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The Lorelei Signal



Written by Josie Gowler / Artwork by Marcia Borell


I’d left the olive trees and healing waters of Thessalia a year ago. The sand-blasted Deserts of the Black and the Red were now at my back. I bowed slowly at the carcass of my horse, offering up a prayer of thanks for his loyalty. Every day of our trek I had asked him if he’d wanted to continue and with a whinny he had pointed his powerful body towards our goal. His heart had given out yesterday. I missed him already, even more than I missed the rain.


Thessalia. A refuge after the hordes of Kastor and Garamant had destroyed our city, Heraniki. Our powerful mages had done what they could. They’d all died helping us disperse the enemy’s army. Every one of the city’s survivors young enough to fight had volunteered to avenge Heraniki; I alone had been chosen.


The twisted branches of barren olive trees reached out to me like giant’s claws. Sweltering in the heat, I pulled my hair back into a ponytail, off my neck, and undid the top button of my tattered jerkin. “I am Avelli the People Spear,” I muttered, wading the river, gagging on the smell of rotting fish. “I ignore my fear.” I drew my sword.


On the other bank, attack geese armed with wing spikes lunged at me, hissing like snakes. Vicious, but I was in a vicious mood too. I beheaded them all.


Ahead of me was a bubbling mass of death. “I am Avelli the People Spear,” I intoned again. “Let the evil lament at my coming.” I wrinkled my nose at the acrid stench of sulphur. Around the thin line of the path mud boiled angrily over ruined walls. Devastated towers poked up. The remains of the tainted metropolis spread out to the horizon. Another city-state destroyed for the greed of Kastor and Garamant. It would be their last.


It took the whole afternoon to pass through the shattered remains of amphitheatres, temples and triumphal arches. I stepped over broken chariots and skeletons congealed with mud. This city would have been beautiful once, just like mine had been. I aimed for the citadel, the only intact building. Looking up, I saw two figures staring at me from the highest battlements. I had known I couldn’t possibly surprise them. I resisted the urge to wave.


The door was open for me already. I stepped inside. The interior was gilded, opulent. I crept up the wide spiral staircase, wary of traps, but there were none. Curious.


Into their lair. An untouched feast was laid out on a long table against the wall. Kastor and Garamant sat on silver couches in front of it, twins of death with neat grey beards and perfect smiles. Oh, how I hated them. “I am Avelli the People Spear. I will avenge,” I announced.


“I am Kastor. I will receive your vengeance.”


“I am Garamant. I will receive your vengeance.”


“A whole year to find you. A whole year to travel here,” I spat. “Wasted time. Wasted lives.”


“The time passes slowly for us, too.” Kastor pointed out of the window. “Witness the punishment already upon us.” The sun dipped below the horizon and as I watched, Kastor and Garamant shrank and shrivelled in front of me, their hair falling out in clumps, emaciated flesh paling and drawing back in decay, clinging to their skulls. Their gold-trimmed robes hung off their skeletal bodies. They screamed.


“Now you see,” Garamant said. “When we cursed Heraniki, it magnified back at us—your mages’ last work.” He hissed through ruined teeth. “Every evening we die in agony, every morning we return.”


I gestured at the broken city outside the citadel. “Then why…?”


“An attempt to lift the curse,” Kastor said, as if that somehow made it acceptable. I snarled. I raised my sword at the figures on the couches, took a step forward…and stopped.


“Avelli, kill us. Kill us now with your shining bronze,” said Garamant.


“No,” I replied. “I’ll not give you death.” I glared at them. “I’ll give you the sanction of immortality.”


Kastor groaned. “Dying over and over for ever.”


“Agony and the anticipation of agony, unrelenting.” I pushed my sword back into its scabbard. “I am Avelli the People Spear. And this is exactly what you deserve.”


I turned and marched out.


As I walked away the echoes of their screams of despair followed me. I’d upheld their sentence of immortality. No mercy. I allowed myself the first smile I’d had in years.

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J Gowler.jpg

Josie Gowler has had over 50 short stories and articles published, including publication in 101 Words, 365 Tomorrows, Every Day Fiction, Bewildering Stories, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction and Perihelion. She has recently seen her first memoir piece published, in Clownchair. 


In her non-writing spare time, Josie is a Napoleonic re-enactor, another source of short story inspiration.

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