She told the first one that her name was Florian.
Her voice was a creeping whisper and it brought him from his creaking bed to the edge of his creaking ship. "Captain," she said, with a vague smile like the moon, "let me sing for you."
He leaned over the edge, his green eyes, so like sea foam, filled with something like horror. "The Rhine Maiden," he said, his voice horse, and reached out his large hand, unable to stop himself. She could tell that he needed to brush her forehead, to feel the cool wetness of her coral lips.
"Come to me," she said, "I'll not kill you."
It was a lie, of course. But the years had eroded away her misgivings on this activity; there was nothing else that would let her survive, lend her the life energy that would lend her another century of borrowed time.
The passage of time was almost like the passage of water. Brushing, rushing, crashing against her until there was nearly nothing of substance left.
She smiled, caught him in the net of her eyes, and the poor man started over the edge, the pains of his face crinkled in childish struggle. He knew he was going to die. That was the only part that pained her.
He dove with a frightening splash, and she laughed, creeping up behind him, wrapping her split tail around his torso. "My name is Florian," she whispered.
He turned around in her embrace, a peaceful acceptance creeping across his features. She slowly slid the two of the underwater, her arms enveloping him. Her moonlight yellow hair clouded above them, moving in tendrils like seaweed.
"Don't worry," she sang softly into his ear. "You'll feel no pain."
The second tried to kill her.
He was a slight man sailing alone on a small vessel. Sadness flowed through his veins like blood and water, and the melancholy of her call drew him as a song from his own heart.
"Who's there?" he squinted over the rocks in the dark cave he was passing through. His hair was long and ratty with rainwater, and his eyes were small and dark. She extended a slender hand.
"I can feel your sadness," she said, "tell me your name and let me sing to you."
He refused to leave the ship. "Who are you?!"
She stayed where she was, laid out among the murderous rocks, and continued her song.
He screamed in agony and wrapped his arms around his head. "Water maiden! You'll not feast on my flesh!"
"Where does your sadness come from, captain?" she sighed, feeling the echo of her words in the dank air.
Her words wrapped around his dark form and he shook with anger. "I'll not let their deaths be in vain," he said lowly, her keen ears catching every word, "I will not give myself to you."
"My name is Hildegard," she said softly. "Give me your troubles and I'll wrap my arms around you."
He barked out a harsh laugh. "And then strangle me with the same arms, maiden. Your beauty doesn't fool me."
"I have no beauty," she said, "but that which you perceive in me. But I'll love you."
At this point the sea sang the ship closer to the rocks where she finally stood. Her hair streamed silver down her transformed body, reaching bare feet and wrapping around her like a slick cloud.
Trembling, the lonely man steered the ship into the claws of the rocks, crashing with a noise like sick thunder. "Demon!" the man cried, hopelessly fighting the waves that struggled to embrace him. He was thrown out of the rapidly sinking ship and she swam to his lithe form, broken but still breathing on the rocks.
His blood enveloped her bare knees, and her lower body melted into her true form; long tail, scales speckled in blue and brown. The man sputtered, coughing up water and blood.
"Demon," he coughed, his dying voice like sand, breaking into small, jagged stones. Her heart broke as she took his bitter face into her long fingers.
With a strangled cry and strength unusual for a dying man, he wrenched her hands away and grabbed her long neck in his fists, struggling to snap it.
"You cannot kill me, captain," she said with something nearing sympathy, and broke his hold with solemn strength. He coughed again and their eyes met. For one fearful moment, she saw her own reflection in the blackness of his stare.
He frowned slightly as the life seeped from him. "You're every bit as pathetic and sad as I am," he said with his last shallow breath, "water demon."
The third lived.
The man was a castaway, surviving minimally on a remote island in the morose sea of her people. Peering at the black sand that littered the shore, she saw splintered bits of the destroyed ship piled up and set aside awkwardly.
He was a man very much out of place. His shipmates had obviously perished, but instead of letting the sadness rot through to his soul and his eyes, he seemingly possessed a way of setting the sadness aside, perhaps storing it in a rusty box in a far corner of his busied and weary mind until the time came to reopen the past.
She watched him.
She was fascinated by the life in him, fascinated by what his vitality could do for her mortality. He lived delicately and determinedly on the island, spirit resolved to stay until help came.
In this determination, there was a singular strength- and a sort of darkness.
He sang loudly in the daytime and softly in the nighttime. She watched him through dim, self-built fires and sparse meals of crumbled biscuits. He sang and sang and sang until the song embedded itself into her, tighter to her heart than even her skin.
The time had come to gather his life.
She sang to him under a fingernail moon on the third night that had passed for him on the lonely mass of land.
He was sitting cross-legged on the black sand, feeling the cool texture of the wet pebbles in his hand. His head shot to her direction upon hearing her melancholy song; she wrapped her tune around him, hoping to pierce his being, hoping he wouldn't have to suffer bitterly.
"I have heard your song, lonely child," she whispered, crawling ashore, her body covered by her moon hair and dark-webbed fabric, "now hear mine and drink it into your heart."
He smiled and leaned close, pressing a wet pebble against her cheek.
"I have heard your song before, Lorelei," he said carefully, "and I am no child."
At the sound of her name, so long-forgotten that it might as well have been a distant sun, she froze.
For the first time in three centuries, she felt vulnerable, and with the feeling came a delicate creaking, like the opening of her soul.