calm sea during golden hour



Vienna's struggles against her anxieties of being turned into a Siren, and the day of the test.


Dihaan Khan

10/3/20236 min read

The next five days went by in a blur. Vineyard talks with Dimitri, conversations with Eleanora, hunting trips with Elliot, and girl gossip with Lysistrata took up most of her time. Sometimes Elswyth would call her into the Throne Room or her study for information about Terra, as Vienna had come to think about it now. Other times she would exchange small talk with Zinnia while the Siren tidied her room- mostly about the weather. She hadn’t seen the Parcae since their departure her first day, and she hadn’t had reasons to use the dainty necklace hanging round her neck. Yet.

She couldn’t say she hadn’t missed her family- she missed them every moment, even the utter chaos her brother caused. She didn’t doubt the Royals had some time of alibi cooked up, but sometimes, the break seemed like a well-deserved vacation as well, from school and peer pressure and social interactions with random family members and classmates. That didn’t meant she didn’t miss Terra though.

Breakfast in the morning (uncomfortable silence between the Mistral siblings), then vineyard antics with Dimitri and Eleanora (who had been allowed to take short trips outside of her room and had hit it off with Dimitri), then horse-riding lessons with Elliot and Lyss (who fell off her horse a lot) after lunch, maybe Terra Talks with Elswyth (always the rudimentary, nothing more). Then maybe just sitting in a beanbag, regaining her social battery with some classical literature or some of the more unknown Niflheim classics- Nocte Pluvia (Midnight Rain), Seraphim Debonair, and one of her favourites so far- Querencia, penned by one of the most famous writers in Niflheim, Danika Hahn.

The days weren’t as bad as the nights, however. Anxiety about the test would creep up on her, leaving her mute and panicked, mulling over each horrible possibility for hours until she fell asleep. She just wanted to go home. She didn’t want to be turned into a Siren for eternity and be a slave to Elswyth. Earlier, she had thought being a Siren meant that you could teleport to Terra whenever, but Dimitri had cured her of that notion.

“Sirens need a really special reason to get the permit for Terra,” said he bitterly, eyes darkening at some obscure memory. “Decima had to ask for years to bring me back here. Cross-breeds aren’t welcome anywhere, apparently.”

“Otherwise you’d probably go back to your mother, huh?” Vienna had asked, pity creeping into her voice.

Dimitri had shrugged in reply. “Probably’s a very common word. We all want to live the life we never had. ‘Meant to be’, that’s the people’s fantasy. But it never works out. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

Dimitri. Eleanora. The only people she felt ties to in Niflheim. And the only two who seemed to understand her. But she couldn’t even tell them how she felt. How it felt to suffer. Because they already knew. They had suffered so much, lost so much, that her ordeal of being separated, kidnapped, trapped, with an unknown fear of being turned into something she didn’t want to become felt meager in comparison. Really, who was she with her cracked past and her silly little anxieties? Nobody, in the grand scheme, in the spider web that knitted all of them together, the delicate webs that had bound all fifteen of her doppelgangers together. But that was exactly how she wasn’t supposed to think.

Girls like her didn’t cry. Girls like her weren’t supposed to cry. They were the classical oldest sister, always strong for her younger siblings, always comforting her parents with their troubles when she was supposed to be the one taken care of, always the one growing up with her parents instead of being raised by them, always the one grounded when all chaos broke loose, always the one with a smile on her face through whatever shit she went through, always the one expected to remain quiet through impossible odds, always the one people looked to for advice, always the one who had to be seamless, always the one who was cheerful after the toughest adversities. Always perfect. Never broken, never angry, never upset.

And it was stressful. Hiding the tears through it all for fear of public opinions. Plastering a smile on your face and sucking it up when people came to vent to you when you felt like the one to be venting. Bottling up emotions for the moment when everyone fell asleep and you could weep your feelings away under the blanket. And still being perfect. Still the pillar of strength, of virtue, of love, of care, of academic success, of creativity, of kindness, of everything good.

God, it sucked.

Mornings meant girding herself to present her smile to Elliot, Elswyth, Lysistrata, Zinnia, everyone else apart from Eleanora and Dimitri. They just got her. They didn’t have to see her smile to know she was alright. They asked, nonetheless.

Vienna dragged herself from a fitful sleep the seventh day of her Niflheim stay. She knew it was the day of the test, but somehow she didn’t feel nervous or panicked or excited. She felt numb.

Dragging herself out of bed like she had done every day for the past week, she threw on another pretty princess-like outfit, a salmon pink jumpsuit with a matching pink diamond necklace and her hair curled. She had decided to cut off a lot of her hair a few days before. Most girls got a drastic haircut after a breakup or tragic event. She supposed she had broken up with Earth, and felt none the better for it.

But the short hair looked good on her, she thought, preening in the vanity mirror. Shoulder length waves suited her. She gave her hair a final tug and headed to the Dining Hall somberly.

The Hall presented the daily affair. Elswyth, today in a gold embroidered brocaded gown, reigned grimly over the table. Elliot, in his usual formal garb, stared sullenly at his shrimp, Eleanora (who had taken to coming down for meals again), draped in an elegantly youthful teal tea dress, gave her a slight smile and a wave, Zinnia was nowhere to be found, and Lyss snored on the table, her head on her crisscrossed arms. Vienna meekly settled herself between Eleanora and Elswyth and prayed that no arguments would break out in the Hall today. She had seen enough of those.

The plates filled with food and everyone began eating. Eating as in poking at their food until everyone feigned to be full and the food eventually disappeared. Elswyth glanced around and cleared her throat.

“Vienna Alcestis, as you know, your trip to Niflheim undoubtedly has a paramount cause behind it. While that is classified, there will be a test you need to take to prove you are worthy.”

Vienna attempted to look as if she was surprised. Needless to say, she was horrible at acting. The last time she had taken a professional acting role was when she was seven in first grade. Snow White for a school play.

“Oh, wait, really?” she exclaimed in a voice three octaves too high, pretending to fumble and drop her fork onto the table. It clanged fortissimo, everyone looking at her weirdly. Even Elliot looked up, his eyes narrowing at the annoyance.

Elswyth tilted her head slightly, raising her eyebrows. “Yes, really. It’s a very mild test, actually, just some questions. We’ll give you something to wear after breakfast and then we’ll take you to the room where it takes place.”

“…We?” Vienna asked, chuckling nervously. The faces around her had turned grim. She wished someone would speak up or crack a joke.

“A few personality judges and I.” Elswyth murmured in an undertone, as if in afterthought, turning back to her empty gold plate. “Nothing to worry about…”

Vienna nodded slightly.

She wasted no time in bailing out of the Hall once the meal was over, flanked by Lysistrata and Eleanora and a couple million Blue Badges waiting on Eleanora and her head and toe. One even held the train of Eleanora’s dress for her.

“You do know it’s nothing to worry about, right, Vy?” Lysistrata chirped in her sickly sweet way. After three hours of sleep, the tone was really getting on her nerves. Eleanora was silent all through the time they walked Vienna to her room, but when they reached her door, she perked up and glanced into the open door.

“I love what you’ve done with the room.” Eleanora said, gesturing at the slight view they got of the inside.

Vienna glanced back at the piles of books and sheaves of paper everywhere, the organized mess in the room, and raised her eyebrows at Eleanora.

“Alright, that’s not the point. You’re going to be fine in there.” Eleanora said soothingly. “I know you are.”

“You mean I’ll be fine after I get turned into a Siren, right?” Vienna asked hopelessly. At Lysistrata and Eleanora’s astonished expressions, she waved her hand. “I’ll go change. Bye.”

She shut the door as they left, leaning against it, surveying the view outside the window. A clear day, almost too fine to be turned into a Siren.

A grey package had been left on her unmade bed. Perhaps the room service hadn’t been in yet. She passed to the bed and tore it open with no heed of the pretty glitter-embossed packaging.

Folded clothes. A few accessories which she didn’t care to check. Her eyes were fixated on the note.

For Vienna Alcestis Hawthorne. Semi Mortal.

Check yourself before you lose it all.

Before she could comprehend anything, there were brutal knocks on the door.