Staring at the Sun

Icarus, the mortal who flew too high. Apollo, the god who fell too hard. Aoide, the siren tired of singing.

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5. FIVE

    Icarus waited until the siren disappeared, and then he wasted no time. From the moment he lit the lamp, he began thinking, planning, mapping the metal and glass with his slender fingers. There was a joint here and a crack there, a seam where he could wedge a rock. He had the sheepskin from the food, wrapped with thin leather ties. Metal, glass, leather. A plan was already forming in his mind.

    It was difficult to tear apart the lamp given that he had to blow out the fire to do it. His eager fingertips burned where they met hot glass, but Icarus withdrew for only a second before trying again. The grooves widened under his fingers, pulled apart with firm but gentle force. Icarus worked with touch, the vision of the lamp as it was and the lamp as it should be held side by side in his mind. He merely did as came naturally - he transferred what he saw in his mind’s eye to his hands, manipulating the pieces and fitting them together in new ways.

    All an inventor is, a man’s voice said in some hazy memory that flashed through Icarus’s mind, is a channel to transform mental to physical. Anyone can have ideas. Only inventors can make them reality.

    Icarus’s hands stilled on his project. Like feathers through his fingers, the words slipped from his mind. He couldn’t place the phrase, or the voice. He had no context for reference, but something tugged at his gut. Nostalgia, maybe, or longing. Loss.

    A wave crashed onto the rocks, spraying Icarus with cool water. He shook himself. There was work to be done. As soon as he had completed the first phase of his project, Icarus lit the newly created lamp - a fully functional base stripped of anything non-essential to providing light. Those extra bits of metal and glass lay in a half circle around Icarus, who sat cross-legged and surveyed them. Eyebrows creased in concentration, he fashioned the longest, sharpest pieces into a rudimentary weapon, the soft sheepskin and leather ties both binding the pieces and serving as a grip.

    It was a few hours before Icarus was satisfied and finally let himself recline against the damp rock and rest for a moment. There was so much to take in, so much to process, and he didn’t know where to start. His fingers itched for something else to tear apart, to put back together. To rebuild and renew.Something to keep his mind off of everything else.

    After taking a few bites of the cheese, Icarus let his eyes drift closed. He wasn’t sure when the last time he slept was. He wasn’t sure of much, really, other than his own name and information whose source he couldn’t place. He knew of the sirens, but couldn’t remember where he had learned of them. Books? A teacher? Storytellers?

    Who was Icarus in the outside world?

    Icarus’s head hurt just thinking of the life he was missing. Was someone out there looking for him now? Icarus gazed up at the ceiling of the cave, a dark, damp, rocky sky. He hoped there was.

    The waves rolled in again, and Icarus turned his thoughts to the siren- Aoide. Aoide. Her reasons for bringing him here were a mystery still. He had almost drowned on the way to this cave; it would have been easy for her to hold him there in that strong grip, to never let him taste the air again. And yet, here he was. Cold, damp, alone, but alive. Fed, even.

    Perhaps in the life that Icarus couldn’t remember he was someone important. Perhaps he was someone worth saving.

    And perhaps not.

    Either way, Aoide hadn’t let him die. Icarus pondered this as he turned the weapon over and over in his hand. She had helped him. She hadn’t been the most friendly towards him, but she had not been unkind. And yet, Icarus couldn’t help but think of all the sailors she had killed before him. We always have a choice. It put him on edge, made him wary. Icarus didn’t want to hurt her, he knew. But neither was he going to die in the dark.

    The steady ebb and flow of the tide lulled Icarus to sleep sometime after his thoughts had lost their thread. His grip on the weapon loosened as he slept, and he didn’t wake when it was eased from his grip. What did wake him was something wet against his leg. Icarus startled awake, jumping into an instinctive crouch. “What-” he stopped.

    Aoide surveyed the weapon, her gaze unreadable. Her slender legs were stretched out almost unnaturally, pulled tight at the ankle and stretching towards the water. She wasted only a moment in slipping back into the waves, leaving only her upper body exposed. “What is this?” Aoide asked. She didn’t sound angry, but it was hard to tell. With sirens, truth was an elusive thing.

    Icarus stared at her, his sleep-addled brain struggling to catch up. Even when it did, all he managed was a choked, “I’m sorry.”

    “You planned to threaten me.” Aoide’s voice was neutral, but certain.

    “I’m sorry,” Icarus said again. Was it fear or guilt that tightened his throat? “I just can’t stay down here. In the dark, in the cold, there’s no light, no sun…” He felt his breaths grow short. The damp air seemed to lack enough oxygen to breathe, instead choking and suffocating him. Drowning him. “I can’t stay here.”

    Aoide’s eyes were bright in the semi-darkness. “I wish you did not feel the need to resort to violence. I have no wish to hurt you.”

    Icarus wrapped his arms around his knees. “Being down here is hurting me.”

    There was a moment where the only sounds were the waves beating the rocks, and the rocks refusing to budge. “Then I will take you to the surface,” Aoide decided.

    “What?” Icarus asked, his tone betraying his surprise.

    “I do not wish to hurt you. I do not wish to kill you. I thought the mystery of you might provide me some entertainment for a while, but I see that was selfish of me.” Her tail swished in the water, making small little ripples in the waves. “If you wish to go to the surface, I will take you.”

    Icarus let out a breath. “Thank you.”

    Aoide was still staring at him. “I apologize for your discomfort.”

    All of a sudden, Icarus felt ashamed. She hadn’t hurt him, she had brought him food and a lamp. She seemed genuine in her intentions. And he had tried to threaten her. “No- no. I’m the one who should apologize,” Icarus said.

    After another moment of silence, Aoide spoke again. “If we go, we should go now. Night has just fallen above the water, and few ships brave the passage in the darkness. The sirens will rest, but a few will stand guard. We must avoid them.”

    “Are you not allowed to be seen with me?”

    Aoide didn’t meet Icarus’s eyes. “I do not want to hurt you. They have no such wishes.”

    “Why are you different?”

    Closing her eyes, Aoide looked wearier than when she had brought him here earlier. “I am tired. I am tired of deception and hurt and guilt. You do not deserve death even if I do.”

    Icarus felt something settle in the pit of his stomach. Who was he that Aoide should risk anything for him? “Is that what will happen if they catch you?”

    Glancing back at him, Aoide’s lip twitched into a smile. “Do not let it concern you. We will not let them.” Icarus felt a thrill of anticipation or trepidation or excitement run through him. Aoide looked towards the mouth of the cave. Before sinking under the water, Aoide instructed, “Gather whatever you wish to take. Be ready.”

    Icarus was ready. He had been since the moment they arrived in this cold, dark cave. The air was stifling like a heavy blanket of darkness leaching into Icarus’s skin. He had to get out and feel the sun on his skin and the wind in his hair and the sand under his feet. He had to make sure he was real, that this was real, and that the past day hadn’t been some horrific dream.

    After wrapping up what remained of the food, Icarus tied the little pouch to his braided rope belt and waited on the rocks for Aoide to return. It wasn’t long before the water rippled, parted, bore her to the surface. “Come.”

    Her hand was cold to the touch, but Icarus took it anyway. She pulled him into the water, pausing only so he could suck in a lungful of air before her powerful tail propelled them out from the cave. The sea was dark, and it rushed by Icarus in a flash. Just as the pressure began to ease, Aoide pulled them both to an abrupt stop.

    Icarus’s lungs burned, and he fought the urge to gasp for air that he knew he would not find. He thrashed a little in the water, pulling towards the surface, but Aoide’s hand was like iron around his wrist. Her gaze was off in the distance, but Icarus could see nothing.

    He was going to die.

    She had betrayed him. Icarus was going to drown, and he was never going to live to see the land or the sun or figure out who he was. Maybe he knew who he was: a foolish boy who put his trust in the wrong people.

    I’ll see you soon, won’t I?

The voice drifted disjointed through Icarus’s panicked mind. Was that the ghost of a loved one he had lost? A warning that he was soon to expire?

    No matter how he thrashed and fought, Aoide’s grip remained firm. Icarus could feel the darkness pressing in on him, crushing him, suffocating him, without even a ray of light to come to his rescue.

 

—[]—

 

    Icarus woke with a gasp, but was still surrounded by darkness. Was this the afterlife? Dark and cold and aching? But the longer Icarus stared at the black, the more light began to appear. First small little dots, then one larger orb, then reflections on the gentle waves. This wasn’t the afterlife. This was life.

    He was alive.

    With some effort, Icarus pushed himself upright, letting his eyes adjust to take in his surroundings. He was on a beach with a large rocky cliff rising up behind him. The cove was sheltered from the wind, leaving waves to grasp gently at the sand and rocks before pulling back into the ocean. Among them floated a pair of gleaming brown eyes.

    “You are alive.”

    “I- yes,” Icarus said, with nothing short of amazement. “What happened?”

    Aoide’s gaze was piercing. “One of the sirens was lurking not far off. I had to wait until she left or we would have been caught. I’m sorry to have caused you distress.”

    Icarus rubbed his head. “I think I passed out.”

    “Yes… it made getting you to the beach more of a challenge.” Aoide didn’t seem put off by it.

    “Sorry?” Icarus tried. He felt a sudden wave of guilt hit him for his panicked thoughts in the water. “Thank you for saving me. Again.” Aoide didn’t reply beyond a nod. “Why are you doing this?”

    “I told you,” Aoide replied. “I am tired.”

    The night seemed colder than usual, and Icarus was still soaking wet. He shivered. “But why me?” Who am I to deserve this? he did not say.

    “You were immune to my song. Perhaps there is something precious, incorruptible about you that makes you worth saving.” Aoide sighed. “I am weary of this life. But you, you are young and full of energy and innocence. My song did not draw you, so to drown you by force seems an even greater atrocity than those I normally commit.” Those last words were laced with bitter derision aimed at herself.

    “I’m sorry I misjudged you,” said Icarus after a moment. “You didn’t ask for this, and I- I should have trusted you.” He paused. Waves built and crashed and sucked and built and crashed. “You said sirens still have a choice, though. I… I hope that you choose to leave the sirens and stop preying on sailors.”

    Aoide looked like she might say something in return, but then there was a bright flash of light and a man and woman appeared on the shore. Icarus scrambled to his feet as the man turned around. His handsome features were painted with fear and surprise and relief, but Icarus didn’t know why. He seemed almost to radiate golden light in the darkness, pulsing like Icarus’s heart as he stepped closer. “You’re okay,” the man choked out.

    Icarus’s eyes flicked to the woman who hung back, but she bore no expression aside from brows pulled low in a scowl.

    “I missed you, Icarus. I… You’re safe now.” Icarus’s mind was spinning. How did this man know his name? The man took another step forward, and Icarus stepped back instinctively. As if his foot pressed on fragile glass, the man’s expression shattered into devastation at Icarus’s movement. His face crumbled, and the glow surrounding him dimmed until it was barely there. Icarus glanced towards Aoide for help, for clarification, for something constant and grounding, but all he found was the moon’s reflection over smooth water.

    The man’s hands dropped to his sides as he hung his head. “I’m sorry,” he muttered, voice choked with emotion. “I’m so sorry.”

    Icarus didn’t even know what he was sorry for.

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