Chain of Fools I
The Siren's Fount
By Rebecca McKenzie
AKA Kationah Rosalette in Dark Ages
"It's beautiful, isn't it?"
The silvery voice cut through Atrin's conciseness like a knife, tearing him away from his dream-like state and back to reality. The young Monk spun around instinctively to face the voice's owner.
Instead of some horrible foe, he found himself face to face with the single most gorgeous woman he had ever seen in his entire life. Her face, her form, the very aura about her, was absolutely flawless to him. The girl smiled and laughed airily, the simple actions making her already radiant facial features seem ablaze in their beauty.
She gazed at him thoughtfully with eyes like pools of sheer sapphire. She tilted her head quizzically in that moment, the rivers of her golden hair cascading around her slender arms.
"Well? Don't you think so?"
"Oh... Y-yes." Atrin was barely able to choke up the simple words. "Very... beautiful."
It was true; their surroundings were breathtaking in their magnificent grace and composure. It was a glade that could have been like any other a traveler would find in such a sea of woodlands, but everything about it, no matter how small the detail, somehow set it apart. Even Every single tree seemed to play a vital role to this uncanny glade's appearance, making all seem more like a Master Artist's handiwork than to anything nature could hope to produce. It was, in a word, flawless.
Yet by far, it was the lake the two stood at, that proved most intriguing of all to the weary Monk. After seemingly endless hours of walking through that maze of wood, he somehow found himself in this strange clearing, even if he was minus the companionship and protection of his other hunting members. The very moment he had laid eyes upon the pool, all thought of his being lost was forgotten, leaving him instead filled with a sense of peace, even ecstasy. It was something he never would have thought he could ever feel just from a simple lake.
Aside from the crystalline waters, the rays of sunlight that danced upon the surface, or the soothing rustle of the wind throughout the scene, a mysterious structure at the center of the lake proved the most wonderful of all.
A statue, carved with utmost care in every detail, was placed precariously in the exact center. It depicted an Angel, standing with upraised hands as if reaching out to the heavens above. At each side of its feet were two stone cherubs, each one hold a vase from which streams of the silvery water flowed out from and into the lake.
It seemed almost as if the lake had been made to look like a giant fountain. Odder still, the grand angel that graced the waters, look strikingly... no identically like the girl that now stood beside him.
The girl uttered a soft laugh upon the very instant Atrin realized this. "I take it you noticed the stature."
"Yes... It look so much like--"
"Like me?" The girl smiled.
"Yes," Atrin stammered. "Just like you!"
The girl smiled once again to his explanation, her face rarely seemed to be without one now. Pushing her golden hair back from upon her shoulders, she herself finally looked to the magnificent structure with an expression of simple indifference. "Strange," She said. "Not many travelers realize the similarity so soon."
"Oh?" Atrin raised a quizzical eyebrow. "There have been others here?"
"Of course there have!" Surprisingly, the girl's smile faded as she spoke. "But lately there haven't been so many." She looked to the ground below sadly. "It's such a pity too, I get so terribly lonely..." She shook her lovely head slowly and sighed, thus allowing her golden hair to fall once more around her shoulders as before.
Atrin found his gaze wander over the fountain lake; nothing made sense to him anymore, yet at the same time it was all so perfectly clear. He didn't understand it.
Finally, his gaze returned back to the mysterious girl. "So... You live here?"
She nodded solemnly. "Yes..."
"Oh..." Atrin sighed. "I guess it would get lonely here then..."
The idea she could live here, just in this glade, seemed odd to him, yet who was he to question her? She looked well in both health, and most certainly in appearance if that. It was not his place to ask yet even as he played with the thoughts in his head several times over, he found he could not help but look to her again. She was very much like her surroundings, perfect to him in every way. In some faint aspects, those, which appeared small but significant in every glance to her, Atrin could not shake the feeling that he reminded her of a girl he had known years ago. It was a silly idea, but her every facial feature, even in the faintest traces, looked very much like a young tailor's daughter whom had shrugged away his advances quite often in his boyhood.
"Is something wrong?" Atrin found those gorgeous eyes were again focused heavily upon him.
"What? Oh... It's nothing..." The Monk shook his head as if disagreeing with his own words. The girl saw this, and wasted no time in moving closer to him.
"You know," She said in the faintest of whispers. "It's been very rude of me to talk so much, and never even give you my name.
"Your... name?" Atrin murmured.
"Yes, my name!" The girl laughed. "I do have one you know... It's Lorelei."
Her silvery words, even though they were only of a late introduction, were like music to Atrin's tired ears. It seemed as if every time the girl, Lorelei, opened her mouth that the simplest of phrases she uttered send him into a sweet trance of ecstasy. It was becoming so that Atrin direly wished she would speak again. He felt as though addicted to her very voice. Lorelei smiled once again, how incredibly lovely she looked!
"So then, stranger." Lorelei giggled. "Who might you be?"
"M-me?" Atrin felt all thoughts flutter from his mind. "Oh... Yes. I-it's Atrin."
Lorelei playfully skipped a few feet away from him. "Ah! Well then!" She smiled. "So now that we're properly introduced... what's troubling you, Atrin?"
What could he possibly tell her? The words had fled from his lips, he barely even managed to tell her his name! Atrin froze at the simple question, to tell her he was fine would be a lie, and he could never dream of lying to such a lovely creature. He mulled through his options again and again in his mind, not realizing the two were left in silence during all this time. Lorelei stood by patiently nonetheless, her slender arms folded elegantly behind her back, and her sapphire eyes watching him with the utmost intent.
Finally, after working up the courage, Atrin said the only thing he knew he could. "It's nothing really, you don't have to worry."
It was a wonder Lorelei even kept her patience with him. His answers were blurted out with nary a thought before they left his trembling lips.
"Oh." Was all Lorelei replied with. She took a few graceful steps away from him, turning and swaying it what look to be a mimicking of the water's moves and the tree branches stirring in the wind. This could have lasted only a minute, perhaps only a few seconds, yet the silence was a horrid eternity to Atrin. Had she known? Did she think ill of him for such an answer? Immediately, he began planning excuses for his own terse words.
Lorelei, however, did not allow him the time to conjure an apology. She turned, very suddenly, from her silent, dancing pace. Pushing her unruly blonde hair from her face as before, she flashed him a now soothingly reassuring smile.
"You don't have to worry, Atrin. It's alright. Really. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
Her eyes were full of thought as she spoke, leaving Atrin to wonder what the reason of that was. Before he realized it, he had already rushed up to her side. "No, really! I insist! I can tell--"
There was no chance to finish. Lorelei placed a fragile hand to his lips, cutting him off mid sentence. "Hush now." She whispered softly. "I insist that you not worry of it."
Atrin smiled, it was the first time he had since his sudden episode of being lost and then found in the glade. Lorelei too, seemed comforted, calmer than before. Drawing the cool touch of her hand away, she caressed his face a final time before lowering it to take his own hand in hers.
She began to walk towards the fountain pool, playfully dragging Atrin along after her. "Come now... I want to show you this."
He followed behind her with no objection whatsoever. Her grasp, as gentle as it was, felt as firm as iron around his hand, and just as cold. By comparison, it made Atrin's own feel as though on fire. Just as he had begun to think of this, he saw that they were both waist deep in the cool water, Lorelei still slowly leading him along further into the pool. They had come to the statues in the center, which now as no surprise, were twice as perfect and lovely as they had seemed from the shore. The cherubs had cheerful smiles upon their faces, their gentle stone curls looking as if they could be stirred by the wind.
The Angelic figure itself was the crowning piece to not only the fountain statues, but the entire glade itself. It seemed as if this holy form was radiating with light, making it calming and pleasant to be near, as well as look at. It was indeed, crafted to look like Lorelei, the only difference being the heavenly wings that were outspread and ready for flight. Just like the cherubs, it truly looked to be alive.
Lorelei, clearly seeing his awe, laughed softly in her bell like voice. "I thought you'd like it."
"It's wonderful." Atrin gasped. "So lifelike, so perfect."
Again, the magnificent beauty laughed, though this time even softer than before. "Be proud, Atrin. I've never once showed this to anyone else up close.
"Oh?" He looked to her, though his gaze was not met. Lorelei was instead staring off into a distance dreamily.
She didn't turn, but nodded her head slowly to confirm his question.
"No one else... No one..."
Atrin moved slowly closer to Lorelei when she spoke. Even the splash of the water around his feet sounded soft and mournful. Unable to think of any better, more proper way to condole her, he took Lorelei in his arms. She did not pull away, nor did she look to him in surprise. She simply followed his lead, and came into his gentle grasp. Laying her head close to his, a faint smile returned to her face finally.
In that instant, the feeling of the water around his legs seemed to melt away. It felt as if instead, they were floating in mid air. Lorelei resting lightly in Atrin's arms, and Atrin running his fingers slowly through her golden hair in a soothing rhythm. It was all to perfect.
By the same token, the tranquil moment didn't last.
A piercing, desperate cry shattered the glade's silence, and Atrin's own solace.
"A-a-a-trin!" He recognized the caller the very second it resounded through the glade. It was Lyle, the Priest of the group he had been separated from. Atrin pulled away from Lorelei briskly, turning to face the direction his voice had come from. Lorelei, in turn, grabbed the arm closest to her, gesturing for him to come back to her with a gentle tug. Torn between his party members and this woman, he turned again to face her.
Her eyes were brimming with tears. "Atrin, don't go." She pleaded him. "Stay with me."
"I... I can't..." He protested wearily, there was no way around it. "They're my friends, I know they're worried. Lorelei, I'm sorry, I have to go! They're searching for me as it is!"
Lorelei's lips trembled, before Atrin could act she simply burst into tears of both sadness, and bitterness. "Forget them!" She wailed, her pained voice sounding much different from the cheerful song like tone of before.
"Don't you see! You don't need them! If they really cared, they would not have let you get lost in the first place!"
"I can't just desert them!" Atrin snapped, the anger rising in him from her childish begging.
"What will you gain then?!" Lorelei demanded, now equally angry. "I can offer you everything! Unending peace, eternal happiness! All you have to do, is stay here with me..." She brushed away her tears, and her face softened. "Stay here... always..."
Atrin shook his head violently. "You don't understand! I just can't! I can't throw my life away for this!"
"ATRIN! ANSWER US!" Another voice. This time from Corayn, his Warrior companion. Any longer here, and they would surely pass him by, leaving him stranded in the forest with no other escape. Lorelei too, saw this, and as a sign to it, her hold on his arm tightened.
Atrin pulled away from her desperate clutch again, even taking a few steps towards the banks of the pool. She was back upon him again before he had taken so much as two steps away.
It was clear she would not let him return to his friends so easily, her grasp was painfully more firm this time.
"Atrin!" Lorelei hissed. "Make this your life!!"
He fought against her grasp defiantly, though she held him fast. Tightening her grip, she dug her nails into his skin. Droplets of blood followed, right before the sharp stab of pain that rocked him.
She was so strong! It was too uncanny!
"Lorelei, don't you understand!" He cried. "This isn't the way! My life is my life..." He hesitated. "So I'm going, now!"
He tore away from her, pushing her back with such force that she was sent reeling backwards into the statue. Taking his only chance, Atrin ran from her as best he could, the waters were too deep to do so very quickly. Frantically, he pressed against it, the shoreline, and further the opening back to the forest, seemed like impossible goals to him now.
With barely any strength to do so, Atrin splashed and kicked through the deep liquid. He was halfway to the shore before his path was cut off. Lorelei was directly in front him. Just the same, and to his shock, she was directly above him. The water dripped from her dress from where she hovered. Tears were visibly pouring down her face, though her look was that filled with sheer malice and desperation.
"I asked you to stay!!" She shrieked. "You didn't have to make me do this!"
Lorelei raised her hands high upwards to the heavens, her stance eerily similar to that of the angel statue's. Tendrils of water sprung up from the pool immediately after the simple action. Coil after coil rose from the silvery liquid, rising around him in all directions, towering above at impossible heights.
"We can be together!" Lorelei wailed over the roar of the churning waters. "You and me! Always!"
She thrust her reach down and outward in his direction. The clear tentacles fell upon the instant. With blinding speed they sped towards Atrin. His only path out was still in sight, the chances were near impossible, but Atrin saw what he had to do. It was, as he saw it, the only thing he could do.
In his final burst of strength, Atrin flung himself forward out of the water, never had his training as a Monk aided him as now! He dove back to the water, directly under the base of the nearest of Lorelei's water tendrils. The current all about was powerful and furious, but this was to his advantage. With all the energy he could muster, Atrin flung himself upward through the water, and directly into the whirling cyclone of current.
The force was enough to crush him, yet seeing as it was upwards, it simply rammed him upwards with incredible force. In the blink of an eye, if he could even manage to blink within the water, Atrin found himself thirty feet in the air, and swirling directly in the center of the tentacle's water. His every muscle aching with protest and agony, his entire body still being churned and tossed about within the tentacle's swirling, Atrin pushed himself out with all the force he had left.
It was enough.
And, being airborne and moving at a breakneck speed towards the wall of trees ahead, Atrin's first reaction was to scream. Which, of course, he did, right before slamming into one of them. Dazed, shaken, and incredibly weakened, he pulled himself back up to his feet, realizing he now stood on solid ground. Even better, just feet from the opening leading back into the woods.
"NO!!" Lorelei screamed.
"Ha, ha!" Atrin crowed ecstatically. "YES!!"
He raced in a mad dash for the passage, when in that same moment he could hear the roar of the tentacles behind him as Lorelei forced them after him. Their din came louder and louder within the second, but Atrin was already staggering as fast as he could manage for the simple opening. Finally, he leapt for it, though he could feel the spirals of water reeling closer to him. He sailed past the trees, even if he had jumped only a few short feet. He landed with a dull thud amidst the foliage of the forest beyond the natural doorway. He turned just in time to see the liquid tentacles crashing towards him. Just as he had before, he screamed.
The water crashed away just inches from where Atrin had fallen. Yet even stranger still, they washed away as if they had slammed into a wall. Not a drop made it beyond the glade's edge. He was safe once past that opening, he blessedly saw. Silently he watched as the water, as if accepting its defeat, slunk away back into the pool. Lorelei was still there, hovering above the water. She only stared at him silently, her anger was gone, but instead a blank look was upon her face.
"So, this is the 'paradise' you spoke of, 'Trin?" Lyle scoffed. "You sure you don't mean wasteland?"
The three stood at the edge of the glade, the very one Atrin had nearly been forced to stay in for all eternity as Lorelei's prisoner.
Only now, it was immensely different from the beautiful scene he had been of awe of before. The trees within the glade looked dead and rotting, their bare branches reaching outwards as if they were the arms of a thousand lost souls begging for solace. The crystalline pool which had nearly led to Atrin's drowning, was now nothing more than a pit of mud, puddles of disgusting water dotted the surface of it, but that was all to be had.
"I-I don't understand!" Atrin frowned. "I swear to you, it was all here! Everything! The fountain, Lorelei, and--"
"You know you shouldn't swear, Atrin." Corayn chuckled.
"Ah, whatever. You were probably just worn out. Hallucinating, even dreaming." Lyle offered, giving him a swift pat on the back.
"We may as well look around." Said Corayn. "There must be something worth interest here."
As he looked closer to the disturbing glade about the fountain, Atrin saw the must horrific change of all was the statue. It had not been crumbled away, nor had it been covered in decay like the rest of the clearing. In fact, it still stood, otherwise untouched by the massive change in scenery. The difference now was its' very appearance, which nearly caused Atrin to fall backwards out of pure shock.
The delicate carving no longer depicted a gorgeous angel reaching for the heavens, but a horrific feminine demon, its' bat like wings outstretched in an impressive yet frightening stance outwards from the rest of its horrible form. The cherubs, who had been cheerful holders of the ever-flowing stone pitchers, were now grotesque imps, with mocking facial features. They still held the pitchers, yet instead of the pure water which had flowed from them, they now poured outwards with gruesome streams of blood. The crimson, even odder, simply evaporated as it fell upon the mud.
However, its' face, though terribly distorted in this new demonic form, clearly appeared sad, even mournful. Atrin saw why as he gazed fell downward, to the statue's base.
At the center of the stone base was a figure, demonic and twisted in every way and shape, just like the statue huddled over it was. It did not move, nor did the ghastly chest rise in fall in breathing. It couldn't, the reason was painfully clear why now.
Driven straight through the heart was a branch torn from one of the very tress above. The gnarled limb stood stock straight towards the sky, as if forming a crude beacon to mark this horrible death. And though it was a demon that lay slain at the statue's base, the Monk was nearly driven to tears by the sight.
Atrin, still nearly knee deep in the mud of the warped pool, dropped to his knees in pure shock and terror.
"Well, look'it that..." Corayn gasped, cautiously moving closer to where Atrin crouched. "Never seen anything like this before..."
"Looks like suicide..." Lyle observed coldly. Atrin hadn't realized the Priest too had joined them until he spoke then.
"S-suicide?" Atrin echoed weakly, his eyes did not waver from the demon's corpse ahead of them. He felt a warm hand gently fall upon his shoulder. It was of course Lyle, though the action seemed more as a means of bracing himself up than to comfort Atrin. He didn't care either way, he couldn't so much as move a single muscle now.
"Yes." Lyle confirmed grimly from where he stood above. "See, the hands are clutching onto the branch, it must have drove that branch it itself. By its own will..."
"B-by...I..It's own... will..." Atrin echoed breathlessly.
"Well, there is one thing I know for certain." Lyle announced cryptically. "If you had hung around much longer, you'd have been Harpy food, Atrin."
"What food?" The dazed Monk echoed.
"You know, harpies? Sirens? The demonic temptresses? All those legends?"
"I never thought they were true.." Atrin muttered.
Lyle pointed to the demon's corpse. "There's your proof. She was just buttering you up the whole time."
"The whole time...?" Atrin repeated the words aloud, though he still could not believe it.
"I'll be..." Corayn murmured. "Wonder what drove that thing to killing itself then."
"I think I might have an idea..." Atrin whispered gravely.
"And what's that?" Lyle sneered.
Atrin shook his head, rising up to his feet slowly, and shrugging off Lyle's touch just the same. "Never mind it," He murmured. "Let's just go home... It's late anyway."
The others agreed, having no reason or desire to stay around the morose clearing, they filled out one by one. Lyle and Corayn seemed thankful to depart this terrifying sight, their steps were rushed and awkward even as they headed for the passage leading out.
Atrin paused at the clearing's edge, staring silently at the demon's lifeless body even as his companions walked on. The thought of what all this meant truly terrified him to the depths of his very soul. Could it be that Lorelei had simply meant to kill him in the first place?
No. That couldn't be, she was sincere in her pleading for him to stay. Or was he just so enchanted by here that he thought she was sincere. None of it made sense anymore. As if it ever did.
Perhaps that time, she wanted things to be different. Perhaps, that one time, she wanted to be loved, to no longer be alone in her secluded lair. Had he made a mistake by leaving her? Or was it a move that ultimately save his life? His mind and heart were utterly torn amongst these thoughts. A part of him said it was the right thing to do, one less demon in the world. Another part said it was murder, pushing her away when she for once honestly need the company and love.
Atrin shook his head roughly to clear his mind. Only then did he realize he was openly crying.
He had refused this siren woman's love either way, and it had, quite literally, broke her heart. She would not be dead now if that weren't the case
The Monk hesitantly wiped the tears from his face, there was no way he would explain this to his companions, nor would he. Slowly moving on ahead to join them, he paused again at the opening back into the wood. Once more, unable to resist doing so, he looked to the lonely corpse now far ahead. The night winds picked up as he stood in the silence of this forsaken glade. Gently, it stirred his wet, matted hair. Again, he thought of her face, though he now knew it had only an illusion, he could not hope to force it from his mind. He didn't consciously remember opening his mouth, though by the time he realized, the hushed words had already been said.
"Lorelei..." He whispered. "I'm sorry..."
There was no answer save the distant, mournful howl of the winds.