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a siren's tail

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Lan Wangji is making his way back to his kingdom when he first hears it.

A siren’s song.

Her voice is a lovely little thing. It echoes throughout the deep and dense forest, stirring small animals awake and sending little sprites into a frenzy. She sings beautifully, hauntingly; in an ancient tongue native only to the north of the sea, where lotus flowers are able to grow. And the tale she weaves in her song may be solemn and grave, but the merriness that she delivers in her tune, all bright and joyful, without a single care in the world—it gives way to the mirthful, untroubled heart that lies deep within, of a genuine and kind soul, trapped in the form of a bewitching mer creature that has inspired endless gruesome fables and myths.

Even before Lan Wangji descends from where he was, high up in the clouds, and takes a deep dive into the forest, slithering his way around the lake in which she has taken momentary shelter in, he already knows—

The siren is otherworldly beautiful.

His breath is caught in his throat when the white mist begins to clear up before his dark golden pupils. He blinks once, twice, his dragon oval-shaped irises peeling apart to capture the sight of the siren in her entirety. Just as he’d thought, she stands amidst the shallow waters, two willowy arms held high up above her head, her fully naked back turned towards Lan Wangji as she takes a languid bath right beneath a loud waterfall.

Perhaps bath is not the accurate term. Lan Wangji is conscious the siren spends most of her time deep beneath these waters, after all. Perhaps she is simply marveling in the raw sensation of a drizzling stream of water, delighting in the way it pounds away at her pale, glistening skin. Her hair is long and luscious and of the darkest shade of the night; it curls in light waves all the way down to the top curve of her bottom, where hardy, luminescent mer scales lay. They are harshly embedded within her skin, a natural part of her that cannot be so easily erased.

A sudden thought occurs to Lan Wangji. He has heard about this before—in tales and legends he could never have ascertained for himself. Sirens are a sighting so rare in itself, for they mostly live in the darkest, deepest depths of the ocean, only to appear like a dream to lost sailors who—are the easiest prey. But if what he has heard about them is true, then, then, for a siren to be able to stand on two human legs, they first have to remove the outer layer of their skin, their prized tail, the only thing that keeps them one with the ocean.

And this little siren is enjoying her bath like a human.

Clearly, Lan Wangji thinks, eyeing the shimmery, fluorescent tail left unguarded by the side of the lake. Clearly she is unlike the rest. Clearly she longs for the freedom being on land can give her—for if she truly was as crafty as the rest and held a heart so blackened as other sirens do, she would never rise to the surface of her own will, and place herself in such a position to be... vulnerable.

You are only at your strongest in the habitat you belong to.

Lan Wangji wants so much to slither away, back up into the clouds, and allow the breeze to take him to where he must be. His brother, the First Prince, is still waiting for him—waiting on him, to begin their evening meal. There is still fresh blood tainting Lan Wangji’s dragon scales that needs to be cleaned; there is still news of his latest conquest that he needs to report back up to the regent king, his uncle.

So, as beguiling and tempting this opportunity—this siren—presents to him, Lan Wangji knows his place.

He has had his first glimpse of a siren in the wild, and that is enough for him. Lan Wangji’s heart, for better or for worse, has ceased to beat ever since his mother’s death. Dragons are beyond a doubt, awful, greedy creatures; but Lan Wangji has never been attuned as such to the vile characteristics of his kind. He does not want. He does not desire.

He turns his head away, and prepares to ascend back into the clouds.

But then soft laughter escapes the beautiful mer creature, and Lan Wangji’s attention is stolen from him again, against his will; against his anxiously beating heart.

Thud, thud, thud...

A small fairy has flown down from their hide-out in the trees high above to play with the siren, entangling themselves within the long locks of the siren’s hair, eliciting further shrilly laughter from the beauty. Her laughs bubble forth from her throat, all musical and sweet-sounding, drawing Lan Wangji in like a calculated enchantment. The siren finally turns her face his way, and Lan Wangji—becomes so very conscious of the overpowering, thrumming sensation in his veins.

Thud, thud, thud...

(The siren is not the maiden Lan Wangji thought he was, no. The siren is a man, so graceful and divine and heavenly, with silver pearly eyes and ruby red lips that look like they are in dire need to be kissed.)

All at once, the blood-thirst in Lan Wangji’s true nature as a dragon is awakened.

And for the first time in over a century, Lan Wangji begins to understand why everyone—everyone—in this kingdom fears the weight of their greed so.

 


 

Lan Wangji only approaches him at nightfall, when the tears on the siren’s pretty face have dried and he has grown tired from all of the crying. Even as fairies surround him from above, trying to bring him comfort and solace amidst his devastation, they still remain incapable of bringing to him what the siren needs the most—his prized tail back.

For what kind of horrid, horrid thief must have stolen it from him while he was so innocently enjoying the waters of Cloud Recesses? Without his tail, he cannot live and breathe underwater, and he cannot return to his home out in the ocean, where the rest of his family is. Without his tail, he is permanently trapped in his human form, stuck on land where he has neither friend, nor kin.

He is helpless—he is defenseless. He is but a beautiful, naked creature, freezing in the still waters of the night.

And Lan Wangji feels sick for such a thought—although whether he feels remorseful is a whole other story—but when he casts his eyes over that teary, sunken face of his, he thinks, you look even more beautiful when you cry.

Lan Wangji appears to him in his human form, hiding his tail but showing his two dragon antlers. He is dressed in his best, like the dignified royal that he is, in a full noble ensemble befitting a warrior prince. He clears his throat to announce his presence, whilst gazing down at the beautiful siren currently sobbing silently against a large rock.

Immediately, the swarm of fairies scurry away. They have dealt enough with dragons to know better than to stay in the company of them. They know better.

This siren doesn’t.

Lan Wangji kneels down right before the siren, and waits with bated breath as he finally raises his head, and meets the dragon’s golden eyes for the very first time.

“Hello,” the siren whispers, with scarlet eyes and flushed cheeks. He cowers further a second later, when he shamefully remembers he is without even a shred of cloth on his body.

Lan Wangji immediately takes off the princely cloak around his own shoulders, and wounds it gently around the siren’s shivering body. “You must be cold.”

The siren accepts the act of kindness so readily, not even questioning the stranger’s intentions with him. Lan Wangji knows it must be the imperial crest on these garments that impress the siren so. For surely a royal such as himself could never bear to hurt him.

“You should get out of the water,” Lan Wangji continues to say, a hand already brushing through the siren’s—soft, soft—hair. It's still slightly wet, from the many hours of being in the lake. “You will freeze to death.”

“I won’t,” the siren says quickly, then realises his mistake the minute it leaves him. Still, he goes on to explain rather tearfully, “My body constitution is better than most.”

“Is that so,” Lan Wangji says, feigning as if he does not know any better. “Your skin is already wrinkling from the water, though, sweetheart.”

The siren tries to hide his flush from the sweet term of endearment the prince uses on him, but Lan Wangji notices it. Lan Wangji notices everything.

“Even if I leave the waters, I have nowhere else to go,” the siren mumbles to him again with hot cheeks, fully embarrassed. “I, I have no place to be, but here...”

“How convenient,” Lan Wangji tells him gently, with the full earnestness of a pure-hearted prince. “You are in Cloud Recesses, the lands of my kingdom. I cannot, in good faith, allow anyone on these lands to remain without a home. If you’d like, I can take you back to the palace with me.”

The siren’s eyes flare wide open, his small pouty mouth falling open in grateful surprise. “I—could not—take advantage of such kindness—!”

“Oh, this is not kindness,” Lan Wangji says—and it isn’t. “This is simply what I am meant to do.”

And where you are meant to be.

With me.

“The palace is far too big, and we have a good many rooms,” Lan Wangji goes on to say, already spinning tales about the stunning and elusive palace of Cloud Recesses that no average commoner may intrude upon. “We have exquisite private gardens there, and even grander waterfalls for you to bask in.”

It does not take much to convince the siren this is the much better option, as opposed to remaining in this icy lake, all alone.

“It sounds great, your highness,” the siren murmurs out softly, in dazed awe. His two silver eyes, they flicker up and illuminate like the brightest firefly in the night. It’s evident to Lan Wangji that what the siren longs for—is of adventure, is of independence, is of the many unbelievable things the land can offer to him.

Including the company of dragon royalty.

“If you want,” Lan Wangji sweetens the deal, just for him. He thumbs the siren’s wet cheeks, caressing the last remnants of silvery tears that stain his skin. “I can give you everything.”

The siren looks shy, even, to be offered such a thing by the handsome prince. “I would be honoured to just be a guest...”

“You can stay as long as you’d like,” Lan Wangji says, with such tenderness in his voice—and of heavily masked desire. “I only ask for one thing in return.”

Your heart.

“What is it, my liege?”

“Your name,” Lan Wangji asks, unwilling to blink even once in the siren’s presence. Just a little more, and this beautiful creature—is his.

“It’s Wei Ying,” Wei Ying hums, in that sing-song melody Lan Wangji has already grown so fond of hearing. “My name is Wei Ying. What can I call my liege by...?”

“Lan Zhan,” Lan Wangji whispers back, much more urgently this time. His fingers curl up into fists, and they fall to his sides, trying so badly to hide the tremors in his hands. “You can call me Lan Zhan.”

If Wei Ying noticed the dragon steam emitting excitedly from his flared nostrils, he alludes to no such thing.

“Lan Zhan,” Wei Ying calls in such a cloying tone, already eager to trust the rest of his life with the man. He hurriedly rubs at his eyes, wipes away the snot in his nose, and hastens to get out of the waters, with the help of Lan Wangji—whose arms are right open and ready for him to fall into. “It would be my greatest pleasure to go with you.”

And once he’s in Lan Wangji’s arms, the man never, ever, lets go.

He carries the siren up into his hold, bridal-style, and tells him to hold on tight, for he will now take flight.

“Why is your kingdom so high up?” Wei Ying asks, much later, when they’ve arrived at the foot of the golden gates.

“So no one but us dragons can enter,” Lan Wangji answers.

He does not tell Wei Ying it is also so that no one but the dragons can leave.

 


 

A temporary stay at the palace, meant to tide Wei Ying over until his tragic ordeal is over—and his precious tail, finally found—ultimately turns into permanent residency. Lan Wangji orders for his men to search the land and the high seas for Wei Ying’s missing tail, to no avail.

How horrific, how dreadful an ordeal. The perpetrator who committed such a terrible crime should be cursed for generations to come, for so heartlessly stealing from a poor, innocent siren who only ever wanted to make his way back home!

Luckily for Wei Ying, his time with Lan Wangji, Second Prince of the Dragon Gusu Lan Clan, is more than pleasant. The prince is so kind and so sweet, and is a man so easy to fall in love with—allowing Wei Ying the chance to begin envisioning a new forever with Lan Wangji, situated right here in the palace.

A couple of months into their search, Wei Ying falls pregnant. Thanks to a little siren magic and the natural potency of dragons, Wei Ying becomes heavy with child.

The search for his tail is called off. Instead, a wedding is to take place.

The Gusu Lan bloodline continues. And Wei Ying’s connection with the ocean—is severed, for good.

 


 

A-Yuan, the beloved son of Wei Ying and Lan Zhan, and next in line for the throne (right after his father!) is age seven when he first discovers the palace’s treasure room. Usually, there is a nanny to keep him busy when his mother and father are occupied with matters of their own. But A-Yuan has grown so tired of being watched all day, and had whisked away the first chance he got. He runs down the hallway, hides himself behind the first unlocked door, and finds himself standing before an endless hoard of treasure.

He is a dragon himself. He deeply understands the greed in their nature.

There is enough gold and jewels here to feed an entire nation for hundreds of years. But to a seven-year-old boy, these are still mere playthings to him. So he sits amongst coins and gems, and spends a good many hours entertaining himself with objects he would otherwise not be permitted to touch.

It takes him no time at all to stumble upon an enclosed wooden box, so long and rectangular. A-Yuan pries it open with his dragon talons, and easily pulls out the very thing that has been so carefully preserved inside.

—A siren’s tail.

The tail is an utterly resplendent sight; you would not be able to describe its magnificence even if you so wished to. There is no single colour: only vibrance, and luminescence. It radiates a myriad of colours depending on the way the light hits it, from the rich shade of mahogany to the deep shade of sapphire. The scales may look solid and rough, but the skin is soft to the very touch.

There is no reason for a siren’s tail to be hidden so deeply in these midst. This is Cloud Recesses, the home of dragons. This is no place for a siren’s tail to be found.

Oh, but A-Yuan is a smart child. Young he may be, but his mind works fast. He remembers the stories his mother had told him, rather tearfully, of where he’d really been from, of why he’s not a dragon like the rest of them are; of the tail that had been so brutally stolen from him, the one missing piece of him that he’ll never get back—the only thing preventing him from going back home.

And A-Yuan casts his gaze back onto the tail, and he pieces it all together himself; and he immediately knows so keenly where his mother’s missing tail has gone.

Father, you have worked so hard to keep this family together.

A-Yuan, at his core, is a dragon.

And he is his father’s child.

He picks the tail up from where it glimmers so bright on the ground, and seals it back up in the wooden box.

This should never see the light of day, A-Yuan thinks, shelving it behind a massive tower of gold.

For a siren’s tail should remain where it has been best left behind in: a tale.

 

.

.

.

 

(There is a reason why siren lore is plagued by gruesome tales of endless horror and death. They are not to be mistaken for absent-minded creatures, so innocent and pure of heart, who can set their tail aside to be carelessly stolen when it is their only way home.

Lan Wangji may have remembered one part of their lore; but has lost sight of the most crucial one of them all.

For in order for a siren to ensnare their prey, first they lure you in with a song.)