Son of Sirens

Written by Atticus Payne
Art by John William Waterhouse


“I saw him once, the son of sirens. That’s all you ever need to go mad,” the crone said, to no-one in particular.

“He kept to himself, his back turned and unmoving till I approached, tapped a shoulder, and felt skin on skin, a snap like two magnets finding each other at last; skin on something else entirely, something rough, tough like hardened leather. Like the rocks of the sea, shapes beautifully slicked by the potter of the waves, hundreds of years forming textures one of a kind. To know this was my first mistake; to let it draw me in, my second. Though I’m not sure I could’ve resisted either way—one does not hope against the work of a riptide. ‘Tisn’t done. 

“He faced me, and my eyes caught not on the well-worked yet wild features that I can’t ever hope to forget now, but on the resin-glossed piece of art in his hands. Casually held, irreverent to the meticulous carving of ebony, flamed maple and spruce. That was the trigger of that ringing noise I’m always having now. If sounds could burn the ear, this would be a concentrated assault. Does that paint a picture clear enough for you?”

The mist breaks for a moment, and darkness replies. It groups into vague shapes, jagged around the edges and never visible for longer than a second, before the landscape clouds with gray once more. For a moment, this sequence is comprehensible. 

“‘Are you one of ——’s students?’ he asked, and the name left me in half the time it took to say. Two syllables, I think. Can’t recall much since that day. His accent clipped the words gently before they finished, playing to a High rhythm. 

“‘No,’ I replied. ‘I seem to have the wrong person, I was—’ the ringing grew louder, bearing through my skull and into whatever part of your head was used for synthesising words. The echo of his voice, the flamed streaks of the instrument’s back; now not simply magnetic, but familiar. 

The crone gasps. She feels her hands shake, realises she has a body for the first time in…time. How long does a second stretch when there isn’t anyone to measure with breaths? Time has become the enemy, for lack of better company. 

This part. One of a cycle.


One note. A wrong note, and a whole movement turned to a broken, imperfect ruin, and to an ear trained for discrimination, it was not impulse, but self possession. Remember. Remember, remember, ‘you will not be like him’. 

“Do you know me? Do you know who I am?” I grabbed him by the shoulder, curling my hand to focus my nails on the skin instead of my palm. Seaspray and coarse rock threatened to blind me again, but I was careful this time, keeping ahold of that unfinished sentence. ‘I was looking for my brother.’ I was looking, and I had found him. That discordant note, the cough in the pianissimo was the mast I lashed my limbs to, binding tight enough to bite till it bled. 

He growled, widening his eyes to Hold mine. I blinked my gaze away, then back, just for a second, then away. 

“I know you,” I spat. “I know your mother destroyed my life.” 

“I am sorry for your father—” he began, and I used the sound of his voice to locate a spot in his jaw. I punched it. Gods, even his groan was musical.

I know you. I know you. I have been searching for you.

“You didn’t know my father,” I said, grabbing his neck and holding it downwards. “You didn’t know the man you stole from this world before you Thralled him.”

“I—”

“You raped him, then shattered his mind!” I kicked him to the dirt. No sea would aid him here. Our voices were barely audible to others over the din of the people milling about on the street, crying out about prices and services and other stupid things. I knew the words I said, had rehearsed them for decades on end. “You took my father from me—”

I am not my mother!” he cried out, getting up again. I fell backwards, right ear struck with a ringing so loud it pinged when it began. And again, unending, infernal grate—

My mistake, in kicking him. I’d lost control.

I looked up, my final, damning wrong. Looked upon him, as if I could aim a blade through the cavity of his chest even when I tried. His eyes bore into mine, freezing the rest of the street’s sound away in a muffled gale. Seaspray and wind and waves. 

Adoration above.

Brother.


Brother. He was coming again. 

That was how it ended. Now, the crone remembered.

His steps sounded, and it began the last movement of the song against the walls of the crone’s space. The final memory the crone ever had, she knew by then, was the sad reflection of her own face, turned High, turned into a boy. 

“Forgive me, sister,” he said, his voice breaking. “Forgive me.”

“Why?” The crone knew, but knowing the end notes of a symphony didn’t make it any less terrible when the silence came again. 

“You saw your father’s end. It’s no life, living without the Thrall’s siren. You don’t want to live that way. I know you don’t.”

“Where am I?” 

“It’s better not to know.”

The crone wept, and wept all the harder as the boy left. His eyes, so beautiful, and so sad, had left her. She hated seeing him leave. She hated the silence. 

The crone couldn’t live without putting a stop to it. 

“I saw him once, the son of sirens. That’s all you ever need to go mad,” the crone said, to no-one in particular.