Gods. Is no one plain looking on this island?
“Come in, come in,” the newest woman, a dark brunette, urged. Unlike the other, her voice was soft, but normal. “I’ve got the bed ready.”
“You worked fast,” the first siren praised.
Iliana glanced around the room they entered, eager to take in anything that might tell her something about these people. It was simple, however, and revealed nothing.
A large, white-sheeted bed took up quite most of the space. The foot of the bed touched an old, weathered wooden trunk. A small kitchenette laid to the left, complete with a table and wood stove. The majority of the floor was covered by an intricate, woven rug which ended just before a large bookshelf to the left. The shelves held only a handful of titles, most of which were written in a language Iliana couldn’t place.
The last thing of note was a door to the left of the entrance. It hung open, and Iliana could spy a bath and limestone toilet inside. The goddess must have performed more plumbing magic than the siren had mentioned. Or, perhaps there were underground pipes.
Her two escorts helped her over to the bed, the black-haired siren urging her to not lay down so they could get a good look at her head. She complied, settling her hands on her lap as the siren positioned herself behind Iliana to examine the wound. There was something strange about the whole matter. Instead of the uncomfortable, crawling sensation Iliana typically suppressed when touched, the light brush of the siren’s fingers through her hair caused Iliana to relax.
Did their influence go beyond their voices?
“Thank you, Melitta,” the other said. “It was very kind of you to show her here.”
Melitta hesitated, then shrugged. Her hands played with the ends of her waist-length hair. Despite how relaxed she had seemed since their arrival, the mermaid lingered awkwardly near the door, her body angled towards the exit.
“Everyone deserves a choice.”
As she spoke her unsettling words--Iliana couldn’t forget that Melitta’s alternative to the sirens had been drowning Iliana--Melitta glanced between them, brow knitted. Her expression grew concerned when the other siren brushed a tender spot and Iliana yelped.
“I… I need to go for now,” Melitta continued. “Calli and I have been away from the sea for too long. I will be back soon...”
Iliana tensed. Melitta was leaving her alone with them?
“Do not worry,” the first siren said, her strange voice seeming to hold more amusement than anything else. “We will take care of her. You have my word.”
“Very well. I will remember that,” Melitta replied, smiling, then offering a dip of her head towards Iliana. “Till we meet again.”
Despite her unreasonable fear, Iliana forced herself to smile in turn. “Right. See you then.”
Melitta waved in acknowledgement and left. Silence coated the room for several minutes, only broken when the first siren shifted behind her and asked for a roll of bandage.
“I realize I never introduced myself. My name is Rhode,” she said, then pointed to the brunette. “And she is Dalphie. Melitta called you Iliana?”
“That’s right,” she confirmed. “And… you two… you’re sirens?”
She felt stupid, asking, but the whole situation was something out of a story. It didn’t feel real--the fact she sat next to two legendary beings.
“We are,” Rhode agreed, accepting the bandages from Dalphie. “I hope that is not a problem?”
The light mix of challenging amusement tucked behind a friendly voice reminded Iliana of court. The connection was just as welcome as the question itself--meaning not at all Iliana stowed her uneasiness behind a questioning lift of her brow. “A problem?”
Sure, she was completely on edge and quite nervous about being alone with them, but it was strange to hear the words come out of Rhode’s mouth. As if reading her mind, the siren laughed.
“Most tend to be… put off, at first,” she said. “Legends and circumstances do not provide grounds for the best opinions of us.”
That was true.
What stories didn’t focus on the beauty of the sirens told of their dangerous natures. Iliana always heard that if you saw a siren, death was certain to follow. Which certainly seemed to be the truth, all things considered. She nearly shuddered as the thought brushed buried fears.
“I’m fine,” Iliana replied.
Rhode’s expression spoke silent disbelief, but she said nothing. Quiet fell again as she began wrapping the bandage around the top of Iliana’s head. Iliana hadn’t felt blood when touching it earlier, but perhaps she’d just missed it. The siren was being too careful for the injury to be as simple as she thought. Or, maybe Rhode was simply an overly cautious person. Either way, she waited patiently for Rhode to finish.
“There,” Rhode announced. “I have finished. From what Melitta told me, you’ve likely got more wounds elsewhere, but this should be the worst of it. Does anywhere else hurt, or can you tell?”
“Thank you,” Iliana replied, raising her hand to brush the bandage. “And… I feel bruised, but I think that was the only problematic injury.”
“No thanks needed,” Rhode replied, moving away from the bed. She stopped at the foot of it, pulling open the trunk. “I am glad you are as well as you are. Dalphie. Go fetch a light lunch, please. And ready a bath afterwards.”
Dalphie nodded and disappeared through the front door. Iliana drew her legs up to her chest, hooking her arms around them as she watched Rhode dig through the trunk, which she now realized contained clothing. Iliana stayed silent at first, rolling over everything that had happened since she woke.
“Why?” she asked after several minutes of Rhode pulling out dresses and underthings, starting at them, then dropping them back in.
Rhode glanced away from a pale blue camise. “Why what?”
“Why are you being kind?” she pressed. “Why are you helping me? I’m no one. There was no reason for Melitta to concern herself with me to the point of having Callias carry me here, and there is definitely no reason for you to go out of your way to provide me a room and make me comfortable.”
It had struck her as strange ever since she woke on the beach. They had saved her and brought her to the sirens. The sirens took her in without question. It made no sense. No one did anything without reason. There was always a catch, always a cost. At least, that’s the way most people worked. Kain didn’t… hadn’t, but he was Kain. There’d been many things about him that were different.
Iliana had a sinking suspicion of what the catch was in this situation, and the thought alone made her skin crawl. Fates knew that it was an impossible, but the way they’d been acting had her almost certain she was right.
The siren studied her, then offered that smile that earlier caused Iliana’s heart to skip a beat. Now, it only chilled the knots in her stomach. What should’ve caused warmth only furthered her worries.
“We take care of our own,” Rhode answered lightly. She dropped her gaze back to the trunk and continued picking through it. “It is the way it has always been.”
“Your… own?” Iliana echoed.
Gods. She’d hoped she was wrong. She needed to be.
Rhode settled a midnight blue sundress on the bed, followed by a set of undergarments. Iliana unfurled her arms to reach for the clothing. Her fingers were trembling as she buried them in the fabric. Thankfully, Rhode seemed too busy returning items to their place in the trunk to notice the moment of obvious weakness.
“Those who are us,” Rhode answered, meeting Iliana’s eyes. “And those who can become us.”
Iliana’s hand stilled above the dress. Rhode still wore that smile, but it seemed to hold something else behind it now--expectation, or excitement perhaps. Looking at her, Iliana remembered her reaction upon seeing Iliana, and how Melitta hadn’t seemed surprised.
She was not one of their own.
Yet, they were caring for her. Rhode and Melitta had acted as if it was natural for her to come here. Rhode dropped detailed explanations, as if how the village housing work was important despite Iliana’s status as a marooned human. Melitta had spoken as if this place was the reason Iliana was left alive.
That chill left her spine. Now it seeped into her very veins, freezing her blood. She clutched the dress tighter, hoping that the fists she formed could hide the way her hands shook. Iliana returned her arm to its previous position of being curled around her knees, the clothing tucked against her legs. She studied Rhode’s face. Accepting their kindness seemed much more difficult now.
“You mean… me,” Iliana stated.
Rhode needed to tell her she was making the wrong connections, despite how obviously correct Iliana was.
The siren shut the trunk. Her eyes searched Iliana’s face, as if to uncover the emotions flooding through her. Not that it would have done her any good. Most of what she felt at that moment was indistinguishable beyond the fear unfurling in her mind.
“I do,” Rhode agreed. “Only those who meet Inna’s Laws are allowed within the village.” She paused. “And only those who follow through are allowed to stay.”
Breathe, Iliana urged herself. Don’t panic.
“You want me to become a siren?” she asked.
Rhode laughed. “You are blunt, I see. I should return the favor. Yes, that is exactly what we hope.”
Iliana forced herself to take another deep breath. Hoping was good. If the sirens hoped she would become a siren, that implied an option. She could refuse.
She would refuse.
“Why me?” Iliana questioned.
It made no sense. Gods’ children were special. There was nothing special about Iliana. She was a normal girl, from a somewhat normal home, that worked on an extremely normal merchant ship.
People like her didn’t become sirens.
The sliver of fear invading her mind grew stronger as her thoughts grasped the concept and ran with it.
Becoming a siren was impossible for Iliana. She wouldn’t, couldn’t be the cause of more sailors dying. Her stomach clenched, pain seeming to echo through her entire body at the thought. She wouldn’t make people feel the ache she had shoved to the back of her mind. She wouldn’t force them to battle tears that seemed to be constantly on the edge of falling. Just the idea of it threatened to make her physically ill.
“Because it’s possible,” Rhode said.
Seeing Iliana’s obvious confusion, Rhode stepped around the trunk, before perching on the edge. Her expression turned thoughtful as she crossed one leg over the other and settled her hands in her lap.
“It’s hard to explain,” Rhode continued. “But, those who have been changed can feel the possibilities. It is similar to how we can tell when someone has been cursed or blessed by the gods. Most call it a sixth sense. Melitta and Callias sensed the possibility within you, so they brought you here. It is an instinct the gods bestowed upon their children. Without it, there is every chance the races would die out.”
Iliana met Inna’s Laws?
She found it hard to believe, no matter what Rhode said. Sure, she’d faced some hardship as a result of her sister’s marriage, but was that really all it took to become a siren? If that was the case, shouldn’t the island be overflowing with those who’d been dealt a hard hand by life?
There had to be more to it.
“ Again, why me?” Iliana pressed. “Gods’ children are created from the dead or dying. I’m neither.”
Rhode seemed to consider her answer for a moment. During the resulting silence, the front door swung open. Dalphie had returned, a large, cloth covered basket in her hands. The smell of fresh-baked bread reached Iliana, prompting an embarrassing growl from her stomach. The sirens laughed.
“Sorry,” she murmured.
“No need. I take responses like those as compliments,” Dalphie replied, crossing the room.
She settled the basket on the kitchen table, before drawing out a plate and muffin. Iliana hadn’t realized it until that moment, but she was starving. It didn’t help that she could spot little nuts peeking out of the top of the bread. Iliana had a weakness for pecans.
“I think,” Rhode said, drawing Iliana’s attention back to her. “I might be able to answer a lot of your questions, even those you haven’t asked, with a story.”
“What story?” Iliana asked.
“You may have heard it, although it isn’t as popular as others,” Rhode replied. “What do you know of the first siren?”