about what you think.” Coco laughed. “Well played.” “I… don’t think we should be arguing,” Ivy said, “We’ll have to work together to figure out what’s going on, and that’ll be easier if we all get along.” “What are you talking about?” Coco asked, “This is the best I’ve gotten along with anyone in years. We’re just joking around, right?” “Right…” Clover said, unconvincingly. “I agree with Ivy,” Regina said, “We can’t discount the possibility that these rings are dangerous. And if that’s the case, we’d be safest if we all worked together.” “I’m down,” Coco said, “It’s not like I like you, or anything, I’ve just watched enough anime to know that the power of friendship always wins.” “I guess I could try to get along with her,” Clover said. “Then it’s settled,” Regina said, “Let’s meet up in Riemann Park after class.” “Where’s that?” Ivy asked. “Don’t worry, I’ll lead you there,” Coco said, “And I promise, I won’t take you to The Pits of Sacrifice this time,” she added, with an exaggerated wink. “Thank you,” Ivy said, completely sincerely, “Although that was a lovely dagger you gave me last time.” Regina laughed, while Clover just looked confused. They spent the rest of their lunch period eating and making small talk.

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Atonement

CONTENT WARNING: Rape

It is an unfortunate fact that sexual assault is all too common in classical mythology. Such incidents are referenced, but not described, in the following excerpt.


I am drowning. I am gasping for air, violently struggling to breathe against a sea of scalding water. I do not remember why or how. I do not have time to care.
I am standing. The water must be shallower than I thought. But why did I almost drown in it? I remember a similar experience I had when I was a girl. My mom chastised me for nodding off in the bath, saying I’d drown that way. I guess I’m still disappointing her, even now. And yet… when was the last time I took a bath?

 
I suddenly remember. I slowly bring my hand towards the top of my head. I feel nothing. No playful nips, no affectionate tongues, no smooth scales. Then… was it all a dream? Had all of my suffering been nothing more than a nightmare?

 
When I look down to check my reflection, I find no water. This is no bath. I am standing in a cauldron. It appears to be empty, yet I can feel that my legs are submerged. Are my eyes playing tricks on me? Is my mind? I now remember the bite of his blade in my neck, knowing for just a single moment that I was already dead. Yet here I am. Alive.

 

“Rejoice, child of ill fortune,” a lilting voice says, “for you have been spared the pitiable fate which befell you. See to it that you make the most of this rare opportunity.” “So then… it wasn’t all a dream?” I mutter, more to myself than to the unknown presence. “The destiny you averted was no dream, at least, no dream of your own imagination. Your life as a monster was as real as your life as a human.” “What of my death?” I ask, “Was that not real as well?” “It was,” another voice says, “But I am glad to see that you live once more.” I recognize this voice, but not its kindness. The voice which once spat curses at me now offers me words of sympathy, marred not by tears of rage, but tears of relief. “Athena.” I say her name. “ATHENA! Show yourself, you coward! I’ll destroy you!” “Be warned, daughter of calamity,” the mysterious voice intones, “that you are no phoenix. I have stolen you from Hades’ domain this once, but I shall do so no more. To fight against the Goddess of War as a mere mortal is to issue one’s own death sentence, one which I will not pardon. Am I understood?” “I believe it is you who does not understand,” I say, “for I am no ‘mere’ mortal. I may have the eyes of a mortal, and the hair of a mortal, but the heart of a monster still beats within my breast. It pumps blood through my veins, not so that I may live, but so that others may die. And it will continue beating until these mortal eyes see the lifeless corpse of the one who gave birth to it, and this mortal hair is slick with her blood. And I may not understand who you are or what’s going on, but there’s one thing that I understand perfectly: You can’t stop me.”

 
The voice laughs at my threat. “Is something funny?” I growl. “It has been too long since someone has spoken to me with such outright defiance. Even The King of Olympus wouldn’t dare threaten me in such a manner.” The King of Olympus… did she mean Zeus? Who could he possibly have to fear? “Who… who are you?” “Ah, where are my manners?” The voice asks, “I am Clotho, youngest of The Moirai, she who spins the thread of life. And, while I wish not to commit the sin of hubris, I am quite an adept combatant. Furthermore, my eldest sister, the deadliest being who has ever existed, is rather protective of me. So, while I admire your fighting spirit, I must again caution you against picking fights with The Fates.”

 
I could fight against a foe like Athena. I was never foolish enough to think I could win, but I could struggle, I could rage against her, see the pain on her face, however briefly, as I sunk my nails and teeth into her flesh. But I cannot fight against Fate. They are the authors of this universe, who dictate the lives and deaths of all Gods, men, and creatures within it. They could end my existence by merely willing it. There is no struggling against them. But my reason is telling me all this. I am listening to my anger.

 
“I… I don’t care.” I say. “I’ll destroy you too, if I have to. And I realize now that I do. Because, at the end of the day, this is all your fault, isn’t it? If The Fates truly guide the paths of all gods and men, then you are the epicenter of all the universe’s evil. All blood that is spilled comes to stain your hands! It was you who murdered me! It was you who cursed me! IT WAS YOU WHO-” “Enough,” Athena said, “Your anger is justified, but directing it towards The Moirai is not. I am responsible for your suffering. If you must lash out, lash out at me.” “I must,” I spit, “Yet I cannot, as you continue to hide!” Suddenly, a section of wall disappears, revealing a woman in red, presumably Clotho, and Athena. “It seems the two of you wish to be left alone,” Clotho says, “Athena, see to it that Atropos is untroubled by my report on this matter.” With that, she vanishes, leaving only me and Athena. I glare at her, as if my gaze would still turn her to stone. She doesn’t flinch.

 
“Coward!” I shout, as I step out of the cauldron and make my way over to her. “Even now, you hide behind your Aegis and your spear while I stand before you naked and unarmed. Yet I cannot blame you; you are right to fear me.” “Will harming me bring you solace?” Athena asks. “Only one way to find out,” I say, clenching my fist. “Fair enough,” she says, “I can’t make a fight between a mortal and a goddess fair, but I’ll try to level the playing field as much as possible.” She snaps her fingers, and in a flash of light, I am wearing her armor, and holding her spear. She stands before me unarmed, wearing nothing but a robe. “Well then,” Athena says, “come at me when you are ready.” I throw her spear to the ground. “No,” I say, “You must be killed by the very monster you created.” “You wish for me to curse you once more?” Athena asks, “Your humanity is not something to be given up so lightly. Please-” “You dare say that after taking it from me in the first place?” I ask. “I suppose it is not my place to object,” Athena says, “Very well.”

 

With a snap of her fingers, I am in a different body. One with more teeth, more scales, and fewer legs. I feel a familiar weight on top of my head, an undulating tangle of coils and scales. For a moment, I forget my desire for vengeance, and hesitantly bring my hand towards my scalp. The snakes sniff at it curiously, some flicking their tongues out to lick it. “These aren’t my snakes,” I growl. “Excuse me?” Athena says. “Archimedes would always bite at my right hand. But he didn’t. He isn’t here. These aren’t the same snakes as before.” “I’m sorry, I didn’t think you’d notice. I should have expected no less of my priestess.” “Former priestess,” I retort. I lunge at her and sink my fangs into her neck. At least, I try to, but her flesh does not give. It’s like trying to bite into a rock. I have an epiphany. I let go of her and look directly into her eyes. She meets my gaze. “Why isn’t it working?” I demand, “Why won’t you turn to stone?” “Would merely petrifying me satisfy you?” she asks. “No,” I say, “You’re right. You need to suffer!” I scratch at her with my claws, wildly swinging my arms. She just stands there, looking at me with sad eyes. I claw at her until my nails are chipped and bleeding, but her skin remains unblemished. I punch her, bite her, spit poison in her eyes, use every part of my monstrous body to try to hurt her. But I can’t. I can do nothing. In a last-ditch effort, I wrap my serpentine body around her and constrict as hard as I can, while biting into her neck. My snakes lash out at her as I squeeze and bite, harder and harder. I can feel my teeth start to crack. I keep biting harder. I start to taste blood, and know that it is my own. I keep biting harder. I hear my teeth shatter. I keep biting harder. I feel tears running down my cheek. I stop.
“Why?” I sob as I look into Athena’s eyes, spitting blood and tooth fragments on her robe, “Why am I still so powerless? Why can’t I fight back against a god? If I had been able to back then, none of this would have happened…” She does something I don’t expect. She hugs me. “It wasn’t your fault,” she says softly, “You can hate me all you want, just please… please don’t hate yourself.” “If it wasn’t my fault, why did you punish me?” I shout in anger, impotently clawing at her back with bloody fingertips, “I punished you because I was a fool,” she says, “I saw a violation of my temple as being no different from a violation of my own body. I was angry, and disgusted, and hurt. I thought myself more a victim than you, so I lashed out at you. But I now understand how mistaken I was.” “No, you don’t understand,” I say, pushing myself out of her arms, “Because you can’t. For all your wisdom, you will never understand, because you are strong. You will never feel as powerless as I did, so you will never understand the enormity of your betrayal. And that is why I will never forgive you.”

 
“But I do,” she says. For the first time, it seems that I have managed to hurt her. There are tears in her eyes. Yet they bring me no joy. “I… I was raped,” she says. I pity her. I hate myself for pitying her. “So? Who cares?” I say. I do, but I can’t admit it. I feel tears forming in my eyes, but I don’t know why. I refuse to wipe them away. I refuse to acknowledge them. “You think I’ll feel sorry for you?” I ask, “Don’t make me laugh. I’m glad. You… you deserved it!”

 
She didn’t. No one does. I am shocked that I said such an awful thing. I guess I truly am a monster. Athena looks at her feet in shame, unable to meet my gaze for the first time. “Perhaps you are right,” she says, “Extraordinary sin can be atoned for only by extraordinary suffering. But you needn’t trouble yourself with my punishment. My own guilt stings far more than any pain you can inflict upon me.” “So you think I should forgive you just because I’m incapable of avenging myself?” I ask. “I know that I don’t deserve forgiveness,” Athena said, “so I won’t ask for it. I merely ask that you no longer trouble yourself with me. Seeking that which you cannot achieve will bring you only pain, and you do not deserve that.” “And what makes you think that’s even possible?” I ask, “I can’t just decide to stop hating you. I’m a monster. Hatred is all I have.” “You’re not a monster, Medusa!” she says, looking directly into my eyes. Her face is so close to mine. “You never were. You’re a kind, sweet girl, tainted by loneliness. Not hatred.” “But you’re the reason I’m lonely!” I shout, pushing her away. “Am I?” she asks, “You were cursed by Aphrodite long before you were cursed by me. Women envied your beauty, and men resented you for wasting it with my vow of virginity. Your beauty attracted shallow mortals, but prevented them from ever truly understanding you.” “And that is the life you wish me to return to?” I ask, “That is the life you think I deserve?” “No… I… I just want you to be happy!” Athena says. “How?” I ask, “How can I find happiness?” “I don’t know!” She sobs, “I am the Goddess of Wisdom, yet I have no answers. Perhaps none exist. I… I… it’s not fair!”

 
She is overcome by anger. In a flash of light, she is fully armed. Her spear glows with white hot rage, brighter and brighter with each furious word. “I am the Champion of the Divine War!” she shouts to the heavens, “Entire pantheons have fallen before my spear and stratagem! I am the savior of all the petty Gods who squabble on their mountain! So why… why can’t I save one mortal? Why am I too weak?” She throws her spear with enough force to kill a god. Instead, it shatters against the wall. She falls to the floor, crying. “I… I think that you are strong,” I offer, meekly. “Then why couldn’t I fight him off?” she demands, “Compared to Set, and Kali, and so many others I have bested, a crippled god like him is nothing. I should have been able to kill him as easily as you could kill an infant. So why didn’t I?” “It’s not your fault,” I say, echoing her comforting words to me, “You can hate him all you want. Just… please don’t hate yourself.” She smiles sadly, “Don’t you see? You are too kind to be a monster.” “I refuse to hurt someone who is already suffering,” I say, “That doesn’t mean I’m not a monster. Just less of a monster than you.” “You’re right. And I’m sorry, Medusa. I’m sorry that I cursed you when you needed my help. I’m sorry that I abandoned you, and had you killed when I was too afraid to face you. And I’m sorry that I brought you back, only to find that I cannot give you the happiness you deserve. I’m sorry that the only salvation I can offer you is death.”

 
“Can I keep this form and resume living as a monster?” I ask. “I… I do not understand,” she says, “I thought you hated me for cursing you with that form.” “I hated you because you turned your back to me when I needed you most,” I say, “But being a monster wasn’t so bad. I didn’t have any friends, but at least I didn’t have to worry that people only liked me for my looks. And I had my snakes to keep me company. I wasn’t a fan of all the attempts on my life, and I didn’t enjoy having to petrify my would-be assassins, but the resulting statues weren’t so bad to look at.” I laugh in spite of myself. “I guess what I’m saying is… I forgive you.” “You truly are too kind,” Athena says, “I do not deserve to call you my priestess.” “I am not kind,” I say, “I just realize that we’re all capable of becoming monsters when we’re hurt. Even Goddesses.” “Then you are wise,” she says, “Still, I had wished to give you a life where you didn’t have to be alone.” “I’ll have my snakes, won’t I?” I say. Athena laughs. “Perhaps it is your Fate to be a crazy snake lady.”

 
“Did someone say Fate?” a mysterious voice asks. “Lachesis? Is that you?” Athena asks. A woman appears in the room. She looks like Clotho, but her outfit is green, and she holds a rod. I assume she’s a Fate. “It is! I mean, I am Lachesis!” She says in a peppy voice, “And also, it is your fate to be a crazy snake lady. But it doesn’t have to be.” “Wait, have you been listening this whole time?” Athena asks indignantly. “What, you thought I’d miss out on all this juicy drama? And besides, without me, Clotho never would’ve let you use that magic pot of hers, so letting me drop hella eaves is the least you could do.” Athena sighs. “I… don’t understand,” I say. “I can change your destiny!” Lachesis says, “Give you friends, fortunes, whatever your heart desires! So, how about it, kid?” “I… I think I’m fine,” I say. “Then you are wrong,” she says, with a chilling smile, “Because you are far from fine. Here, let me show you. Technically I’m not supposed to, but it’ll be fine as long as you don’t snitch.” She traces a path in the air with her rod, and a thin, glowing thread materializes along it. It is tangled and full of knots. “You see this?” she asks, “This is your life. The thread of your fate, as it were. What you may notice about this particular thread is that it is, if you’ll forgive me for using jargon, a clusterfuck. It’s all gnarly, it’s thin, and it’s not very long. That represents your ill-fortune. It’s basically the reason your life sucks so much.” “And you would fix it for me, a lowly mortal?” I ask, “You are too kind.” “Kind?” she says, “As if. Do you think Athena is ‘kind’ for bringing you back to life after killing you in the first place?” “I… do not understand.” I say. “Well,” she says, her smile as unnerving as ever, “How do you think your thread got so tangled in the first place?”