"Ah, Mohe’na," he chortled, but his eye was locked on Ember, a mad gleam sparking in its depths. "You were always so persistent – these mortals have no care for you and I. Have you not seen this, after all these thousand years we have endured alone in the dark? Abandon this fool's errand, lest fate mock you unto the end of eternity."
"Did you not," Ky whimpered, confusion wrinkling her brow, "also come to this mountain, seeking—"
"Enough, I said!"
A vicious snarl made Ember reflexively jump back.
He corrected himself, stepping toward Ky to ward off a blow, but the siren seemed to have forgotten his existence altogether—nor did he make any move to strike the younger sirena.
Ky appeared crestfallen, and her gaze had lost some of its cloudiness.
"Enough," it gurgled, and its hollow socket flashed to life: magic glimmered green and sickly yellow before it was lost to shadow again, rippling all the way down the scar from his neck to his curled fingers and winking out.
"It is all vanity," seethed the siren, its throat bobbing and the fingers of its maimed hand clenching. "As vanity it ever was. I shall not be made a fool again… let us feast on his flesh, crack the marrow from his bones, and quench our thirst of his life's blood. He is of no use to us."
"Hhhhrrrrummmm," the siren grumbled, briefly clamping his twisted claws over her mouth.
Ember flinched, but the rumbling voice kept his feet stuck to the stone.
"Do you not yearn for his mortal blood upon your tongue? Can you not smell the life within him?"
"Yes." Ky's lips parted, and her black eyes slid to Ember's. "Yes… I smell it…"
He swallowed hard, the tip of the blade quivering in his hand as she trailed off into gentle murmurings and wimperings.
"Ages," whispered the siren—a recitation of some sort, Ember thought blearily. "Ages upon ages upon ages of darkness… trapped within this singing, muttering stone… with naught but the voices of the dead to regale me… and here another light has come to me at last…"
Dull panic flooding his mind, Ember lifted Fishbiter—this time it thrummed, as if it hungered for their blood as much as they hungered for his. The sensation emboldened him and he tightened his hands around the hilt, taking a single step back.
Where can I go? Where can I hide?
Grumbling a minglement of human and siren words, they lurched forward as one, the same yearning twisting their features: a desperate hunger.
He meant nothing to either of them.
Food for starving wolves; that's what he was.
Ember twitched the swordpoint from the monstrous siren to Ky Veli—and her gaze flashed to the blade. She blinked, glancing back to his face, and a muscle below her left eye twitched. The fog of confusion lifted from her in an instant, and in the next she had swooped down and up again and fled across the hall, leaving a loud metallic clatter in her wake.
It took Ember several seconds to realize she had scooped up a handful of rusty coins and jewels and thrown them in the siren's face.
The beast stood utterly still, blinking rapidly at Ember.
A trickle of thin blackish blood oozed down the bridge of his nose…
Ky was chanting foreign words, quick and quiet, and they roused Ember from what remained of the siren's spell. His unsteady legs carried him across the ocean of coins, and he swung Fishbiter at the ghoulish specter.
It dodged his blow with a feral hiss that scattered Ky's words like leaves in the autumn.
"No!" he rasped. "Fifteen thousand strong could not pry it from their mortal hands! What hope have you, Mohe’na? You cannot betray me! We are bound forever!"
A faint whine rose above his words, but Ember could not tear his eyes from the skulking beast.
"No wretched she-whelp shall steal what I have bled and died for a hundred times over in vain! Lies, lies, all lies. Too long I have hungered… they denied me my birthright." The siren gave a low and pitious moan, fell voice rattling deep within his sunken chest, and for a moment a profound sorrow washed over Ember—not an understanding in the clearest sense, but a reckoning with the color of his words.
Helpless tears streamed down his cheeks.
The creature turned to him and its hollow face twisted, freezing him in place.
"So be it!" roared the siren, pointing an imperious bejeweled finger at Ember. He gulped in a breath and denied his twitching nerves, denied his shaking muscles—denied this wicked thing its wish to sup his blood—and slashed at that gnarled hand with all his might.
He effortlessly dodged the inexperienced blow, catching Ember's wrist in cold, bony fingers.
They were soft and dry—dry as dust.
Ember choked as the monster wrenched his arm, and Fishbiter clanged uselessly against the pile.
A smoldering light burned deep in the siren's empty eye socket, and he put out his bluish tongue like a snake, reaching for Ember's throat with clawed fingers. Rotten breath swept over him, pinning him in place.
The mountain hushed all other sound, ringing with the clear echoes of that pure, musical summons.
Ky stood at the very top of the treasure trove beside the makeshift throne, a few jewels trickling down behind her from a sudden scramble. Her chest heaved, but she spread out her arms and flaunted her shapely figure as best she could.
Noble and pitiful, brimming with a lusty innocence—as much a living contradiction as ever she had been. Ember thought his heart should stop. In that moment, she appeared to him as a queen… an ancient royal from a bygone age, arrayed in a cloak of thick black hair and the threadbare attire of a boy. Fleeting mischief sparked in her gaze as she caught his attention, and vanished as the siren's head snapped toward her.
Smoothing her hands along her jerkin, Ky sniffed once and blinked down at him, murmuring three short words in the siren tongue that set Ember's blood afire. He could not understand them, but their meaning was clear enough.
Come and take me… if you dare.
The siren stared at her a moment longer, shuddering and shivering and growling and twitching his ragged ears, and then snatched up Fishbiter's silvery hilt with a savage cry and lifted the sword above Ember's head.
The blade shimmered and flashed to life, like a fish leaping from the water and sparkling in the sunlight.
Ky released a screech the likes of which Ember had never heard in his life, and wished never to hear again. He sat bolt upright, freed from the unholy breath of the beast. The siren likewise turned at once, slashing Fishbiter aside and narrowly missing Ember's throat. They moved as one, both caught by her enchantment.
Ember had no time to unsling his spear.
He reached for a broken blade jutting out of the mound, but the other siren roared—a bellow that swelled until it reached such trembling depths and terrible heights that the whole room quaked with it. Treasure toppled from the pile and Ky staggered, her face contorted, crying out words that Ember could not hear…
For his hands were pressed firmly over his ears, and the scene had erupted into stars and dapples of blinding sunlight. The immense pain sent the white-hot illusions snapping across his field of vision, hiding both sirens from his view.
And then—with a sharp pop—
The world went silent around him.
But the pain did not stop and Ember went on screaming, his voice a nothingness, a breath in the void, drowned by power of the creatures that surrounded him. He was lost—she was lost—they were all of them, lost.
Warm liquid trickled through his fingers.
He tried to open his eyes, but the tears reduced his vision to a dark blur.
Ember twitched toward the broken blade as darkness swallowed him whole.
He fought against it with all the willpower he had left, but it came for him anyway, and with it a measure of relief—though he cursed himself—for the blackness banished the unbearable anguish. His fingers relaxed on his ears and he pressed his face against the cold stone. But the fear, the dread, the twisted shrieks pursued him deep into that shadowy abyss…
Relentless and all-consuming.
Ember slowly uncurled himself, prying his hands from his ears and dry-swallowing. He forced his eyes open and stared listlessly at his fingers, which were sticky with half-dried blood.
His head ached horribly, and a sharp pain stabbed deep in his ears with every heartbeat. A vague remembrance that he had been involved in some sort of skirmish disturbed his mental calm, but all was still and quiet; he took three deep breaths.
He had been reaching for a weapon.
Ember instinctively twisted around to grasp his spear, rapping his knuckles against a metal goblet. It tipped and rolled across a few scattered coins.
He heard nothing.
I'm deaf, was his first thought, followed shortly after by, Ky! No—agh, confound it all—
Breathing hard and fast, Ember rocked to his knees.
More coins skittered across the floor.
The two sirens were nowhere to be seen.
He called out Ky's name before realizing that he would never hear her response, and stomped his foot on the ground, biting out a few frustrated oaths. No Fishbiter, no Ky, and no way to find them.
His head swam.
Don't panic. Think, Ember, think—the door!
Ky had always been a predator in his eyes – the fox in the bushes – but now she was the frightened rabbit instead. He had to guess her escape route immediately, and he had to be right. All the worst things that could possibly be happening to Ky flashed through his mind.
There was no time to make a mistake.
Whispering a quick prayer for courage that was lost to the stifling silence, he shouldered the spear and scrambled up the pile as quickly as he could, hand over white-knuckled hand. Bits and pieces of abandoned treasures were wrenched loose as he ascended, tumbling soundlessly out of sight behind him.
When he reached the top, relief surged through him at the sight of the buried door: the hoard of gems and trinkets had been disturbed near the top, and the shallow furrow considerably widened.
They had gone this way.
He slid down the other side of the pile, grasped his spear again, crouched, and inhaled deeply as if he were about to dive into a cold river.
There was no light in the hall; the cramped tunnel faded into darkness.
No time, no time.
Swallowing a lump of fear, Ember plunged headfirst through the doorway, wriggling down the shifting slope with the wooden spear before him and the treasure tumbling after.
I write fantasy, historical fiction, and occasionally a blend of the two. SONG OF EMBER is a high fantasy tale that will be updated whenever I have new content edited! I posted the first draft on fictionpress years ago; if perchance you have seen it there previously, my hope is that this will be an improved reading experience!
Currently writing the sequel, but it will not be posted until I am finished with my edits for Book 1. Thanks for stopping by my page - I hope you find something you like, and stick around.
You can find me on Pinterest @ awritersdelight!
(Be wary of spoilers on my storyboards, though.)