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Background for A Tale Retold: In the classic myth, Medusa is raped by Poseidon and punished by Athena. In my version, Athena blesses her instead.
“Chaíre, i Athiná, theá tis sofías kai tis dýnamis.” My voice floated up through my outstretched arms, to the heavens where Athena sat upon a throne of Olive branches. A large tray balanced upon my hands, piled with fruits, nuts, and parchment filled with my own words.
My feet slid over the smooth marble floors, my chant pouring from my lips as I moved forward. Peace filled me, reaching up from my core to touch my heart so that the calm seeped into my blood. Heavy tranquility weighed down my limbs, echoing in my prayer that soared around the temple, bouncing off great stone pillars. My eyes drifted closed as I bowed to the altar, placing the bronze tray upon the grand marble slab.
It was the first offering of the day and golden morning light bathed the temple in its glow, refracting off the solitary tray. By the end of the day, the sun's fading glow would shine off the dozens upon dozens of trays laid upon the altar to honor Athena, the goddess of Wisdom and Battle Strategy. The marble altar would then be emptied, the offerings were thrown into the Eternal Fire so that the ashes may gather under Athena's throne, feeding her power.
A small smile tugged my lips, as I admired Her temple. Shelves filled with bronze works that shone brighter than the sun. Heroes blessed by Athena staring out at the slowly filling temple, their likeness carved perfectly into smooth white marble. Countless garments hung on wooden crosses, testaments to Athena's skill. And thousands of scrolls encased in delicate casings that reflected worshippers reverence a million times over.
Smiling up at the open sky, at my goddess, I began my morning prayer. Acolytes and Priestesses slowly filled the temple, their voices intermingling with prayers and chants as they performed their morning chores and offerings. My voice floated amongst them, lilting and tilting with the notes of the prayer. Our mingling voices and the overlapping noise of busywork masked the sound of heavy footsteps approaching. But the deafening silence echoing scurrying footsteps rang too loudly in my ears.
I continued my prayers, undisturbed by the force behind me. The force that rushed at my back like terrible storms and crashing waves sinking ships. That smelt of salty sea air and waving palms. A force that was filled with the sounds of the ocean.
I was as undisturbed by the ocean god at my back as a tiger was by a buzzing fly.
“Glýka,” his rumbling voice like that of the rushing tides washed over my skin, clammy and cold, raising goosebumps in its wake. “Why do you praise such a lowly god?” I bristled at the insult, at the mocking tone littering his words, my shoulders tightening at the offense.
They tensed when he moved closer, the palpable Power of the Gods pushing at my back. It was a wall of condescended air that pushed at your will, daring it to stand strong in the face of such almighty power. So I did. I strengthened my spine against his power, pulling the power of my goddess around me like a shroud, chanting “I am a High Priestess” over and over in my mind.
I raised my arms in praise — ignoring the annoyed puff of air that ruffled my hair like a strong ocean breeze — the last note of the chant soaring from my mouth, high and wavering. I lowered my arms, tilting my head so that only a sliver of the tanned body dressed in a net draped like a peplos over muscles that strained behind golden skin glistening with water, was visible. But I did not turn.
“It is an affront to the great city of Athens to praise you.”
Rage pounded at my back, as fierce as the storms that tore down the coast into the waters’ hungry depths. Tidal waves, hurricanes, typhoons assaulted me, smashing against my spine. My jaw locked as fear grew cold in my abdomen, reaching up to grip my heart in its icy claws. Liquid ice flowed in my veins, stiffening my limbs and butterflies draped in icicles flew up into my throat, choking me with their fluttering frost wings.
“It is an affront to me that you worship my lowly niece.” He growled, the sound of crashing, breaking waves against a rocky shore. His hand clamped down on my hip, dry fingers digging into the strip of flesh visible there. He pulled me against him, the rough hew fabric of the net digging into my skin as the full power of the sea smashed into me, shaking, shattering my bones.
Fear potent, unrestrainable fear exploded in my chest, my heart racing, desperate to escape its icy grip. Goosebumps erupted over my skin and shivers racked my spine as I took a jerky step forward, ripping myself from his grip. I hissed in pain as his fingernails tore into my skin, the blood speckling the pristine white of my chitron. I pressed a hand over it, the back of my mind admiring the contrast between the crimson and gold of the bands wrapped around my waist and arms. Then a large tanned hand, scarred and calloused, wrapped around my slender wrist and yanked, spinning me around to face the ocean god head on.
My knees trembled, turning to jelly under me as I shook. Blue, cerulean, indigo, navy, midnight filled my vision, blinding me. The dark curls of his hair pulled me in, locking my gaze to his and I choked. Choked on the power, my body cowering, bowing under it, unable to bear to the power of a god.
“So pretty,” he murmured, brushing a long finger against my cheek. My knees shattered at the joint, and I had to grasp the table behind me to keep from falling to his feet.
His hand drifted along my jaw, skimmed my arm to wrap tightly around the small of my back, pulling me up against him. He towered over me and I swayed, getting lost in the tides that swirled around him.
They pulled at me, the tides. Gripping me, pulling me like the tides to the moon. I swayed in his arms, arms that were calm, strong, enfolding me into his broad chest. And I swayed, enveloped by soft waves, pushing and pulling, pushing and pulling, my ears filled with the sound of rushing waves sliding over sandy beaches. Careful fingers threaded in my hair, soft lips skimming the edge of my jaw, salt upon my tongue…
And red hot fire exploding in my breastbone, burning away the fear, evaporating the entrapping waves.
I shoved him away, strands of hair tearing from my skull as my hand whipped out, cracking against the worn skin of his cheek. Strength roared inside me, rage rearing its fearsome head, the inferno blazing, raging, burning in my blood. Fire; bright, hot flooded my veins, churning in my stomach, tightening my hands into fists.
“I AM A HIGH PRIESTESS OF ATHENA!!” I roared, my screams echoing harshly against the marble, shaking the bronze. My voice exploded from my lungs, shaking with fury and the righteous anger of my goddess. Rage strengthened my bones, my breath rushing through clenched teeth and I stared down the god who had tried to take me.
The god who had the power of the sea behind him. Whose eyes churned and bubbled like the ocean before the storm: dark, gray, dangerous. Whose cheek glowed red with the imprint of my palm.
A small spark of fear burned in my gut, cracking the shell of anger that I wore like armor. He pushed himself against me, my spine cracking into the marble table behind me, pain exploding, thrashing across my nerves. His body pressed against mine, his fury buffering, tossing me around, slamming my consciousness against the walls of my mind. He growled, the sound of waves slamming against cliff faces, of rain thundering down, of wind whipping through palm trees, tearing them from their roots. I shuddered as he bore down on me, a snarl twisting his heavenly face into something demonic. His long fingers locked around my arms, digging into the tender flesh of my bicep, short sparks of agony flashing in my vision and a cry of pain pain ripped up from my throat.
Air whooshed around my ears as he picked me up and slammed me down on the table, screams busting behind my eyes, pulled from my lungs. My breath was evicted from my lungs and I spluttered, desperate for air, as spots grew and faded across my vision, pain blossoming at the base of my skull, warm and sticky.
Clawing, rough hands ripped my dress from my body, baring my flesh to the air. Cold, cold, cold air against my skin, flowering goosebumps protesting the chill. Protesting the heavy hot weight that suffocated me. I shuddered as hot, heavy labored breathing scraped against my ear.
Fumbling hands between my legs, breath not entering my lungs, and a hot, heavy something.
Then pain. Blinding, ripping pain that exploded up from my core. All consuming like the confusion that wreaked havoc on my mind. It was ripping, tearing, shredding. Screams ripped from my mouth, tears pouring unto my lips, salt on my tongue, drowning me. Sliding down to mix with the blood that pooled under me.
Pain, Pain, Pain, my soul tearing itself to pieces, agony racing in my veins. Cries tore open my throat as I thrashed under the suffocating weight, praying for the sweet embrace of nothingness that did not come. I couldn't move, couldn't breathe for the screams that burned my throat, for the weight crushing my lungs, engulfing me in its heat.
And then cool, brushing air wafting across my abused flesh as heavy footsteps faded.
I rolled to my side, clutching my knees to my chest, shaking, bleeding, hoarse cries pouring from my raw throat, falling through bloodied lips. Sobs tore from my soul, my sorrows echoing around the temple, desperate pleas to my goddess.
My heart ripped open, exploding in my chest, leaving an aching, throbbing cavity behind. My heart burned with sorrow, my soul withering within me, dying inside a corrupted, dirtied vessel.
I panted, lightheaded as my heart shattered, exploding into a million questions dripping in bloody despair. My cries, my screams tore from a heaving chest that panted for breath, desperate for oxygen I was wary to supply. My breath echoed in the too silent, full of eyes temple. And I felt as each pair of eyes left, leaving me blind with pain. Alone.
I was alone. Raped, abused, abandoned by my friends and my goddess. And rightfully so. I had broken my vows.
Tears, fresh and heavy, poured down my face, staining my cheeks. I curled around the pain that burned in my chest where acid dripped, dissolving, desecrating my soul. An acid that reflected the ocean blue.
Grief, sorrow, despair, consumed me so that I was enveloped in darkness, flames burning beneath me, foretelling the hell that awaited me. A darkness so pure, so strong that it blocked out the golden light filling the temple. Stopped the breeze that carried the scent of Olive trees from registering. Made the soft fingers that brushed my cheek, cupping my face, feel a thousand miles away.
“Paidi mou,” a soft voice of old parchment, of clanging steel, and silent footsteps glowed in the darkness, pulling me from it. I looked up, expecting to see the Fates waiting to take me to Hades fire, but instead my vision was filled with a face so beautiful my sobbing breaths froze in my raw throat.
Deep green eyes, calm, intelligent regarded me, rage shining behind a heavy blanket of sorrow. Dainty auburn eyebrows pulled down, creating a solitary crease in an unblemished forehead. She lifted my chin, staring into my face, eyes drifting over the blood that stained my shoulders. The tatters of my dress. Sorrow transformed her face, softening it and my heart ached, resonating with the heartbreak that flowed off of her.
Her power enveloped me, warm, heavy, full of wisdom and love, it cleared my mind, brushing away the confusion and shame. It poured into my body, soothing the agony that raged. It wrapped around my heart, pulling the acid from it, putting it back together and healing the tears. It embraced my soul, enlightening it, removing, forgiving the sins that tarnished it. I gathered the tatters of my dress and regarded my goddess, seeing my dark eyes reflected in her emerald ones.
She embraced me, her strong arms encased in golden bands, encircled me, holding me tightly to her. I nestled into the crook of her shoulder, joy filling my soul, spilling from my eyes to gather upon her golden skin.
“I’m sorry,” I hiccuped into the white silk of her gown. Soft words murmured with care echoed in my soul and peace consumed me as the light that filled the temple condescended around us.
“I will protect you my child as you will protect mine.” Her voice filled my mind as the light grew brighter, hotter, piercing my skin, sinking into my bones, attaching to the blood that flowed through my veins. It scorched away my mortality leaving power and righteous anger in the smoldering ashes, the words “Maiden Protectorate” burning behind my eyes.
She was gone when I opened my eyes but her power burned low in my stomach. I stepped off the table, letting the tatters of the dress fall to the ground around my feet. Purpose and power flooded my veins, a low growl building in my throat. I rolled my shoulders, feeling the strength that lined them and grabbed a short chitron from the stand beside me, securing it under and around my breasts to fasten between my shoulder blades and tied it all together with a leather belt holding half a dozen small daggers.
I grabbed a spear as I marched out of the temple, following that pull that was centered in my heart.
I breathed in deeply through my nose, scents of dirt, fire, fauna, and human flooding my senses. I scanned the area as I stalked through the trees, my eyes slitted like a snake seeing the world around me with crystal clarity. Faint hissing filled my ears and I grinned, baring my fangs as the emerald snakes that had replaced my ebony locks, awakened.
Pride bubbled deep within me, shining out through my ebony skin. I am a Maiden Protectorate, a woman blessed by Athena to punish those who abuse children, women, men. Cut down those who preyed on the weak, cowards who mocked the intellect of Athena with their actions. To protect those who those who could not protect themselves. To be a warrior among men.