Avalia sighed as she entered the port town of Shorestone, her home. She had traveled across the world for many years seeking adventure but now, upon her return, the place she had dreamt of and often yearned for was gone. Instead of the busy, bustling city she remembered, with foreign traders pedding their wares and colorful sailors laughing over a pint or two of ale, there was near silence. No ships were in port and many buildings were abandoned and shops closed.
Stepping into the inn, even the fire wasn’t right. It had been left to burn out and the embers glowed gently, struggling to cling to life, just as the town did. The bartender, Old Joe, had fallen asleep on the bar. Avalia shook him gently and he started and pulled back as though someone had a knife to his throat.
“What do you want?” he asked, “Can’t you let an old man get some rest?”
“It’s me, Joe! Avalia! Don’t you remember me?” Avalia exclaimed.
“Oh,” Joe sighed, without much excitement, “You’ve changed. Didn’t recognize you.”
“What’s going on?” Avalia asked, “The whole town is deserted!”
“It’s old news,” Joe sighed, “We’ve been cursed by a damn Siren. The monster won’t let a single ship into this town. Bewitches them all with its… charms and drives them into the rocks. We tried to kill it, even sent some women who felt they could reason with the beast, but it seems that even they couldn’t resist that dark magic. That broke every heart in Shorestone, when they went down. After that, everybody left, moved down the coast and built a new town.”
“Why did you stay?” asked Avalia.
“I didn’t want to start again, I’m too tired and old. All the memories of my life are here. Besides, I have to tell the news to all you young people who left on adventures, when you finally decide to come home. Was it so great out there that you had to come back here? You have no family, yet still you return.” Old Joe rested back on his stool and gave Avalia his old-man-knows-best stare.
Avalia looked down at herself, dressed in her travelers clothes, her sword at her side. She had been across mountains, deserts, fought great and terrible creatures and seen wonderous things, yet there had always been the pull of home nagging at her heels. She would dream and see Shorestone in full colors, lament for the chipped paintwork of the beach houses and the scent of the salty sea, the strange accents of merchants and the scents of items they wold bring from distant lands. She imagined herself standing on the cliff edge, the wind blowing through her hair, no longer the child she was when she left, but a woman who had come home, appreciating her land better for having left it, ready to settle and do all the things that society expected of her.
Well, perhaps not the latter, and that had been the one reason why Avalia had stayed away for so long. She had gone on the road to find answers to many questions she had about herself, and in many ways she felt that journey was not yet complete. The lure of nostalgia had brought her back, but she did not feel the pull of another chapter forthcoming in her life, no desire to put away her current life and settle into a life of childbearing and marriage. That is what everybody had expected, and they had thought it teenage rebellion when she had said she had wanted to travel and they had let her go with derisive laughter in their eyes, awaiting her return within days. She saw that same laughter now in Old Joe’s eyes. Although times had been bad in Shorestone, here was a man who still expected that she would have had a better life if she had gone with the others to the new town. That she had come back at all he regarded as a failure, a desire to submit and accept her position.
“I suppose I’ll be on my way, then,” Avalia said, “Thank you for explaining.”
“Don’t be stupid and get any ideas,” Old Joe said, “Just go to the new town, 40 miles due south of here and settle down. Forget what I told you and forget Shorestone!”
“Not a chance!” Avalia said, a hint of challenge in her eyes.
“You don’t seem to get it, girl! I saw the Siren with my own eyes. It’s beautiful, shaped like a woman. It gets inside your head and awakens things you never knew were there. I even saw women standing there, captured in awe and wonder and desire. ‘Twas a disgusting, dark magic that it used to open up every void in my soul and theirs. Don’t think you can defeat it, it will draw you in and dash your head on the rocks before you can even open your mouth. I was lucky enough to hit my head and find my senses without drowning, but you won’t be that lucky!” Joe warned.
Avalia was gone before he finished speaking. She hurried out onto the pier, grasped by some strange curiosity. What kind of creature could be so beautiful that it could draw together the diverse tastes of all men and women? What magic could be that powerful that it could make people lose all sense of survival? She had been under the influence of many spells, but through all of them she had still had her basic instincts, her drive to live. Could desire be such a strong magnet that it overwhelmed even the will to survive?
She wanted to feel it for herself, to have that experience, and so it was with an almost suicidal urge that she paid a few coin to a local fisherman to borrow his rowing boat. He warned her not to go out past the rock, and so she recklessly rowed that way, even as he cried out and waved to her in despair.
Perhaps she was suicidal, she thought. She had found no meaning to her life while she had been here, and when she was out on the road there was still something missing, something she needed. She thought it had been home, yet when she had returned, there was no magic waiting for her, no incredible sense of homecoming. This seemed to be her only answer, the only way of gaining something from her trip. If she could defeat the Siren, what would it bring her? Perhaps a little respect from the handful of people who still lived in Shorestone, although the others would surely never come back. Perhaps freedom from the expectations of people, by proving herself as a capable warrior.
Yet it was experience she craved more than anything. Out on the road, she had soaked up the special moments, the times when she had teamed up with others to hunt down strange monsters and explore uncharted ruins. Yet most of it had been walking alone, following the same old dusty trails, visiting unremarkable towns and villages with average people living ordinary, mapped out lives. Even many adventurers had fallen into the same old routine, following the same paths and charging the same inflated prices to hunt the same old monsters. Avalia yearned for uncharted territory, and yet she rarely found what she was looking for. Here was an opportunity to witness a rare wonder, a real Siren. That wasn’t something that happened every day.
She had not ventured out into the sea much, and now regretted that choice as the sea air caressed her hair. Avalia loved the ocean, and there were many lands that she had not yet visited. Perhaps, when she returned, she would work passage on a ship and explore the lands on the Other Side of the Great Ocean which divided the two great continents. It had seemed easier to go by land and explore the places that knew her language, but perhaps it would be more exotic to be a stranger in a strange land, to be enticed by strange beauty, to give into all the things that she desired where nobody knew her name, where she was not Avalia of Shorestone but an exotic woman herself from the Other Side.
Looking back, she saw she had passed the rock. Looking forward, she saw another rock, and a shape sitting atop it, playing wonderous songs from a harp which made her dream of all the things she desired. So this, she realized, was the Siren. She rowed closer, as dreams of her journey filled her mind, forbidden memories of desire that she had locked away and the tune she heard was unlocking.
Avalia saw herself standing in a grove of trees by a lake, the moonlight shining down. She looked away from the memory, embarrassment building in herself as she remembered it. There was one of her fellow adventurers, a woman called Sasha, lying naked in the grove. The moonlight illuminated her form, her legs, her round breasts, and Avalia felt her breath deepening. She had walked closer, silently stalking through the forest as though tracking a hunt, unable to stop herself. She had come close, and longed to be closer, when she stood on a twig and it snapped, and Sasha started, sitting up to see Avalia staring at her naked form.
She knew she had ran then, deep into the night, afraid of herself and what she had felt, ashamed of having looked upon Sasha without her consent. She had not returned to the hunting party in the morning but had returned to the nearest village, bought a horse, and fled across the plains at full speed, wanting to be away from Sasha and her own feelings and desires.
Avalia looked up to find herself standing in the boat now, drawing nearer to the rocks. The form jumped down to be within sight, and Avalia saw a beautiful woman standing there, long, deep blue hair flowing freely like the ocean. Her skin had a slight blue tinge, and she was naked, her rounded breasts exposed.
Avalia swallowed and could not look away. She was enraptured, and felt herself wanting to touch the woman before her, to lay her down and caress her breasts, reach between her legs and touch her until she cried out in pleasure, stroke her long, blue hair and cover her mouth and body in deep, passionate kisses.
“Why are you doing this to me?” Avalia cried out, “Why?”
“I’m not doing anything,” a voice came to her, beautiful as song, “I am simply showing you the truth of your desire, as I have done to all women and all men who have come before me. Some have harbored the memory of terrible deeds, and it is those deeds, done out of desire, which I seek. To punish those who did such deeds onto me, when I was human. To punish those who knew, but let it be so they would not lose out. Who let others suffer in the same way.”
“You killed so many people… Are you saying it is because of what you saw in their memories?” Avalia cried above the sound of the waves crashing against the rock. The yearning between her thighs made it hard for her to think, but she was trying desperately to push it aside and piece together the puzzle.
“Some of them…” the Siren laughed, “But they were all guilty, and so are you.”
“Guilty of what?” Avalia asked, trying not to look at the Siren before her. If she could just reach for her sword at her side, she could…
“Guilty of desire, filthy desire. The kind of unclean want which leads to the misery I went through… They all deserved to die… I could not find one clean soul who did not desire my body, who did not desire to lay me down no matter what my feelings.You are guilty too, and you will suffer the same way they did!” The Siren shrieked, and there was a hideous agony in that shriek which ended Avalia’s desire and cleared the fog in her mind. Avalia draw her sword, and jumped from her boat to the rock just before a huge wave lifted it and dashed it into pieces.
“If you did not use your dark magic, we would not have been bewitched!” Avalia said, but she knew that it was only half true, “You did not have to read into our minds and see our desires. That in itself is a violation.”
“You do not understand,” the Siren said, “Let me show you.”
Avalia saw in her mind’s eye one of her own memories, one of a quiet, pretty girl who sat in church. Avalia knew her, her name was Sarah, yet she had never spoken to her much. Avalia had always been shy, although she had always admired how pretty and good-natured Sarah was from a distance.
Then the picture changed, and Avalia saw an older Sarah, about seventeen or perhaps slightly older. Avalia had left Shorestone when she was sixteen. She saw flashes of Sarah’s memory – some sailors following her from the pier up onto the secluded cliff – being knocked out with force and raped – the sailors throwing her off the cliff into the sea – and she felt her grip on her sword slacken, her desire fade away completely at the unspeakable images. She dropped her blade and it clanged against the stone, falling uselessly into the sea.
“Gods,” Avalia said, “I’m so sorry.”
“I survived that night clinging to this rock, my only thought being that I wanted to live and have my revenge on them,” the Siren said, her face as cold as stone, “I begged to the God of the Sea to give me power that I might trap these men and destroy them, and he turned me into this form. I did find them, they came on the boat with the women, came to see if it was really me come to haunt them. I sank that boat without a second thought by driving it onto the rocks, yet still I feel no peace. I am bound to this rock forever, trapped with my own thoughts and memories, prevented from moving on, because even though my revenge is done, I still feel hatred for every person who burns with desire.”
“Did you never feel desire before they hurt you?” Avalia asked, “It doesn’t have to be a crime. I locked myself away from my desire. I’ve been ashamed of it. Coming here, though, you forced me to confront it. It’s true, Sarah, I desire you, and other women. That doesn’t mean that I will necessarily act on it, though, unless the circumstances are right.”
“All desire ever brought is hurt and pain!” the Siren said, and the waves grew angry beneath her. Avalia backed off, but a wave rose over the rock and swept her into the sea. She floundered in the water, but the waves were strong and pushed her under.
Sarah stood on the edge of the rock, looking over at her. Avalia looked up, helplessly struggling against the water. She felt her mind being sifted through again, as if the Siren was searching for something, but ignored it as she struggled for buoyancy. The world around her was blue, and the water was thick, heavy and painful in her lungs.
She felt strong arms wrapping around her, pulling her up, and wondered if it was death until she felt air on her skin. She gasped, but her lungs were too full of water to take in the air, and she passed out.
When Avalia woke, she was in a beachside cave, the Siren sitting opposite her. Her clothes were outside, warming by the fire, and she was naked, underneath an old sack that served as a blanket.
“Why did you change your mind?” Avalia asked, when she had composed herself. She was embarrassed that she had been stripped naked, but understood the necessity and was grateful, and did not want to highlight her embarrassment. She was more interested in the reasons why the Siren had saved her, when she had been so intent on killing her. What had she seen in her mind that she had not seen before? It was true, she had looked at Sasha in the woods. She had desired her. Nothing was going to change about that.
“You… only wanted to look at her,” the Siren said.
Avalia nodded, “That’s right,” she said, “I was ashamed of myself for doing even that much.”
“You… you don’t have anything to be ashamed of,” the Siren said, “You are not like those men.”
“I would never do something like that,” Avalia said, “I’m sorry that it happened to you. But you can’t keep terrorizing the people of Shorestone. You had your revenge on those men, and many others died in the process. You can’t keep making everybody else pay for what they did.”
“You are right,” the Siren said, after a long pause, “I have lived only to kill them. I cannot return to Shorestone, as I am no longer human. They would never accept me. My destiny lies with the sea now, in service to the sea god.” She stood up, and Avalia felt the breath catch in her chest once more as she glanced upon the Siren’s beautiful body.
“For the first time in my life,” the Siren said, “I feel flattered by a person’s desire. I thank you, Avalia. I wish that I could give to you that which you want, but I cannot.” She walked from the cave, down the beach. Avalia wanted to call out to her, to say something, but she knew she could not, that it was not her place to call Sarah back.
Sarah dived into the sea and was gone, and Avalia was filled with a deep yearning. She rushed forward, naked, into the cold water, but Sarah was already gone.
“Sarah!” she cried out, but there was only the sound of the waves beating against rocks.
Dressing, she returned to Shorestone, a deep sorrow in her heart, a yearning that would not pass. Mixed emotions filled her as she contemplated what her desire meant for her and her future, and understood many new things that she had not let herself think about before. She was grateful to Sarah for opening up her mind and letting her see herself for the very first time.
Avalia returned to the shore every day for a whole week searching for Sarah, but she was gone and Avalia knew that they would never meet again, at least not here. Sarah had left Shorestone forever, left behind the misery of her memories and embarked upon a new life and Avalia knew she had to do the same. Shorestone was not her home any more, and she had to learn to leave the past behind and move on.
Accepting this, she packed her things at the inn and paid her bill. Old Joe looked at her with a little respect this time.
“You proved me wrong,” Joe said, “I don’t know how you did it, and I suppose you’ll never tell me, but we’re grateful that you offed the Siren. Even if traders never come back here, it will be good to at least fish again in peace.”
As Avalia pushed a gold piece across the bar to Old Joe, some of the other villagers came in, carrying a bundle.
“Avalia, this is for you,” one of them said, and unwrapped a fine sword, “We heard you lost yours when you fought the Siren.”
Avalia had never claimed that she had killed the Siren, but neither had she told them the true story. They would never understand, and it was easier for them and her if they believed the Siren was dead. Still, she took the sword with a little guilt in her heart.
“I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Avalia said, and strapped the new sword to her waist. She drew it, testing its weight, and she saw some the few young men there look impressed. She could have stayed there, courted them, but she knew that wasn’t what she wanted or needed. The open road called to her, the promise of strange and exotic treasures in unknown lands, and beautiful women she wanted to feel desire for, wanted to embrace and romance. She wasn’t ashamed to accept herself, and smiled as she took on her pack and started on the road to New Shorestone, to take a ship to the Other Side.
She took one last look back as she left, but it wasn’t at the town, its residents or for a childhood long gone, but at the sea. She hoped that one day she would meet Sarah again, but most of all she was grateful to Sarah for helping her answer some of her biggest questions about life and herself. She felt like a new person, and she would always owe that to the mysterious Siren who had looked inside her heart.