I had already lost track of the days but it would be a while yet before I would cease to care. The salt that caked my beaten form continued to wash easily off but my method of relief, the cold sea water, mockingly replaced every grain with an identical other. At first, I had wondered if it did not dissolve at all. But then, after days and days of washing and replacing, it had begun to burn. Now there was only one observation that mattered.
I shivered in the dark, rubbing life into my arms.
It was a blistering wind that blew that night; cold, wet and sharp. I had always known the wind and the sea to be close but their dance was more intricate and deadly than any I had ever seen in this timeless place. They made a fearsome pair and I shivered, pulling up my collar; my vain attempt to become as insignificant as possible. Too many forces awoke this night and I was not so foolish as to believe they would pass me by.
I had never been a water child before but the longer I was here, the more fish I became. Oh, I had seen land as such, but it was not the same. Nothing here was untouched by salt or sea and, other than on nights such as these, even the wind in this place lay more often bloated and still.
"What you cowering for, girl?"
The Mate's rough hand thudded into my shoulder and I skidded on slick decking, throwing out hands in an attempt to attest my fall. Though we continued to pitch and roll, my nails raked through the railing's thick layer of slime and I kept my footing. The Mate was already gone as I straightened, running my fungus coated hands down my front. I made no concession with my disgust. Even the ships on this sea had drowned, once, or were still in the process of drowning. It was hard to tell.
I did not want to follow him. I wanted to stay here, at the railing, and stare, like the moon did, whilst the wind taunted the sea. Drenched as I was, the risk of going overboard was far more friendly than what waited on the foredeck.
Here, they called the wind 'the Spinster.' Without the company of land currents and just the ocean's endless expanse, there was no meeting of North wind, South wind, coastal or sea. There was just the lazy, broken Spinster.
I sighed as I watched her goad the sea's endless throes and she screeched back at me, tugging at the roots of my hair and clawing my face. I shrank back, remembering my vow of invisibility, and she turned contemptuously from my cowardice. I flushed at the injustice. I, at least, was still trying to live. She did not fool me. I knew that when this night and this moment passed, she would fall back into her stupor.
Her rebuttal whipped my tattered bangs across my face and, for a blissful second, I thought it was her that had begun, once more, to shriek. But no, not this time. I was not so lucky. The night was reaching its climax and I was about to partake in something heinous. This was one of those legendary moments, the kind that were written down in the history books, the kind that had been written in the books of the fates since the beginning of time.
And I was not supposed to be here.
"Ah Sierra." I droned, repeating my mantra. "There's no reason to be here, but everyone has a reason for..."
Another piercing scream split my thoughts and I accepted my fate, turning from the ocean and back towards our hypnotic captive.
The foredeck had been crafted perfectly for this moment, for this one act. If I had known, I would not have beckoned this berth, I would have remained in the water and taken my chances on finding another to rescue me. If I had known I would rather have drowned.
The crew, just five men, already encircled their catch. I stepped reluctantly up to the ship's mast and rested my palms on the rotting wood. I would bear witness, for I had been asked, but I would not get close.
They had caught the uncatchable. They had caught the kind of creature that was too dangerous, now that it had hit the net, to be set free. They had caught a being of pure emotion, of loathing and lust, a deity of a drowning sea. And they had trapped it the body of another. They had awoken it, and taunted it, and sealed it in flesh. And then they had taken that flesh, the captain's witch wife to be precise, and they had bound it to the gallows on the foredeck. The gallows corpse on the foredeck, for everything here had drowned or was in the process thereof.
The noose hung slack, swaying in night's violent gale. But this was not a gallows for killing, not in land when everything was dead or dying. This barnacled, putrefying mess of planks and ropes was something potent, something magic.
I did not want even to look at it.
But the writhing form at its centre gave me no choice. She, whatever she was, had transformed the Captain's wife into something foul, something beautiful. She dripped, like the ship, with centuries of decay and yet her eyes sparkled in eternal youth. Her skin was as sickeningly grey as any distended sea-corpse but, even from here, I could see that it was as supple and as flawlessly smooth as the purest maid.
She captivated me, though I fervently hoped that she did not even register my presence, and dragged my eyes and soul into her grasp.
I fell slowly in.
I could be hers. It would not be difficult. My quest did not matter. Home did not matter. I could be hers.
And then she began to speak.
"Do you see me now!" She was not used to being ignored, she was not used to being trapped. She was as integral to nature as water, only more dangerously so for we did not know what she was.
I saw her. I had been seeing her for three days. Three days while the Captain prepared this night. Three days while no one, not even she, had said a word. Three days while I had hidden and prayed that she would not see me back.
The Captain kept his peace. I would not have been able to do what he had done. The creature in the gallows horrified me but she did not take the form of my other half. She was not the occupied husk of the woman I had loved.
I had become used to being cold and wet but still I shivered.
I would call her Siren. I had met those haunting beasts already but this ocean chasm goddess, whose true form could not be summed into a single word, was above and beyond my preconceptions. She toyed with my mortal, human fascination as easily as the creatures from the tales of old and I could no longer call her Celine. The Captain's Celine; who had been beautiful, and kind, and almost cheerily resolved with her fate.
Siren struggled against her bonds, the flesh writhing around her bones as vehemently as she tackled the ropes.
"I slept!" She spat. "You feeble, ignorant mortals! You cannot comprehend the sleep of a God."
"We know what you are." The Captain calmly stated.
He may have, but I did not. All I knew was that she was very bad.
Siren did not appreciate his tone.
"You know what I am?" She queried, hissing. The rotting contraption creaked and even I quailed, I who was stupid enough to be here but wise enough to know I should not. "I am more than a thing to be known! I am love and hate. I am lust and desire. You think you detest me now? I am loathing and I am pain."
I could see all those things in her. And yet she wasn't finished.
"Your petty consciousness cannot even begin to comprehend all the things that I am - I am vices that are only felt by the greatest artists, the longing of the starving child." She laughed. "I am a god's god, created on the prayers of those that shaped the world."
The Captain's mouth smiled as she ranted but I wished he would just do it now, whatever it was that he planned to do.
"God's god." He addressed her, relishing the term. "We know you to be as much." He waved at the creaking, swaying gallows, a sign that I did not understand. The device of death on a sea that was already drowning us all. "We know enough to confine you, god's god, and you will take us home."
My heart sank. So this was what he had been thinking.
It would not work. We were all doomed.
There was only one way to get home and she was not it. If she was here, she was as equally suspended as I. His people were from a time centuries before my own. Time was insolent and often absent here but still they had travelled this expanse longer than I. They should have known.
I could not stop myself visualising the future, then. Siren could not be killed and she would exact her revenge. I wondered how it would feel to have the twisted talons of Celine's once perfectly feminine fingers rip the limbs from my body. But then, she was a god's god, by her own admission, and she had as long as she liked. She could be as creative as the desire prompted her to be. She would be more inventive than my imagination could comprehend.
There was only the wind while the god processed the Captains words. When she finally spoke again she did not rely on volume to be heard. Her fury condensed into a whisper and her will sliced through the sounds of wind, sea and canvas. I heard her as precisely as if we stood alone in the silence.
"I don't think you understand." She breathed. "This Sea is more than you suspect. You float aimlessly and don't even begin realise that your petty little boats hardly even scrape the surface. What you have stumbled upon is older, wiser and more sentient than you know. You think you're trapped in this purgatory?" Siren laughed. "I choose to sleep here."
I was too far away to read the Captain's mood but I knew that her words struck something in me. Every day here was something new, something weirder, wilder and more potent than before. I had lost track of the months but I had hardly even begun to see all that was housed here.
But, again, Siren had not finished her speech. She continued to soliloquise with scornful passion.
"And you, little boat captain, think that your wood and your meat will hold me?"
The god treated her new form to sweeping scrutiny. I had only known her for a few days but it still pained me to watch Siren's detestable loathing on Celine's gentle features.
She cackled, analysing her prison.
"To kill with wood and air in a land where death is served on a platter of salt water? You think I am so much a part of this land that the other elements can hold me?" She snorted. "And this?" Celine's fingers bulged and snapped. With her will alone, Siren broke the bones. "Do I not even deserve the body of a man? Or have you chosen such weakness that it may stand some chance of dampening my power?"
"Women aren't weak." I said, the only true one aboard. The wind stole my words, whisking them into the circle of protagonists. A dozen eyes turned my way, including the sickly gaze of the creature I should not have addressed. I stepped away from the safety of the mast.
"Look around." I said, not sure why I still spoke. "Who controls this moment? The Mistress Sea, the Spinster Wind..." I took in a breath. "I see Mother Moon, The Priestess Night and even the Lady Time has chosen to stir herself for us tonight. And you, my Dear," I addressed Siren's perverse form. "Hold centre stage. "
"What is your point, Little Girl?" She spat.
I shrugged. This was not a world with a point.
"You're just as trapped as we are." I said. "Regardless of flesh or wood, you're still trapped."
Siren flashed pointed teeth.
I continued to walk forward.
"You did not come here to sleep." I said. I knew what she was, now, I could see it in her.
I was not surprised. My mantra came back.
For all have reason, here to be
Beneath a Drowning Sea.