[Candidate] [Hatchling] [Weyrling] [Adult]
The world was a strange place. Full of fire-breathing dragons and sea beasts that ate ships whole. There were constant storms - grasping hurricanes over the islands dotted carelessly in the world of water, deep blue waves as high as you could see in patterns of undulating violence. Travellers did not often come to this part of the ocean. When they did venture out on a dare, perhaps, or a test of manhood, they seldom returned home. Some fell to the various beasts of the region, others lost their ships to the frequent storms, others yet came across the most dangerous place of all.
It was a small island, around which the seas were calm and the skies clear. The beaches were golden, hardly touched by man, the green so green it blinded and the fruit that fell from trees so ripe it could enrapture with one taste of bittersweet nectar. It was a magical place, and it was on this island that she lived.
Once there had been many. Now, there was only her. And she, like those before her, had a job to do. A purpose to serve. She used to enjoy her position in life. Got to hang around all the cute boys, laze about in the sun all day, go for the occasional swim in the verdant sea; it was a good life. A little boring at times, lacked a certain stimulation, but good nonetheless.
It was during one of the calmer days at sea that he came. It was unusual in these parts, all things considered, for the waves to not rise above the head, and though the mates on his ship seemed somewhat distressed by the undulating surface on which they sat, she thought they were being a bit silly about it all. After all, they should really be much more worried about what was _underneath_ those ripples. They'd figure that part out later.
She had remarkably good eyesight. For someone that looked pretty much human - albeit rather a cute one - she really wasn't (human, that is, not cute). The only thing that set her apart were her eyes - they were a stunning sea-green colour, which wasn't all that odd, but what was, was that they were slit like a cat's. Vertical pupils could contract to near invisible lines from lash to lid and hone in on the smallest detail a mile or two away. It was a handy skill to have, especially when a cute captain passed by.
With hardly a sound, she dropped from the branches of the tree in which she had been perched, landing in a cautious squat. Her eyes never left his face. She stood slowly and cocked her head, listening for the direction of the wind. Taking a few steps towards the water, waist-length hair the colour and texture of the sea blew across her body, almost - but not quite - covering her nakedness. And then, with joy and passion, she sang.
Wordless was her song, but filled with the meaning of sound itself. High and sweet, low and melodious, chords and single notes, long, slow, ensnaring notes that arced over the waves and directly to him, wrapping him in velvet, caressing his face and brushing the hair back from his forehead. He breathed it and it nourished him. He tasted it and it invigorated him. His eyes, dark as hers were deep, snapped around and, though there was no possible way he could have seen her, stared straight into those magical cat's eyes.
For a long moment they stood thus, each rising on the throat-stopping passion, the pure liquid happiness, the very essence of love itself. And, though the spell was far from broken, he was released from her siren's song just enough to turn his head, though not his eyes, and yell "TO PORT!"
The boat unquestioningly yielded to his command; men, their skins tanned from months and years at sea, clamoring up rigging and across decks, releasing knots and rotating rudders, shouting orders to subordinates, who shouted orders to theirs.
"Where are we headed, Cap'n?" asked the carrot-topped First Mate.
After a moment's thought, the dark-haired Captain, who had held that rank for a good twenty years, nodded towards the island.
The First Mate looked at the island, frowning slightly. They had passed by dozens of islands exactly like it across the archipelago - why this one? It was pretty, sure, but it was very unlike the very logical and serious Captain to want to take the scenic route. They had sailed together since they were fifteen years old and cabin boys on the Taramasalata, and then when the pair of them had earned a ship of their own, Will was more than happy to let Eric take Captaincy. He was never one for leading, though he did pretty well, even if he did say so himself, with the organisation of the crew. Will was showing the first signs of age - a few sparse white hairs amongst the red at his temples. Not that he really minded. It gave him a certain sort of distinction, he thought. Eric, with his carefully cultivated club of dark hair, looked the same as he did at age twenty, give or take a few lines around his eyes and a bit of a wind-blown complexion. The point was, mild superficial changes aside, Eric hadn't changed in twenty years. Will fancied he knew him pretty well. At the moment, he was feeling just a little suspicious.
A siren's song is an often misunderstood thing. People the world over fancy it will ensnare all men within hearing distance. This is incorrect for two reasons. Firstly, a siren can be very particular about who does and does not hear her song, and secondly, 'hearing distance' doesn't really come into it. As long as she can see her quarry, she can sing to him, and she can see a very long way.
With a sudden burst of memory, his face became that of Leander's. She hadn't thought of him for years.
A siren did not well remember her past. It would simply not do - there was too much of it. The mythical sirens of the sea were, you see, immortal. It was said that if a siren ever fell in love, she would lose her immortality and her magical song and be doomed to live and die as a human woman. She had come too close with him.
Leander and his crew had sailed past her island a lifetime ago. There were three of them left on the island then. They had drowned the undesirables and played with the choicest of the men for about a month when one of the girls, who had been given the name Hayley, began to grow closer to hers. (They always accepted the names the men gave them, taking a new one with each new capture. It gave the men a feeling of ownership, which was as far from the truth as was possible to comprehend.) It happened every now and then. A siren grew tired of her lot in life, or perhaps just found what she had been looking for for all those thousands of years, and allowed herself the luxury - and the danger - of falling in love. If the man had arrived on the island by way of a wrecked ship and there was thus no way off the island, the pair would sometimes leap from the cliffs hand-in-hand, falling to their deaths on the jagged rocks and crashing waves below. Others would make a life for themselves on the far side of the beautiful land. Others still would spend years waiting for a ship to come, and only occasionally would manage the escape into civilisation.
She had watched her sister, who had proclaimed herself Hayley 'til death, fall further and further in love with the man, whose name was unimportant, until there was no saving her. Her sisters had not given up, even then, and had undertaken several attempts on the man's life, but rather than live without him, Hayley chose the first option available to a fallen siren. She took his hand and returned to the sea from whence she came.
She and her remaining sister were heartbroken. And yet elated. Hayley had finally been happy, an emotion to which a siren can rarely lay claim.
And then one night, Leander told her that he loved her.
A man under the spell of a siren exists in the love he feels for his captor, but it is not a real love. It is a coerced love, a love of lies and glittery masks of deceit. On that night - a night that remains clear in her mind to this day - Leander truly, with his very soul, loved her. For just a moment, she had finally understood what had made Hayley take that final step towards eternity. She felt the blood rush in her ears, the never-ending rhythm in her chest impossible to ignore, and for one terrifying, wonderful moment, she had almost been human.
Without speaking a word, she stood and took his hand and together they had walked to the very cliff from which Hayley and her lover had flung themselves but a few moons prior. She had turned to him, tears of the sea in her eyes, and taken his face between her hands. Slowly, as if taking her last breath of life, she kissed him. She still remembered the taste of her own tears between their lips. And she thrown him into the crashing waves below.
There she had fallen to the grass and there she had stayed for thirty days and thirty nights, weeping for the love she had denied herself.
Cat-slit, sea-green eyes returned to focus on the face of the most recently chosen. Still she sung to him and still the ship sailed inexorably towards the deceptive little island in the middle of the sea. She would not make the same mistake with this one. She would not allow him the little things he asked, nor lay with him on endless starry nights and listen to the beat of his heart. She would be strong. She was the last - she had no choice.
At their Captain's insistence, who was gently guided by his beautiful siren, every man - from First Mate to pimply-faced cabin boy - disembarked from the vessel and gathered in a state of confusion and concern on the picturesque beach.
Will, after ensuring the last crewmember was safe on land, turned to his friend and Captain. "Eric, what's all this? What are you up to?"
Eric took a deep swig of the island air, revelling in the smell and taste and feel of it. It seemed his every sense was enhanced, his fingers itched to touch the ocean-smoothed stones and sift through the silver sand, he could hardly stop himself from removing his shoes and running joyfully through the waves. He noticed that someone had spoken to him and spared the owner of the voice a brief glance, saying only "You'll see."
She emerged from between the trees, and as soon as she was sure that the attention of every man and boy was focused directly and solidly on her, she opened her song to them all. The expression on their faces was one of pure happiness, a love so strong they could hardly breathe. She took a deep breath of their love, closing her eyes and smiling a big, beautiful, infectious smile. A couple of the weaker members of the crew clutched at their chests, fingers digging into their own skin with the intensity of the feelings coursing through them. One fainted. Another ran willingly to the ocean and dove in. He did not surface. One by one, they all faltered and fell. As she drank in their joy, she felt no guilt for the loss of their lives. She had killed hundreds this way. It was perhaps the happiest way a man could die - at the ecstatic height of passion. Most ran into the sea. Some fell where they stood, she noted with some distaste. Never mind. She would get her Captain to take care of them. The last to flee was the handsome First Mate. If there had been any siren but her, she would have kept that one as a gift. But as it was, one man at a time was enough.
Soon, only he remained. Only her beautiful, strong, handsome Captain. At some level of his subconscious he must have noticed the decline of his crew, but he did not object, nor even blink an eye.
She continued her song a moment longer, then let it fade gradually as she approached him. She had fashioned a brief loincloth while waiting for her prey to arrive, consisting of a strip of material she had previously made from finely-woven plant fibres. It had taken her many days to complete the weave; but, then, she was never in any rush to do anything on her little island. Taking a few days to make some soft material was nothing. You should see her tree-house.
When she stood directly before him, the song ceased. He expressed a moment's disappointment, followed by a brief passing confusion, a happy remembrance, and then returned to a state of bliss. It was somewhat less manic than previously, but still an all-encompassing happiness. Perfect contentment.
"Hello," she said, smiling almost meekly.
His eyes sparkled with moisture. "Hello," he returned softly, as if speaking to the most delicate of creatures.
"What is your name?"
"Eric." None of this 'Captain Eric Canterlon of the good ship Moby'. Here, he was just 'Eric'.
She smiled brightly, careful not to overload his sensibilities too soon. She would be gentle at first. Until her song wore off a little more, at least. Then they could talk some more, enjoy themselves and 'explore' the island. Of course she knew every inch of it by name and age, but would make believe - for his sake. "What is my name?" she asked mischievously.
Eric cocked his head curiously. "I don't know - I think you have to tell me that, don't you?" He seemed confused, like he had forgotten whether people came with names or you gave them out along the way.
"But I have no name," she sighed, her voice mellow and harmonic. "Won't you give me one?"
Then Eric did something that no other man ever had. He shook his head. "No," he said. "I won't. It is your name, I cannot give it to you."
She blinked in surprise. Was her power failing? She considered singing to him once more - perhaps he was especially strong. But hesitated. Would it be so bad to have a headstrong man? He would probably make the whole experience just a little more fun. She always had enjoyed taming the wild ones. Instead, she replied somewhat sadly "But I do not have one."
"Don't be silly," he said dismissively, getting his wits back somewhat and shocking her a little. "Everyone has a name. You must have just misplaced it." When she looked like she was going to object, he thought of something. "Ok, alright," he seemingly acquiesced. "I'll grant you a name."
She looked momentarily smug.
"I grant you the name you were first given. I grant you your true name."
Meridian blinked. How long it had been since she'd thought of that name. "Meridian," she whispered, almost inaudibly.
Eric smiled. "Hello, Meridian."
Despite herself, the siren who had a name looked at this strange man with admiration and just a little something more. Here was a man who was different from the others. In all her countless years, through all the countless men, none had ever so much as asked. "Hello," she said almost shyly.
She told herself as he took her hand that the tingle in the pit of her stomach was just hunger. But she knew it was something much more dangerous. She thought again briefly of Leander, and then there was only Eric.
Meridian and Eric, predator and prey, spent the next week 'exploring' the island. The former Captain cottoned on to her ploy much sooner than anyone ever had, and once again she wondered if her power was failing. More than this, he seemed to be spinning a web of his own around the siren that she didn't notice until it was almost too late. He would take her hand in his - his big, warm, rough, solid hand - and, laughing his deep, mellow laugh, drag her willingly up the hill to the cliff edge and tell her stories about his adventures on the seas, using the cloud formations as illustrations and dancing around and defeating imaginary foes. He told of great beasts and strange lands, of wild adventures and infamous pirates. But her favourites were the love stories.
"Tell me the one about the cinder girl," she said with child-like zeal.
He laughed and, as always, acquiesced.
Sitting cross-legged before him, elbows on knees and head held aloft between them, Meridian was enveloped by the womb of his eyes. They seemed to tell as much of the story as did his lips; sparkling with moisture as he spoke of the sadness of the cinder girl and the poignance of her strength to persist, reaching out with the innocent joy and hope as she found her one true love, and exploding with such pure happiness as their hearts entwined and they lived happily ever after.
There was a part of her, though she tried her hardest to ignore it, that wanted to be that girl. That simple joyful human girl who could fall in love and have that happy ending. There were no happy endings for a siren. There could not be. If she did fall in love, one woeful, beautiful day, her only end would be death. It could not happen. She would not let it.
When Eric saw her melancholy visage, he cocked his head slightly and knelt down in worry. "I thought you liked the story of the cinder girl," he said, concerned that he had done something wrong.
Meridian was silent for a moment, delving deep into those eyes, burning the memory of all he had shown her into her mind indelibly. Then, she took a breath of the familiar island air, the intoxicating wonderfulness of the sea and the sand and the sweet, lush plants, and she snapped herself out of whatever she may be falling into. "Oh, I do like it! It is the best story I have ever heard." Her voice was filled with beguiling enthusiasm, but the astute ex-Captain was not convinced.
"Then why did you look so sad, just then?" His voice was soft, like her words had shot a barb into his soul.
Her song, it seemed, was wearing off. It was not the first time. She would not let him take her with those eyes and that voice and those stories. He would not!
And so she sang to him once more. Softly, gently - she did not want to hurt him, she was not through with him yet. And his eyes glazed and his hands fell and he took on the look of a small dog whose owner has bestowed upon him an ever sought-after scratch on the head. And her heart broke.
Too close, it was too close. Already she did not want to give him up. No! Tears threatening to tumble down porcelain cheeks, Meridian rose and childishly pushed him to the ground so he would not follow. She ran, impossibly long legs arching over grass and sand and splashed through shallow water. She ran to the cave where she used to shelter with her sisters, when she was not alone. She had not returned there since Leander's time. Since there was only her.
Inside the sea-side cave, she toppled to the sodden sand like a paper doll, and wept. For there was only one thing left to do.
The girl who lived alone on a far distant island, the girl who loved and willingly lost a thousand times, the girl who reveled in the murder and playful hurt of human kind, the girl who had not seen true happiness for too long... would take the final step.
She stood, cheeks wet with salty sea, hair vibrant ocean spray, and retraced her steps. Her body quivered with power and determination, eyes sparkling like they had never sparkled before. She saw him, and did not wver in her step.For an instant, she finally understood her fallen sisters. She wondered if she would see them on her journey.
"Meridian..." Eric began, his voice uncertain, worried. "Is there..." Meridian threw herself against him, mouth grinding on his, tongue seeking the warm life within. As their arms circled, they became one being. One in love, one in death.
"I love you."
And with one last step, they were flung over the edge of the cliff, into the frothy sea below.