Seventeen

Little Fish and the Conch Shell




To say Esmerelda was overwhelmed was an understatement.


His eyes were so… foreign. There were sharp edges where there shouldn’t be on his face that twisted into the crooked smile he gave on painted lips. Everything felt sensitive to his movements - even the air seemed to swirl around him when he breathed.


“Master-” Quinn’s voice seemed to hold an edge of warning to it, but he only received a gesture of a finger to bright-red lips, silencing him.
Quinn’s arm was firmly on her waist and she was glad for it, otherwise she might’ve fallen backwards the first time the man before her exhaled.


“What a pretty bird!” The God of Magic cooed in a voice that shifted between octaves.
Quinn was so relaxed that it all seemed insane.
Well, it was insane.
“Th...Thank you?” She wasn’t even sure if it was meant to be a compliment for her.


Meeting Quinn's nephews had been easy. Meeting his master on the other hand…
He circled them like a vulture, his face twisted into a strange smirk - something between satisfaction and curiosity. Or perhaps it was something else Esmerelda couldn’t tell.
It made chills run up her back.


“Curious.” He echoed darkly, his once high-pitched voice had dropped low. “You’re a real Siren.”
Esmerelda felt Quinn shift beside her, his eyes rolling. “Duh, pretty sure we established this on day one-”
“Oh hush, you.” His voice had slid up again, his sharp eyes danced with magic and intrigue. “That’s not what I meant.” Suddenly the room shifted and he was directly in front of her, his eyes gazing down on her. “You’re a Hallë, aren’t you?”


A… Hallë…? That word… it was so familiar… but where had she heard it…
Her mother. Once. Maybe twice. But why?
“Hallë? Master, we haven’t seen the likes of them in hundreds to… maybe even a thousand or more years-”
“Hallë?” Esmerelda was behind, her head still wrapping around the word the way her tongue did. It felt surreal.


This made the God of Magic smile, though, in an eerily gentle way. “Yes, my dear. The original Sirens - the ones not created by Calypso - were called Hallë. They're a race of sea dwellers that existed long ago. When Calypso rose up and took their territory, they fought back and were driven to what many people believe is extinction.” How was he so normal now?
She paused then as she let his words sink in. Yes… she had heard that before. The Hallë. The story she heard growing up was they betrayed Calypso and were punished for it. Something about that story didn’t add up, but she never questioned it.
“No, indeed, it certainly doesn’t.” At some point during her thoughts the madman had taken her hand and began patting it gently.


“Master-!” Again Quinn gave him a warning glare, but she couldn’t figure out why.
No wait, she hadn’t said anything aloud.
“Indeed, you hadn’t.”
This made her eyes narrow. “You’re… in my head…?”


The God of Magic laughed a deranged laugh. “No, dearest, you’re in your head!” He let go of her hand to clap. “Now come, let’s come out of the door, we have much to discuss!”
He walked through the archway and motioned for them to follow. Quinn followed with her, yet she slowed as she looked around the room.
“Wait a minute… we never left the Madhouse…”


Majnun was grinning a wide, devious smile. “She’s a quick one, Quinn, I expected this to take longer.”
She looked back towards Quinn at his name being spoken, looking for an answer. He seemed rigid in his stance, careful to keep his hands on her waist.


He put his mouth closer to her ear, his grip on her tightening. “We’re in your head, Ezzie. Remember?”
Esmerelda pursed her lips and it all came right back to her.
<>
“Curious…”


“Master-”
“You’re a real siren.”
“Duh, pretty sure we established this on day one-”
“Oh hush, you.” 


“You’re a Hallë, aren’t you?”
“Hallë? Master, we haven’t seen the likes of them in hundreds to… maybe even a thousand or more years-”
“Hallë?”
“Yes, my dear. The original Sirens - the ones not created by Calypso - were called Hallë. When Calypso rose some time ago they were driven to near extinction.”
<>
They’ve had this conversation before. Her eyes widened, “how did I forget-?”


“You hadn’t yet processed it in your mind. This is processing, my dear.” The God of Magic gave her a wide smile. “Welcome to your own mind.”
<>
“That name is familiar, but… I can’t place how.”
“They’re known for their incredibly powerful voices - so much so they do not speak; they only ever sing. Their songs weave magic between the notes - it was quite a spectacle to witness. Alas, they went into hiding many, many years ago. Almost before Quinn’s time, even.” 


“Hey-!”
“Aw, see, you’re not that old, babe!”
“Oh, please, if you’re old what does that make ME now, huh?”
“Expired.”
“Re-gardless! Miss Nightingale, your voice weaves a very similar pattern to the Hallë magic I remember.”


“That’s not possible though because that would mean one of my parents would have to…oh.”
“Your biological father?”
“No… doubtful… Right? I mean… that’d be crazy. My father was just... I dunno... another siren who assaulted my mother... I never actually met him! Well... consciously...?”


“A Hallë assault a woman? That doesn’t sound right. They're a terribly loyal lot, and oft don't take interest in anyone outside their circles... especially in that manner.”
“Oh! Quinn! The artifact! Could it be that?”
“An artifact, you say? Giving you Hallë magic? We could find out.”
“No, master-”
“How?”
“Well, I could go into your mind and have a look…”
<>
“This is my…”
“Indeed, you agreed to let me look, and Quinn refused to let me go in alone-”
Quinn smirked, “I’m just here to make sure he doesn’t touch anything he’s not supposed to.”
“Bah!”
Yet Esmerelda was lost in the familiar walls. “It’s… why is it a house?”


“The mind is a very fascinating place, dear child. As it is often our place of comfort we build it to be our sanctuary.” The God of Magic nodded.
It looked exactly like Quinn’s house. “Should I be mildly embarrassed, then?”
Yet Quinn just beamed at her, “no! It’s natural for you to think of home. Also, I prefer your decoration tastes.”


“Well, we’re here now, and your mind has processed and permitted us, so I’ll do a quick sweep-”
He was cut off with a glare from Quinn that he brushed away with a wave of his hand and a roll of his eyes. “With your permission, of course!”


Esmerelda nodded and the God of Magic took off with a swoop, lighter than air, vanishing from the room. She frowned to herself, could her father really have been
He hadn’t looked like any Siren she’d ever seen, she supposed.
Quinn cleared his throat, “just so you know, Ezzie, anything you think while we’re here… we’ll be able to hear it and see it too.”


This made her eyes widen. “Oh…”
“Don’t worry, I’m good at playing dumb and not paying attention, and my master…” He smirked, “well he’s not all the way there on the best of days. And despite what he seems, he wouldn’t use anything he finds here to harm. I just... wanted you to know.”
"I suppose this can't be the worst thing you've ever seen." She tried to joke.


She was met with an easygoing grin, "on the contrary, it's by far the best thing I could ever ask to see."
“I’ve found it! It didn’t take long!” The voice of the God of Magic echoed off the walls from wherever he was as if on cue. Then, in a flash, he materialized in front of them before carefully setting down the conch shell he found that he had carefully kept floating above his hands. “May I?”
Esmerelda stared at the shell blankly. That was familiar. How? Where?


“It was a bit hidden, yes. Probably one of your earlier memories, also mildly covered by an enchantment, but we'll get to that in a shake of a twisted limb!” The God of Magic leaned down and gently tapped the top of the shell.
She could smell the sea-salt and feel the splintering wooden dock beneath her bare feet. She could hear herself laughing. “Didjoo find one?”


Her mother answered her, but it wasn’t who she was talking to. “Give him a minute, Nightingale. They’re not easy to find. And please step away from the edge, I don’t want you to slip and get hurt.”
Why couldn’t she recall this memory? It was so familiar, yet it didn't feel like it belonged to her.
The surface of the water below her bubbled and she hopped on the deck, clapping as she did so. She was so small. Is that why she couldn’t recall this?
“Possibly.” It was the God of Magic’s voice that felt so far away here.


The water’s surface broke and up came that familiar conch shell.
The one that sat in her childhood bedroom! That’s right! That’s how she knew it!
Yet the person holding the shell…
She stumbled back - not in the memory, but from watching it - into Quinn’s arms.
“Master… maybe we should stop-”
"No..." Esmerelda breathed. "I... I think I need to see this."
She leaned hard onto Quinn as it was suddenly like watching someone else’s memory. She had taken the shell from that face of her dreams and hopped around, hugging it to her chest as he hauled himself out of the water.


He had a tail.
Yet the magic shimmered and it faded into legs that he brought up to sit next to the small child version of herself on the dock.


He held out his hands and the small her placed the shell there. He brought it up to his lips and blew into it, making a great hollow sound and making the small her laugh and laugh and laugh.


“Hadrian!” Her mother spoke in hushed tones. “Are you sure that’s safe? If we draw attention you could be found!”
“Again! Again!”
He had an easy smile and a slight roll of his eyes for her before he handed the shell to the small child. Could that really be her? This hardly felt like her memory, but it was. That was her. That was her mother. Yet where were they?


Your turn.
The voice made her jump. It was an unsettlingly beautiful echo. "Did... was that... him?"


“A Hallë indeed.” The God of Magic hummed. "They cannot speak as we do, it would be far too dangerous to us, so they transmit their words to us through our thoughts."


The little girl giggled and giggled as she attempted to replicate what Hadrian had done, and he clapped.
Just like that, little fish. You’ve almost got it!
“Hadrian… they’re coming.”


He scooped up the small, oblivious child and passed her into her mother’s arms, pressing his forehead to hers.


“Now go, you fool, before you get caught.” Her mother tried to pretend she wasn’t about to cry.
“Papa! Papa! Here-here!” Small hands pushed the shell towards him but he shook his head.
Keep it, little fish. Keep practicing and show me next time.


"Hee! Okie!" 
Esmerelda felt drained as she leaned into Quinn’s chest, her eyes stuck on the scene as Hadrian dove into the water at the back of the island just before Calypso’s Siren’s arrived and questioned her mother.


“We were working on her swimming training.”
“You sure you weren’t trying to drown her? Calypso would not be pleased to lose her favored artifact, Juliana.”


Her mother looked away smugly. “She’s alive, isn’t she?”
“Enough…” Esmerelda finally breathed. It didn’t make any sense.
That face was… He was…
She felt like she might be sick and Quinn eased her back onto the couch. “Ezzie?”


“How? I was told… He…”
“That memory had an enchantment on it, Esmerelda.” The God of Magic looked at her hesitantly. “One that would make it… difficult to recall. It was Hallë magic, most certainly. They have a distinct footprint, like the one I sense on you.”
“That isn’t…”


“-what you expected to see?” Quinn touched her face, pulling her back into the moment.
Esmerelda nodded, “I… I don’t know… what was that, even?”
“You should know I found it near a section of your head that’s… well, let me show you.” The God of Magic tipped his head and gestured.
They walked through this house that was familiar yet not until they came to a wall. She supposed it wasn’t entirely Quinn’s house. She looked between the god and Quinn, wondering why they stopped.
“Glad you asked, my dear!” The god chirped. “This here… is an enchantment. A Hallë enchantment.” He reached up and touched the wall, making it ripple.


Esmerelda’s eyes widened as her body felt a tug on it. She reached for her head, yet it offered no help. It was everywhere.
“Master! Careful!”
“Curious… You felt that?”


“Should she not have?” Quinn’s voice seemed mildly strained, she could sense his worry, even though he masked it. “Was this enchantment done wrong?”
“Hard to say. These are sealed off memories. Someone locked them off to you with Hallë magic - and I would be willing to bet it was the man in this memory.” He gestured to the conch shell. “I can have this enchantment undone relatively quickly, if you’d like to see what’s behind it…”
“I…” Esmerelda sputtered, looking between them, yet Quinn spoke up and saved her from needing to respond.
“Maybe some other time, master. Give her some time to process. Is it stable?”


“Oh yes, very stable.” The god gave the wall a solid tap now and it didn’t respond in the way it had earlier, making her ease. “It could last a lifetime or more.”
“Then she can decide later, if that’s something she’d like to do at all.”
Maybe it was him hearing her scrambled thoughts, or maybe he read the look on her face, but she was grateful for it.


The God of Magic nodded, “indeed, plus you and I have some business to take care of, don’t we?”
Quinn nodded.
“Business?”
Quinn gave her a warm look, “just some unfinished business that needs tending with our dear friend Calypso.”


Something in his eyes said it had something to do with her, but she decided she’d had enough information dumped on her for one day.
“So, dear, it’s time to wake up.”



<>



Esmerelda jolted awake, gasping. She looked around in a panic until her mind registered the change. Quinn had shifted into standing, perhaps from kneeling beside her, and the God of Magic was perched on a countertop, his eyes sparking with intrigue.
“Well, that was something.” Esmerelda almost held back her thoughts, fearing they might still be public. She was relieved by the silence.


Quinn smirked at her. “When I get back from this I’ll have Sheo take you for a spin through my head, it’s only fair.”
There was an audible snort from the god, “you’ll drag her through that garbage? You haven’t cleaned that out in decades. She’ll be wading through trash!”


Quinn rolled his eyes, “I’ll have you know I only keep important things in there, ok?”
“Oh sure." The god winked at Esmerelda. "Just watch your step…”
Esmerelda snorted at their banter. It was so strange to see someone who was a god so down to earth with someone she knew intimately.
It was actually really sweet to see the way Quinn looked at him.
Deliro came and rapidly knocked on the open door to grab their attention. “Heyoo! We’re playing poker, should I deal you in?”


“Quinn’s coming with me, but perhaps Esmerelda?”
Esmerelda looked between them and finally shrugged, “sure, why not.”
Quinn leaned into her hair gently, “just don’t trust Aleccas, he cheats.”


Deliro snorted loudly, “that’s why I’m dragging Kefka in, can’t cheat with him no, no!”
“Will you be back soon?” Esmerelda leaned back into Quinn.
“Not long, hopefully I should be back before the second round to swoop in the win.”
“You wish.” Deliro stuck his tongue out.
“Let’s head out, Quinn.” Majnun fiddled with his pockets before straightening. “I want to make sure I have time to roll in something especially smelly before visiting our dearest friends in the Cove.”


Quinn grinned, “of course, only the best for them.” He pressed his lips to Esmerelda’s and suddenly vanished across the room to the side of the god he worked for.
“Come’on Ezzie, let’s go shake Kefka awake.” Deliro motioned and she followed him, sharing one last look with Quinn before they vanished from the premises entirely.


“He’s asleep?” She hadn’t yet seen him this morning, but it was going late into the afternoon.
“Nah, he just goes into a trance when he works. He could go for days before someone snaps him out of it. He has poor time management skills these days.” Deliro swung down the stairs, taking them two at a time with ease.
There was something about the way he said that which made Esmerelda hesitate. “Quinn told me about… well…”


“Olivia? Yeah. Don’t worry, we don’t dance around it. Actually if you talk to him about it he’ll probably never stop. They were good together - really good. I think we all miss her a little.” Deliro walked a little slower down one of the winding hallways and Esmerelda followed, trusting him to lead to the right place. “He’s not given up hope yet, which is maybe a little crazy, but hey, we’re kids of the crazy god right? Crazier things have happened.”


She smiled to herself as she thought of her own predicament. Crazier, indeed.
Deliro slid ahead of her and swung open a closed door. “Kefooooo! We’re playing poker come on!”
Esmerelda peered in and saw him bent over his workstation, not even looking up to see who disturbed him.


Deliro began shaking his shoulders which made him sit up straight suddenly, his eyes went to the clock and then back to his brother. “It’s only been a few hours.”
“We’re playing poker come on!”
“No option, I take it?" Kefka sighed. "Let me finish this up, I don’t want to leave the setting like this.”


Deliro, seeming satisfied, walked past Esmerelda who had stepped fully into the room. “I’ll leave you in charge to make sure he doesn’t start something else. I gotta make sure Aleccas doesn’t STACK THE DECK, HÌNA.”
“I HEARD THAT.” The voice shouted back down the halls.
Esmerelda couldn’t resist her curiosity - what does the children of a god do for ‘work?’


She got just close enough to look over his shoulder at the gems and intricate metals he worked with.
“I make jewelry,” he answered her unasked question. “Sometimes with enchantments, sometimes without. I like working with my hands, especially with detail work. It keeps my mind busy.”
“It’s beautiful! That's right, you took the tracker out of my... out of my mother's necklace!”
He nodded with a slight smile, but his eyes remained focused on the detailed work he was doing.
Her eyes drifted upward and caught an older picture on one of the shelves. “Is… is that her? Your wife?”


His eyes came up, away from his work, to look at the picture with a smile - a real smile. “That's her. Quinn took that picture the first time she came to the Madhouse. She nearly cried when she saw my father’s library.” He let out a breathy laugh. “She really loves books.”
“Is this hers? Did you make it?” Esmerelda reached yet didn’t touch the necklace draped over the picture. The blue gem sparkled in its setting.


“It was my courtship gift to her.” It was very clear he loved her, just in the way his eyes seemed to come alive when he spoke.
“Were you nervous - to give it to her, I mean?”
He laughed, “honestly - thinking back to that day - I was more relieved, I had just gotten out of being roasted by her father.”


“He… even though you were the son of-”
This made Kefka laugh harder, “I don’t think there’s a god in this world that could’ve saved me from him. Which reminds me, I need to call him soon.” He tossed his tools to the side and stretched into standing, “I can finish this up later. It sounds like someone is ready to lose!” He called it a little louder, looking past her towards the door.


“You mean YOU right?” The voice came from outside.
“Yeah, you.” He called back.
As Esmerelda walked out of the room, Deliro gave her an ‘ok’ symbol with his hands followed by a thumbs up; his face read amused and pleased.


“Let’s go get this game started!”
“Sometime today, please!” The voice called back from the other room.
Esmerelda smiled and followed the boys to the meeting hall.

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Quinn approached his master as they waited for clearance between realms in the in-between.
"You disagreed when Ezzie mentioned that her father assaulted her mother... why?"


"From my experience with them, the Hallë only ever mate once. It's a bonding of souls, not usually of flesh."


"Well, they've been spited by Calypso's lot, I mean I suppose it could be an act of war, right?"
"Perhaps. There's always a chance of one rotten egg in the bunch."


"...but you don't believe it?"
"No Quinn, I don't, but something tells me it won't matter much for long."


A gentle chime sounded, alerting them they were permitted.
"Do you ever hear the way you talk sometimes?"
"No, but the plants do, annoying little buggers. Now, are you coming or what?"

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“Master…”



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Ea tutum est. 






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Esmerelda's eyes drifted down to the dresser as she closed the drawers shut. "Quinn?" 
He shook the water out of his hair and looked over at her, "hm?"


"You remember what... what your master said about those... memories?" 
"Yeah, but don't sweat it, there's no rush to it." 
"What if... what if I don't... want to know?"


Quinn crossed the room and eased his arms around her, "then you don't need to. There's no point in stirring up those old memories, sometimes it's best to just let these things lie, and I support that."


She felt herself relax as she smiled at him, happy to know he agreed. "I'm glad." 
Maybe someday she would be at peace with it enough to pursue it.


Maybe she could even meet him - if he was still out there. 
Yes, that felt enough for her.

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"Toss the body out, it's not even worth feeding to the cursed. Let it rot in the ocean." 




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In this life and the next, Juliana.




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Translation Guide:
"HÌNA!" - "CHILD!" (Nym)
"Ea tutum est." - "She is safe." (Language of the Hallë)

Playlist
Esmerelda: "Thoughts" by Marika Takeuchi
Kefka: "Ghost of You" by 5 Seconds of Summer
Juliana: "Turn Me to Stone" by Hidden Citizens
Hadrian: "Be Still, My Tongue" by Snorri Hallgrímsson

1 comment:

  1. I'm not crying. You're crying.


    AHHHHH! That was amazing!

    ReplyDelete