She loves to swim.
No-one knows this. Why should they? The only place to swim back in base camp is the lake, and it’s unappealing if not hostile. And—black. Dark and cold, the hesitant lines of sunlight that shift through the water reaching no more than 20 feet down.
Not like the cold green waters off the coast of her home. Or the warm, liquid azure surrounding the island she’d visited with her parents when she was small. Waters that cradled and embraced her, that showed themselves to her as she moved through them.
She misses the sea. Misses it with an ache that sinks through to her bones sometimes. Freak, they said in camp, at school, ignorant of her heritage.
Not that it would matter. If they knew, she’d simply have been treated like the prisoners in camp. As half-human, rather than just a freak.
After she’d left school, come to camp, she’d found that twisting ache actually inflicting physical pain. Wondered what the combination of knowledge and her mother’s blood might have wakened in her had she stayed a civilian.
Dangerous, yes. But then all things were dangerous when you dove deep.
And now she swims in knowledge.
Knowledge is power. She’s known it from a young age, though she loved it for itself and not what it could bring her. Like the sea.
She marvels at knowing things, exults in it, as surely as in the sea. Loves the feel, the glide of facts as they weave the world around her. Loves breathing them in and exhaling them in strings of syllables and inscriptions and equations as fluid as the knowledge which forms them. It is the only thing she could have dreamt, could have imagined, that is better than diving into the cradling embrace of the sea: Knowledge, a force that flows like water and lets her breathe it like air.
And as with the sea, the riptides of knowledge she rides—with inscription or equation—can tear apart the unwary.
She wonders at the fact that the thrashing currents left the students at school, the warriors at camp, so untouched. So unmoved. At the fact that her teachers never mentioned that the things they teach are dangerous regardless of whether or not they’re used for dark purposes. It’s only in the last year, while watching soldiers and sybils and sycophants come and go around her, that she’s realized that they don’t know. That several of her teachers didn’t know.
How can people’s bodies be battered by the things that knowledge creates while they remain unaware of the power flowing about them?
But perhaps that’s why. Perhaps having a physical reason to which they can pin the pain means that they’re less aware of other tides.
But her favorite teacher had been aware of the slow maelstrom of knowledge. It was there in the intensity of her gaze at an erring student, the sternness of her demeanor as she controlled her classes—in her ruthless, constant scrutiny of the power being channeled through the words of those she taught.
She understood all that her teacher saw only after she left school. Just before she left camp.
Much too late.
So now she kneels in a forest—outlaw, outcast, betrayer, betrayed—and thinks of the sea. Thinks of bright lines of light in green depths while gazing into the orange heart of a tiny fire with the child she stole asleep in the tent behind her and everyone she loves somewhere that isn’t here. That will never be here, because thanks to the knowledge she channels they can’t find her now.
She and her ward are alone.
Maybe it’s because of her mother. Maybe it’s because she wasn’t meant to know so much. (Was she a freak? Had they been right?) Maybe it’s taken for granted by everyone else, and it’s only she who fears the depths and the inexorable tug of the knowledge she now treads like water.
It’s definitely only she who feels the bottom sinking away beneath she and the boy as the war churns deeper and darker around them. She that the dimming world presses in upon, blacker and colder and closer, stealing the air. There are times now when she thinks that the effort leaves her gasping for breath. (Perhaps that had always been their plan.)
She closes her eyes, shivering in the faint warmth of the fire, and tilts her head back to feel the cold against her face. Pictures the green depths of the sea about her, shoals sinking to black in the looming dark, and feels the chill, heavy swirl of currents which press fierce and heavy on her skin. Which seek she and her ward with a weight and pressure and limb-rending force that she fears her frame can withstand for only a little longer.
(Let it be enough. Let me save him.)
She kneels, blind in the surge of a shadowy riptide, and wonders what it will feel like to drown.
[It hasn't been my habit to post my fiction here; this is something of a test run. An excerpt, in abstract form, from a medium-length story that's been shaping itself v e r y s l o w l y.]