“There’s nothing you can try?” Gemma persisted. “You created the curse. There has to be something that you can do. Something you know.”
“I’m afraid not.” Diana was beginning to sound weary of the conversation.
“Can’t? Or won’t?” Marcy asked, echoing the same thought running through Gemma’s mind.
“Perhaps it’s both,” Diana admitted with a slow shrug of her shoulders.
“I have the scroll,” Gemma said. They’d left it out in the car, but she could get it in a flash if she needed to. “I know that if I can destroy the scroll, the curse can be undone, like with Asterion and the other minotaurs.”
“If you have the scroll, then you’ve tried destroying it, and you’ve failed,” Diana said.
Gemma exchanged a look with Harper, wondering if she should admit the truth, but decided there was no point in lying to Diana. Not about this. “I’ve tried everything I can think of, and nothing even makes a mark.”
“Of course it doesn’t. The paper wouldn’t be worth anything if it did,” Diana replied.
“Is the paper cursed? Is there a way to destroy it?” Gemma asked.
“No. The paper is absolutely and completely indestructible,” Diana confirmed their worst fears. “The curse is in the ink.”
“The ink?” Harper asked, trying not to appear too eager, most likely remembering her own experiments with it. “So what happens with the ink?”
“I’ve already told you that I’m not going to help you, so if you’ve come all the way for this, then I’m sorry that we’re going to have to cut this visit short.” Any niceties evaporated from Diana’s voice. “There’s no reason to continue if you’ll only keep asking the same question over and over.”
“Why wouldn’t you want to help me?” Gemma asked. “Penn has been running around doing whatever she wants for a couple millennia. This is supposed to be a curse, but she acts like it’s the greatest gift ever. With all due respect, if you want to really punish her, then you should end this.”
“Penn?” Diana sounded intrigued. “Is that what Peisinoe is going by now?”
“Yeah. Penn is one of only two original sirens left,” Gemma said.
Diana nodded. “I always suspected that she would outlive the rest of them.”
“She’s going to live on, happily ever after, if we don’t do something.” Gemma leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees, and tried to convey more confidence than she actually felt.
Diana cocked her head. “How old are you?”
“Is that your human age, or how long you’ve been a siren?”
“Human,” Gemma said. “I’ve only been a siren for a few months.”
“Sixteen years is your entire life. It’s all of time to you, but it’s a blink of the eye to me. You can’t even fathom time as I do,” Diana said with a condescending tone that Gemma did not care for.
“I don’t understand what this has to do with punishing Penn,” Gemma said.
“Because time has everything to do with it,” Diana said. “I am very, very old. Not quite as old as the earth, but close. In the beginning, there was only us. No mortals. Just gods. But time kept moving, and we stayed the same. We squabbled and bickered among ourselves, but it soon became meaningless. It wasn’t until the humans came around that life truly began.
“I waited a very long time before I bore any children,” Diana went on. “I knew what life was like to be alone, to live forever, and when Persephone was born, that changed everything.
“When Penn and her sisters were supposed to be caring for my daughter, my beloved Persephone, they were out swimming and singing, trying to impress suitors. They were supposed to protect Persephone. Instead, they were having the time of their lives while someone raped and murdered Persephone,” Diana spat. Her lips were pulled back in an angry grimace, and her eyes blazed. “I found her bloody body discarded in a field, wrapped in the shawl that had been meant for her wedding.”
But then she took a deep breath, and her whole body slacked as the anger was replaced by sadness. “Persephone was the sun to my earth, and without her…”
She paused and stared out at the window. Tears welled up in her eyes, and other than the sound of Thallo purring next to Marcy, the room was silent as Diana composed herself.
“It’s been thousands of years since my daughter died,” Diana said at length. “And yet, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her. Not a day when my heart doesn’t ache for her. This pain that I feel, the one that I endure every day, this is what I wanted to give to Penn and her sisters. Death is easy compared to this.”
“The siren curse sounds like a fair punishment, except that Penn has never and will never feel that kind of pain,” Gemma said. “She’s never loved anything enough to feel like that.”
“She hadn’t, no, not when I turned her into a siren. Which is why I did it.” Diana turned away from the window and looked back at Gemma. “She was a selfish girl who cared nothing for anyone, and her negligence killed my only child. How could I hurt her as badly as she’d hurt me when she’d never loved, when she wasn’t even capable of loving the way that I had?
“The curse itself—the swimming, the singing, the men—that’s only part of it,” Diana explained. “Those were the only things in her life that mattered to her, and her sisters, and I wanted her to do them again and again and again. Hell is repetition. I learned that in the years I walked the earth before humans, before Persephone. I wanted the only things in life that gave her pleasure to eventually mean nothing. Her only joys would eventually make her numb.
“The second part of the curse, the worst part, she didn’t even understand.” Diana smiled bitterly. “Not for centuries. In fact, it became so long, I thought it might never happen.”
“What happened?” Gemma asked.
“She fell in love,” Diana said simply.
“With who?” Harper asked, and by the tone of her voice, Gemma knew she feared that it was Daniel.
The truth was that Gemma herself wasn’t sure if Penn really loved him or what exactly she wanted with him. She knew that whatever it was, it couldn’t be good, but she didn’t think that was what Diana was referring to now.