The one-time friend walked among the Sirens, but did not listen to their songs.
It was their home that he strode through, unafraid. What looks they gave him were furitive and uncertain. His fingers trailed along the old furniture, leather gloves gathering up dust and splinters. It was not as clean as he remembered. It was not the same. His dark gaze caught one of the Sirens full on, and what she saw there had her recoil, and his gloved hand closed in a fist. He would not judge them, though, whatever mistakes they may make. Sirens did not understand. They knew he was special, but not why. They did not know that he had been like them once, before chum hit the streets and he drowned in sharks.
Animals, all of them.
What else could you call creatures that didn’t understand?
To him it was crisp and clear. Her voice did not command anymore. He couldn’t hear her words. Perhaps she had grown weak, or he had travelled too far, or something else blocked the song. It didn’t matter. So long as a beat, he would follow it. He saw the Sirens experiment, saw how they could lure others with fragments of the song that they heard clearly only in dreams. Those souls gathered here, in dust and refuse, and embraced the miracles, if not the song. There was nobody left that understood the way she could grip your soul and the rightness of being tugged towards a greater purpose. She could show you perfection.
“The best souls…” she had said, not long before the sharks came. William did not remember how it ended. It seemed less important, now. He remembered a time when she was younger, and it was just the few of them that would listen, and she spoke about merely people, not souls. Somewhere in the process of what she was and what she was becoming she outgrew all that. Saw something deeper. It lay at the center of everything, she said. “I have told you this many times, but you never remember.”
And he didn’t.
William paused in the battered place he called home, looking at the feeble souls that looked to him as though he was Her. They couldn’t be more wrong. He was a sliver of what she had shown them. Once, he tried to tell the Sirens what the world was really like. They only nodded, and waited for the song. It was addiction, shelter, comfort. They were cold or confused or fearful, and it was the suggestion of her that made them whole. He offered them something more, but they did not accept, so he grew silent, and they began to create their own truths. “This is what she looked like.” they said, gathering around the statues and relics they had, which were pale imitations. “This is what she sang.” they would say, and sing.
Which is why William was fleeing the room, ears shut tight against the mockery.
Outside, in the cold night air, he stood on the balcony, looking out over the wooden roofs of Dramanaks. Lanterns burned oil brightly in the distance on balconies and porches. People moved in the streets now. There were sources of clean water, even if they were being controlled. People had grown used to burning their friends. Fear of his plagues was waning. The City would not cave to his demands. Leather fingers wrapped around the banister and he leaned forward, slamming the door behind him shut with a sharp kick. The Sirens faltered in their song, but took it up again soon after.
She would never have faltered.
William wanted to listen to The City. That was always where he heard her voice. His gaze wandered upward, away from the glow of the night and towards the black dome of the sky. The song came soon after, hinting at things that were long gone. A thousand lights. A sphere that made the oceans roil rather than ripple. He heard them in the rise of the notes. He knew she listened as well as sang, so he spoke. There had been a word for what he did, once, but it had died.
“I don’t know what to do.” he confessed, and the song quieted, listening rather than dying. “We have not broken them.”
“Many souls have tried to break this city.” Her answer was emphermeral, barely there at all, but she lived. His heart lifted. No news, however grim, was suffering when it was her voice that spoke it.
“What do I need to do? I want them to release you. I want to see you again.” He tried to make it not sound like pleading, but it was.
“You’ll see me again.”
She did not answer for a time.
“William, you have done well.” The relief that flooded him was immense. He was glad he held the banister, sinking down to crouch, nearly kneeling as his eyes once again turned skyward. “You cannot free me from there.”
“Then why do I linger? Where must I go?”
“Nowhere. You will not free me.” As quickly as his elation had come, it fled. William felt like he may collapse. He couldn’t manage the words to ask her what she meant. “There is another that will.”
“Who?” His voice cracked.
“You had a friend, once, William. I did too.”
The one-time friend shut his eyes, trying not to remember Rast and failing. “The bells took him.” he explained. “I have seen him once. He is gone.”
“No.” the song said, and its melody carried him to his feet, looking once again over the city. Her voice gave lyrics to the tune as it guided his gaze southeast, towards the glow of the Clean Zone.
“He is here.” Melodia said.