The Touch of Song

By: J. Anne Mauck

(Originally appeared in EDL 2-8: the first fiction to appear in EDL)

The sun was resting on the highest peak on the mountain near my home the evening I went for a walk and did not return. This sounds misleading, however, and I need to set the record straight, even though it has been over one hundred years.

I knew all the stories of the Horrors. I even had cause to believe some of them, having actually seen one during an attack near my village. My dear brother died defending us. It saddened me to watch him fight with the scythe as if he were a master of the blade when he was really only three years older than I with no more experience in battle than in the field. At the time, I did not find it strange that I was so emotionally devoid. It wasn't until my brother's funeral that I realized something was wrong.

I loved my brother. He was my mentor, my playmate, and a co-conspirator. There was nothing that we could not talk about. And when he died at the young age of 18, I should have mourned him.

I could not. There were no tears to fall, no screams of injustice to rip from my throat. Those belonged to my mother as we watched the body burn on the pyre. More than once she screamed my name, and flailed about searching for me. "Milya, where are you! Don't leave me!" He was not the only one to die that day, but he is the only one I remember.

A week later, the sunset was a beautiful rosy color, with shades of glowing orange and fading, finally, to the violet blue of twilight. I walked alone just inside the tree-line, not wishing to see anyone, lest they insist on offering their comforts. Again. I cannot begin to tell you how tired I had become of their condolences, the outpouring of emotion was disgusting to me. It still is.

As I walked, I heard singing. It was a beautiful tune which brought the first tear to my eye since the day my brother died. I sought out the voice. The more I heard it, the more I longed to find its source. The sound began to filter into my veins and soon it began to burn within me.

Though I could not hear the words, I could feel its intent. The music was safe, inviting, and more beautiful than anything I had ever heard before. I found a stream, deep in the woods, that I had never seen before. I'm sure, now, that I had known it was there, but it seemed unfamiliar at the time.

I washed my face, neck, and arms in that cool water. I wanted the burning to disappear. The need to find the woman, for I knew it was a woman's voice, was driving me onward. The water of the stream was delicious, but it didn't seem to quench my thirst at all. Just as I finished drinking, I looked up and saw the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.

She had hair like the sun, golden and glowing, which flowed down to her feet as she sat on a rock, her skin was bronze like the Scavians and seemed to also glow. Her eyes were as blue as the deep sea and she seemed to be straight from the tales the Scavian pirates told of women on islands in the sea who tempt men to there deaths. She could not be a Horror herself, I thought. No Horror could be so beautiful, nor could one be the source of such beautiful music. Yet there she was and I was bewitched.

She beckoned to me. It seemed natural. I waded across the stream to her where I took her hand. Her hand was colder than ice and when I touched her, I froze. Part of my response was fear, part of it was an overwhelming desire to become her. Actually, it was the instantaneous effect of her touch. I could no longer sense the world around me. The entirety of my universe was her.

When I next became aware, I was no longer in the woods, by a stream, or even near the mountains I had once called home. I was not afraid, and there was no burning desire to hear the music again. I felt strange, as if I had been asleep for decades. I was no longer me, in fact, I could no longer remember my name.

There was a reflecting pool nearby. I looked into it, expecting to find a knot on my head, or a cut -- some kind of wound that would explain the strange ache in my soul. The woman who returned my gaze was not me either. I had shoulder length dark hair, and brown eyes. The woman looking back at me had golden hair and blue eyes. She imitated my movements exactly. My hair was longer, I could feel that. I pulled the thick braid I felt on my back over my shoulder. It was golden blonde and my hand was a finely tanned bronze.

It struck me that I was not Milya anymore. The cause of the ache must have been the result of a massive change in my pattern. It struck me, then, that patterns and magic were not things I had a working knowledge of. I had been changed. And it did not bother me at all.

The woman who had touched me approached from the shadows to my left. "Greetings, my child. Do not be afraid. I am a friend." I told her I was not afraid. She smiled at that, looking as beautiful as she had when I had gone to her. "You will never feel fear again. I knew I had chosen well." Chosen? I wanted to ask her what she meant by that since it seemed to me that I had been coerced, but I knew she would tell me that all my questions would wait and that all would be clear in time. She said some words I felt I understood, or rather that I should understand. It was a blessing of sorts and I felt at peace. And with that, she left me, turning back only once before the shadows to say, "You have need of no one now, my child. Go and learn who you are." And since that day, I have seen no one like her. Or like myself.

Now, I am still a golden blonde woman with eyes like the deepest sea. I appear to most people to be a beautiful Scavian human following the Troubadour tradition. My voice is like a call to all who hear it.

I know I should feel some emotions from time to time. I especially believe that I should feel some guilt for leaving my mother as I did. What woman could stand losing both of her children in one week. And there was no body for her to mourn for me. I visited my village once, several years later. My home stood abandoned. I asked my aunt, who was now thirty years older than my fondest memories of her, what had happened. I learned of my mother's fate.

She had died of grief only months after her daughter disappeared. Since her husband had been long gone, her children were all she had left. After her funeral, the villagers opted to leave her house empty, lest a similar fate befall them. I was not allowed to enter the house.

My Name is now Sylaina, the fourth I have been called in this new life. I can manipulate the hearts of all peoples, control the lives and deaths of men, and transform young girls who are drawn to me. I have known many others of my kind, we call ourselves the siriene, and, like myself, none feel any emotion to excess.

It's strange, though. I feel as though I am finally myself. And though it has taken these one hundred years, I am finally in complete control. I have become who I feel I was always meant to be. Though I am not sure my transcendence is worth the price of emotion.