calm sea during golden hour






12/2/20234 min read

This cheered Vienna up in a way she didn’t anticipate. No matter how many publications, how many trophies and medals and certificates she achieved, how many gifts she saved up to buy, how many smiles she displayed, how many dresses she donned and manners she wore, it was never enough. Never an “I’m proud of you.” Never “I’m proud of what you are and what you’ve done.” Never “You’re our daughter and we love you for what you are.” “We’re happy for you.” “We know you try hard and that’s enough.”

She loved her parents. She loved them to bits. But just sometimes she wished they’d appreciated her for herself, no matter what she accomplished. Just sometimes she wished she made them proud. Just sometimes she wished her confidence and self-image wasn’t broken. Just sometimes she wished she was good enough.

“Are you okay, Vienna Alcestis?” the Pneuma asked. Vienna surreptitiously dabbed her eyes with her napkin.

“Yeah, thanks.” She breathed out, smiling and excusing herself to greet Elswyth, who had just entered the room. At least the Queen wouldn’t make her relive things she was trying to forget.

“You’re here, Vienna Alcestis.” The queen displayed her slight smile, which Vienna had already determined as fake but still welcomed.

“Yes, Doyenne. I felt the others could function better without me.” Vienna knew the others accepted her, but she just had the spirit- and the audacity-to make a joke in front of the Queen.

“You call yourselves the Niflteens.” The queen said, her lips stretching further, as if the thought amused her.

Vienna returned her smile. Secretly, she puzzled over Elswyth’s perpetual brooding attitude. She was 21! Only 21! And she was so calm and serious, like other young women her age didn’t shop and party all day long. Vienna supposed the early coronation- Elswyth being 13 then- and the stress of running an entire nation must’ve gotten to her.

Their meals were regularly interrupted by Crimson Badge Sirens running back and forth to their table with scrolls which Elswyth unraveled, read through, and then whispered some wise words which the Crimson Badges listened to, penned down and sent the scroll through fire breath.

Cumin floods on the eastern perimeter, breaches on the north, soul fires on the south, there was always something Elswyth had to fix. And she did it all single-handedly. She didn’t think Elliot helped out in anything other than play-acting out the position of the Perimeter Guard troops- which Elswyth changed anyway, and Evelyn might’ve asked to help- but Elswyth, most likely had denied, saying her younger sister was better off at her escritoire writing poetry. Not running an empire. Elswyth was there for that.

She didn’t think she’d be able to cope.

“Anyhow, this is the last test so you’ll be able to relax. Just a small medical test tomorrow. Results for the tests will be out-” Elswyth glanced at her watch. “- in a few days.”

The woman gestured towards the tank. “You could take a quick dip to rejuvenate or we could skip to the test.”

“The test’d be better,” Vienna offered a small smile. “Oh, and Doyenne, we missed Lyss at lunch today. Is she alright?”

The Queen looked momentarily disarmed. “Lyss? Oh, Lysistrata. She was finishing up some overdue errands for me. She’ll be back by the time you finish your test.”

Vienna nodded. It seemed that the Doyenne affixed her with a longer stare than was necessary before gesturing towards the third door- right opposite the Writing Room, as Vienna had dubbed it. It was embezzled with streaks of lapis and spinel, and the door was slightly ajar. She nodded again and headed into the room without further ado. She had enough of conversations for the day.

The room, she noted immediately, differed vastly from the others. A huge platform in the middle displayed a futuristic chair with a VR headset settled on a table beside it. Posters declaiming ‘free choice’ and ‘your option’ hung on the walls, and again, quite unlike the other rooms, there was a huge rectangular picture window, extending the length of the wall beside the one the door sat in.

The window provided a resplendent view of the Caligo Sea- Elswyth had told her the name and also what it contained- Selkies, Hydras, Grindylows, a few baby Loch-Ness which had just hatched, and even an Iku-Turso. Ironically enough, the sea contained no actual earth-myth-defined Sirens. The sky above the sea was at what she now recognized as ‘Niflheim Golden Hour’. It was like the Terra variation, but with no clouds in the sky and no sun, either. The sky was simply filled with that magnificent light which turned everyone into Greek Gods and Goddesses, bewitching astrophiles like her. There was never a Sun in the Niflheim sky, which Elswyth had explained, too. The Sun and the Moon were Niflheim’s sworn foes since before Elswyth’s reign, for some unearthly reason the previous ruler, long dead, had not left any clues for. If Elswyth had allowed the clear-cut entrance of those heavenly stars in the Niflheim sky, the Lunae Regnum and Sol Dynastia would’ve ramped up their lights so high, the entirety of the Siren population would be wiped out- the cloaked beings highly sensitive to unfiltered sunlight and moonlight. Elswyth had come up with a solution when she was a few years short of Vienna’s age: an anti- UV and Infrared shield. The shield filtered everything that wasn’t light, leaving behind only photons in their purest form.

It was genius. Vienna had to give her that.

She rotated on her heel, redirecting her attention to the platform.


This is what you’re made for.