THE CHIMERA'S TALE
Mara has known this day was coming since she was old enough for the first stitches, yet still she is afraid. There is so much about the ritual left unexplained – her older classmates have been through the other side, and to her, they might well have died. The physical changes are obvious, but it’s the more subtle mental alterations that fill her with dread. She likes who she is.
The junior mycologist nods to her, and she rises like she has in the practice rooms. Her blood beats so hard she can feel it heavy in her temples, drowning out the endless noise of the provost chanting. Her legs are like lead. No one else seems to notice, and if they do, they are too polite to break character.
She is in the Chamber of Guf. Then the arms of the old mothers. Then the stitching chair, all leather and steel. Her heart is like a flywheel gone mad, about to break from the not-knowing. She braces for the pain as the needle enters her back, but feels nothing. A bit of cold and the stitch-stitch and tut-tut of the mothers.
When it is done, she is brought into the Girl’s Hall, where she is met with the embraces of the girls who are standing (some are sleeping, some are crying gently so as not to bring the old mothers). They admire the stitches – her new grafts are beautiful, apparently. All the girls say so. There are no mirrors in the Academy, so she cannot find out for herself.
Another girl lifts her shirt so they can see her little feather-like tufts poking out from each vertebrae. The other ones ooh and aah at the artistry of the graft, and the girl says she can already hear a bit of the song the Chimera are droning somewhere in the minarets. Mara hears nothing but an echo of the stitching, and the little squeals of the other girls – her feathers are quiet, and she is grateful that she can be a child for a few more moments.