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I open my eyes, and I'm standing in the dead center of an arena.
Before me lies an undisturbed space of some brownish mixture I guess to be dirt. Mixed with sawdust, perhaps. Am impressive set of double doors lies about fifty feet away from me, strangely straight and flat in the curve of the arena's walls. I smile. Her glitches are so easy to find; she's so into the grandeur that the common sense part just washes over her.
A small part of my brain reminds me that that's the exact reason why I'm here. My smile fades.
I become aware that I am holding something, and something heavy, and I look down to see a sword clenched in my right hand. I lift it, and give a small exclamation at the weight of it. The rubies encrusting the hilt gleam in a nonexistent sun, and suddenly the sword is much, much lighter.
“Well.” I say, a bit surprised. “So you're feeling benevolent today?”
“I'm always looking out for what's best for you, darling.” drawls a melodious voice from behind me, and before I can ignore it, instinct spins me around. A woman is standing not ten feet away. She possesses the sort of beauty you can only find in computer images; her face is so youthful it actually glows. Draped loosely around her body is a white toga-inspired dress, artfully styled to show off a good bit of her breasts and legs. Her hair is piled up on her head in gleaming blonde curls, seemingly kept up solely by the labor of a thin circlet of olive leaves.
“You know the olive crown was Greek, not Roman?” I ask. “You of all people should know the difference.”
My mother waves a hand dismissively. “Does it really matter in the end?” she asks, then answers her own question. “Of course it doesn't. Now, what's your choice?”
“My choice for what?” I ask innocently, knowing full well what she's asking. A frown mars her perfect face for the tiniest bit of time before it is swept away by a dazzling grin.
“Always keeping me on my toes, aren't you, dear?” she says. “I want to know where you stand with your mortal boy.”
I sigh. “It's going to be ten months tomorrow, as you know perfectly well. Ten. Perfect. Months.” My voice hardens on these last words, making them choppy, short, obvious. This time the frown stays on my mother's face.
“Mortals never achieve perfection, honey, as I've told you time and time again. It's simply beyond them.”
“No one can achieve your standards, mother.” I mutter angrily.
It's my mother's turn to sigh. “Where did I go wrong?” she asks the air. When it fails to reply, she turns her attention to the double doors. “You could prevent all this, you know.”
“So could you.” I retort, and place the sword into what I hope is a ready position.
The doors open grandly, revealing behind them a place that knows no light. The mortal part of me shudders to see such unnatural darkness. The other part leaps with joy.
“I'm just trying to keep you from making the same mistake I did.” says the melodious voice. This time I just barely resist the urge to turn.
“So now I'm a mistake?”
“Sometimes I wonder.” she replies, and the truth in her tone cuts far deeper than whatever is in that darkness will ever be able to do. I struggle to remind myself that she's not like me; perfection doesn't smile kindly on inferiority. I've almost convinced myself when through the doorway steps a chimaera.
“Crap.” I say, and take off running towards it. My mother keeps pace with me easily.
“Don't cuss.” she reproves sternly. “It's beneath you.”
“Nothing's beneath me.” I reply. The chimaera stiffens at the sound of my voice - it must hear the mortal in it - and growls at me, but doesn't attack. Even with me running full at it, sword in hand, it doesn't process me as a threat until my blade slices through the thick hide of its front limb. A shriek, beautiful and terrible, that makes me want to go and cry pierces the air.
“Oh, you'll have to do far better than that.” says Mother, and I scramble out of the way as the chimaera rears up and lashes out at me. A shield I didn't know I had protects me from the brunt of the attack, but the edge of a claw tears across my cheek. Agony freezes my face.
The chimaera goes back down on all fours, and for a second I think it's done. But then a barbed tail peeks out from behind, sending me diving out of the way just in time.
“A stinger?!” I yell to no direction in particular; I know she'll hear me. “Since when do chimaeras have stingers?”
“They grow it during mating season, I think.” says my mother lazily. She's floating now, lounging in typical Roman fashion on a wisp of wind. I scramble underneath her as the chimaera crouches into a pouncing position; she clucks her tongue reprovingly and starts to drift away.
“That's cheating, dear.”
I laugh disbelievingly, my eyes never straying from the chimaera. “Just being resourceful, mother.”
The chimaera sprang into the air, proving my theory right. I watch it come at me, all claws and barb and fury, and feel both the starkest of terror and the deepest of love. The two emotions war and the incompatibility snaps the metaphorical lock in my mind, and all at once it is glaringly obvious as to what I should do. I move faster than than the beast now; my blade pierces its heart before it has even reached the height of its trajectory. A plunge, a twist, and suddenly it's over.
There's silence for exactly half a heartbeat before my mother speaks up. “See what happens when you embrace your ancestry?”
I turn to glare at her, my blood hot and pounding with the energy of the gods. I struggle to keep reign of my tongue; it is not in the nature of a goddess to restrain herself, and denying this side is exactly what I am after. My lips crave to spit words upon my mother, but I am not ready to go there. I have vowed to never to.
My mother's face watches mine intently, and what she sees there brings a scowl to her lips. Abruptly she is standing, face alive with disgust and frustration. “Why do you insist on clinging to imperfection? Why do you continue to soil yourself? I won't have it! My name is not one to be besmirched and thrown to the dogs, daughter!”
I stare at her as evenly as I can. Even with my ancestry I can't look straight into her face and hope to keep my resolve. Instead, I focus on the mistaken olive wreath and state, “You're not allowed to make that decision for me, mother. Now give me it!”
Her face slides from rage to connivance. “Give you what, daughter?”
I throw my sword onto the ground and practically scream, “My day! Of course my day, what else?”
Innocence personified greets me now. “But, daughter.” she says sweetly. “You're not at all finished.”
“Wha-” I realized what she's saying and lunge for my sword, but it gets me first. A long, powerful barb is driven into my back, through my middle, and out the front of my stomach. I scream in unseeing agony; I have lost all feeling but pain. My world is black and red and ripped with white. Abruptly, the barb is dragged back out of my body and the pain level, impossibly, drops enough for me to retain my sense of self. I am on the ground, writhing, my face being driven into the dust. I flip myself over, and my mother is just next to me, her face radiant. She thinks I've lost, I realize. She still doesn't understand humans.
I force myself into a tight ball and, for the first time in my life, focus on the hidden part of me. I feel the hotness pour into my blood and it is all I can do not to leap up with joy; this is a thousand times more powerful than the miniscule nerve I tapped into to slay the chimaera. I clamp my fingers around my ankles and focus on the very core of my pain, trying not to get lost in the dizzying magnitude of it. The hotness pours in and stirs itself around; it is all I can do not to throw up. And soon it begins to cool off, the heat taking with it the pain.
Opening my eyes again, I see my mother floating about teen feet away, her face like a child's who has been robbed of candy. “That was cheating.” she pouts.
I push myself off the ground. I only get about halfway up before my nausea catches up with me and I double back over, retching heavily. My mother's face twists with disgust, and I swear I hear the word “human” thrown contemptuously into the nonexistent wind. I straighten again, this time more cautiously, and manage to keep my stomach. I wobble over to my mother, who has floated by the chimaera. It's dead; its final act was to spear me with its barb.
“Give me the damn day.” I spit, taking some strange pleasure from my mother's shocked face. She holds out her hand, and I swipe the miniature, glowing globe from her hands and swallow it whole. It sizzles down my throat.
“You're given anything you could possibly want, and all you take is...” My mother trails off and sighs, as if my choices saddened her immeasurably. As if she could feel as human an emotion as disappointment.
“A day with the most wonderful boy in the world.” I insert unnecessarily. The curls on my mother's head jiggle slightly as she laughs.
“Wonderful? Hardly. There are plenty of wonderful boys, dear, and I'm afraid this mortal, however strong your fetish with him might be, just doesn't cut it. I'm sure if you would just let me suggest someone, I could even take a look at some of the other halflings, though my daughter deserves a full-blooded god even if she isn't one...”
“Mother.” I say, my voice hard. “Let me go.”
Mother sighs and suddenly I'm in my old, familiar room, sunlight poking hesitantly through my lacy curtains. I breathe in the mixed smells of my thoroughly human room and smile. This is real perfection.
I sit up and gasp as pain knifes through my middle. I pull up my shirt to reveal a blistered pink circle about halfway between my belly button and my rib cage; a quick touch to my back reveals the same on the opposite side. Just the lightest of brushes against the wound strikes pain into me, and I grit my teeth. What happened? The globe was supposed to do away with any effects of my mother's dreams. Unless, of course, the chimaera was real, and not a figment of a dream. Which wasn't entirely impossibly; if Mother could transport my mind, an intelligent, complex, half-god being into her dream-traps, then she could certainly lure a chimaera.
I manage to get myself out of the bed without completely tearing the wounds apart. In my closet are the couple of rolls of medicine tape Dad keeps in case there's some sort of injury. I'm incredibly grateful for his paranoia as I wind the thin, adhesive strips tightly around my middle; I can actually walk somewhat normally now. The tape stretches and supports me as I wobble down the stairs and into a cloud of bacon-scented air.
Dad is sitting at the head of the table, one hand holding a steaming cup of coffee aloft, the other forcing a newspaper into straight-edged submission. He looks up at me and smiles in that warm, fatherly sort of way. “Morning, Lexi. Sleep well?”
I mumbled a half response and look down at the plate waiting for me. The cheery eggs and bacon only serve to turn my stomach. “I'm not really hungry this morning.”
Dad frowns and in the blink of an eye he's up and beside me, him palm pressed resolutely against my forehead. I nearly cry out; the pressure of it pushes my torso backwards. The edges of the tape cut into my skin.
“No fever.” he says after a second, removing his hand. “No throw-up. No skipping school.”
“I wasn't asking to.” I say, though the idea swims tantalizingly through my mind.
“Good. Now, go get dressed. We're leaving in ten minutes.”
School, for me, was neither a problem nor an interest; the real reason I liked it was because of the people. I reveled in the mixing pot of human life and feelings. I danced through the hallways of reasoning and logic. Whenever I came, my head stayed firmly on the ground and my humanity took over.
He met me at my locker, just as I was wondering how I was going to possibly pick up the books I had just so carelessly dropped on the ground. In an instant they were back into my hands, a smile drifting lazily over their tops.
“Hey, babe.” he greeted me. I leaned in for a kiss; the sensation was better than any amount of god blood. “Can you do anything tonight?”
I lean back – ooh, bad idea – and think for a second. “No, Dad and I are eating out tonight.”
A frown puckers his lips. “You sure you can't just do that tomorrow? Tonight's the only night I have practice off.”
I shake my head, an apologetic smile on my lips. My dad and I had been eating out every Tuesday as long as I could remember; it was one of the reasons Tuesday was my favorite day of the week. I liked hearing my dad laugh, too. Being a single dad weighed heavily on him. “No, I'm sorry. Maybe Saturday?”
Ryan leans against one of the lockers, his expression annoyed. “I swear, Lex, it's like I don't get to see you at all anymore. Come on, can't you do it just this once? For me?”
I close my locker a little more forcefully than necessary. “No, Ryan, I can't. This is my dad and I's special night, you know that. You'll just have to wait for Saturday!”
Stiffly Ryan stands up. “Whatever, Lexi. See you at lunch.” With that, he's gone, swallowed up by a horde of teenaged students.
I turn around and put my back up against my locker, feeling acutely the chimaera's sting. The goddess part of me bubbled up unexpectedly. Is it really worth it, I thought. Why deal with all of this drama and hurt if you could just...
I didn't finish the thought. Of course it was worth it. There was no way I wanted to be what my mother was. There was no way I was going to give up so easily.
The bell pierced the air and the masses started to move, each person off to their first period class. I examined the picture in front of me and cringed at the thought of all the jostling that was sure to be in store. But nonetheless I walked forward, merged, and was soon lost in the writhing pot of humanity. Just where I wanted to be.