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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10. TEN

 

    Aoide had been watching from the water for a while. To her enhanced ears, the water only barely dulled the sound of Icarus and Apollo’s conversation, their reunion. She felt more certain than ever in her decision, and yet Icarus’s stubbornness broke her heart.

    The plan was to stay out of sight until the god bore him away and she could pass peacefully into wherever monsters went after death. But instead, Apollo had left and Icarus remained, sitting on the shore and talking to a young woman in a shimmering silver-white dress.

    Aoide had stopped listening to their conversation in light of considering what she should do. She almost wished Icarus would just leave, let what would happen happen and let it be over. But he would not. That stubborn, steadfast, loyal boy would not.

    Even from below the waves, Aoide could see that he was worried about her. She could see that he blamed himself, and so she made her decision.

    Aoide lived with guilt for almost her whole life. She would not let Icarus be burdened in the same way. She surfaced.

    “Icarus,” Aoide called.

    Icarus’s head snapped up, and he pushed himself to his feet. “Aoide,” he replied, running forward to the edge of the water. He stopped just short of it. “You came back.”

    She nodded. “I have been back for a while,” she admitted. “You do not give up easily.”

    “Unlike you.” The moment he said it, Icarus winced. “Sorry. I… I didn’t mean that.”

    “Do you think I’m giving up?”

    Icarus frowned. “I don’t know.” He paused. “You’re going to die, Aoide. I can’t be worthy of that kind of sacrifice."

    Aoide smiled at him, just a little. “You’re worthy of the love of a god. The life of a monster can hardly compare.”

    “You’re not a monster,” Icarus insisted. His eyes looked a little wet in the morning light. “You saved my life.”

    “Maybe,” Aoide answered. “But I also tried to take it.”

    “You can’t do this,” pleaded Icarus. “I don’t want you to die for me.”

    “Just as I do not want you to die for me.” Aoide replied, her voice firm. “I have no choice.”

    Icarus’s voice was small when he quoted, “We always have a choice.”

    Clever boy, turning her own words against her. “I won’t hurt you. That makes my decision for me.”

    The young woman who had been observing from higher up on the beach made her way to stand next to Icarus. “Have you considered all the possibilities?” she asked.

    “Who are you?” Aoide asked. She heard Apollo say about attendants of Artemis, but she knew all too well that a mere title did not answer that question.

    “My name is Iphigenia. I’ve been a companion of Artemis for many years now. Have you considered asking for her favor?” Iphigenia inquired.

    Aoide shook her head. “Gods do not favor sirens. It is why we are as we are.”

    Iphigenia smiled as if she had heard this all before. “Artemis cares little for the origins of those she protects. What matters is what’s in your heart now. She welcomes the victims and the vulnerable and makes us strong, gives us purpose. She could do the same for you.”

    Icarus perked up. “She can? Aoide, you have to ask.”

    Aoide was speechless. As she struggled for words, Iphigenia filled the silence. “My father killed one of Artemis’s sacred deer, and she punished him. To regain her favor, he tried to sacrifice me.” Bitterness laced her words. “But Artemis never wanted that. She rescued me, invited me into her ranks, trained me, gave me a family who loved me. I was vulnerable and now I am strong. Trust Artemis.”

    Aoide looked from Icarus to Iphigenia and back. “I will ask her.”

    “I can call her here, if you like?” Iphigenia offered.

    As Aoide nodded, Icarus began to smile. “Aoide - you can be free from the sirens! Neither of us have to die.”
    Aoide forced a smile, but she wasn’t so certain. Artemis had to accept her plea first. The goddess appeared in a flash, her hair braided into an intricate design that framed the regal expression on her face “Icarus,” she greeted first. “I see you and Apollo are on good terms?”

    Icarus blushed and nodded. “Thank you for your help.”

    Artemis’s gaze was firm. “Be careful with him. He soars high on fire and passion, which only makes him fall faster and harder. He is more delicate than he might seem.”

    “I’ll be careful,” Icarus promised.

    With a nod, Artemis turned to Iphigenia. “You called for me?”

    Iphigenia gestured toward Aoide in the water. “The siren Aoide wishes to ask for your sanctuary.”

    The goddesses eyes turned to Aoide, who steeled herself. “I do. I am ashamed of the things I have done, and I want to stop. Between the choices of death and joining you, I would much prefer to join you. If you will have me.”

    As Artemis surveyed her, Icarus broke in, “She saved my life before she even knew I was connected to Apollo. She’s willing to die to not hurt me. Please.”

    After a tense beat, Artemis extended her hand towards Aoide. Aoide reached from the water, and the moment their palms touched her tail disappeared, her skin cleared of its pockmarks, her vicious teeth and nails shrunk. She became as she must appear to the sailors. Pretty, but not in a way that inspired lust or madness.

    She became human, or maybe something more. She became a ward of Artemis.

    “Come,” Artemis told her, “Let’s return to camp, and we’ll talk.”

    Aoide’s heart was filled with relief. “Thank you,” she said to Artemis. Death was an eternity away again, just as it had been before. Only now, that eternity could be filled with love and laughter and purpose in a way that Aoide hadn’t known since Persephone. Excitement to begin this new life surged in her, and she turned a beaming smile to Icarus. “Thank you,” Aoide whispered again, just to him.

    Icarus grinned back at her, and then Artemis took her hand again. They disappeared in a flash of light, leaving Icarus on the beach with Iphigenia, and, for once, everything felt calm. Apollo would return at sundown and whisk Icarus away to some new life just as Artemis had done for her. The sirens would continue on as they must, but Aoide wouldn’t have to be the one condemning the innocent to death.

    For the first time in a long time, the world spread open with a sea of possibilities, of adventure, of light. Somehow, the boy with the broken wings had fixed everything. And every time the sun traced its path across the sky, Aoide would think of him, of them, and send her silent prayer. 

    Thank you.

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