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Chapter 48: Current

Cinis sat, transfixed, as the music took hold of him. Notes trickled in time with the river’s ripples, light as a cloud then cascading like a waterfall. The singer was female, her voice soft and beautiful. A familiar feeling washed over him, the same feeling he always experienced when he was deep in the tunnels below the city. What happened next did not surprise him—he already expected it.

The voice changed, flickering with an infused power that commanded the waters below. The figure stood atop the river, which shone and glimmered as patterns swirled across its smooth surface.

Her black hair flowed down past her shoulders in much the same way as a brook bubbles over the shoulders of mountains. Her eyebrows were arched, her nose sharp, and her eyes an unnaturally deep blue. White frills, the color of foaming wave crests, accented her moonlight dress, and the small, silvery fins of fish circled at her feet. Cinis remained still, facing the creature that he knew not to be human, and he felt a fear deep in his heart for the power before him. Not a fear of his own personal safety, but of respect and reverence.

The singing ceased, and she spoke, her voice maintaining a steady, musical rhythm.

“My pets alerted me to your coming, young one. I heard your calling, and I have come.”

“There must be some mistake,” said Cinis, and he was surprised by the musical quality in his own voice. “I never called you. I think my friend may have,” he motioned to Jessica, “but I don’t even know your name.”

“Just as spring calls the rain, and winter the snow, you have called me. Your friend, a one you are lucky to have in your midst, called my pets to your aid. But it is your being that called me. What brings you to my waters?”

“We are headed to Cardinia,” he said.

“The blended city?” she replied. “What business have you there? You are not clear, young one. I see you like I see a muddy puddle. I know what you are, but who? And from where? These things I cannot see, for something obscures you like tinted glass. Come, come with me beneath the waters, and let us see who you really are.”

He felt the music in her voice pulling at him, the notes wrapping around him, leading him toward the edge of the raft.

“Come with you where?” he asked, stepping forward, his feet carried by an invisible current.

“Beneath the waters,” she said again, reaching her fingertips forward, the translucent skin bearing the same color and texture as ice. “Come with me, child. I feel rough edges in you—anger, spite, bitterness. Come, let the river wash them away. Let it smooth your edges like the stones of the riverbed. Come, forget Rhymenia, forget the above world. You’ll be safe here, you belong here and have so much to learn. So much that I can teach you.”

“Teach me what?” he asked, sitting down on the edge of the raft and lowering one leg into the water. It felt warm and welcoming, and the figure smiled at him as he sank down to his knee.

“Many things, young one. I could teach you the ways of water—you have potential, the power to master it. And you shall never find a better teacher than myself. More than that, however, young one. I am old, far older than any you have ever met, with memories to match my age. I have known your kind before, known where they have fallen astray, known what they are capable of and the wrongs and rights that they have committed.”

“What do you mean by my kind?” he asked, and besides the musical quality, a slur had entered his voice, as if he were already speaking underwater.

“There are ears all around,” she responded. “Birds and trees and bears and men. Others who would not be nearly as friendly as I would to you.” She smiled softly. “But your fathers once did me a great favor, a favor that I cannot forget, and which I am obligated to repay.”

Cinis was now waist-deep in the water, his legs like lead weights, dragging him down, his fingers loosening on the edge of the raft as he lowered himself deeper into the current. In a way, it reminded him of the tunnels beneath Querkus, and he closed his eyes, accepting the pull, the water now up to his chest.

“What sort of favor?” he asked, and for a second he wondered where he was.

I should be at the tavern, he thought. Rearden will be upset if I’m late for class, or if the dishes are not done for the customers. Have we paid the taxes this month? I don’t remember doing it, and what if we forgot? Why am I wet?

“He set me free,” answered the figure, and Cinis felt her finger graze the back of his neck, an electrifying impulse extending from it as the music screamed in volume, a sense of power far beyond him, like the smell of ozone after a nearby lightning strike. “I intend to do the same for you.”

He drifted toward her, two fingers still clinging to the raft, the water cradling him.

“Ok,” he answered, and he let go, just as another hand grasped his wrist and he opened his eyes.

“No!” shouted Jessica, her eyes wide and grip so strong that it cut off his circulation. “Cinis, no!”

She raised her gaze to the figure in the water, blue meeting blue, calm meeting ferocity.

“I don’t know who you are,” she hissed, “or what you want. Cinis will be coming with me, and I won’t let him go without a fight.”

“A raindrop against a river is not a fight,” responded the figure as the silver fins beneath her quickened.

“I don’t care,” countered Jessica, staggering her feet in a fighting stance, her fists clenched as a branch grew from the wood of the raft and twisted itself snugly around Cinis’ forearm.

***

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