The stars hang suspended, glittering violently. Through my watchful eyes, I can see the silhouette of the castle, faded and foreboding. I shiver, waiting in the water, a silky resistance. The air is still and crackling cold. I swim closer, the water moving with my body, cocooning. I am weightless, moving with powerful strokes, silent. I can feel tendrils of water grass tickling my legs as I go past, slippery and darting fish swimming by. The water shimmers as I move through, black and silver ripples slapping. The castle rears up, battlements poised and waiting. I hear nothing. My ears retain the sound of a shell, muffled and murky. There is a faint ringing sound, but it comes from within my head. I pay it no mind, watchful, my other senses on alert, prickling.
I come up against a dark place at the foot of the castle. The ground is slippery with green algae. The bars rear up, a dark entrance guarding old secrets. I touch them, frightened and wistful. Steely resolve gives me fire, and I paddle through the bars, pushing back from them. I can touch the ground with my feet here. Half walking, half swimming, I make my way through the tunnel. It is a familiar earthy damp smell, comforting. My eyes adjust to the darkness and I can see the faint welcoming light up ahead. I give up walking and swim forcefully, opening up my lungs and breathing through the ache. Nearly there. I swim away from the danger of the outside, even though the inside feels mysterious and undiscovered.
He is waiting, and offers me a warm clean blanket. It smells of sunshine. He smells of sunlight, a shock of black hair sticking out everywhere, a distrustful shell. He still resists my friendship, remaining brisk and professional. Yet there are times when I see him, out of the corner of my eye, waiting for me to say something, his face open as the moon. We are strangers, together on a lonely island, bound by necessity.
‘Here,’ he says, passing a steaming mug.
I inhale deeply, taking in the rich, deep smell of ground coffee, sweetened with cinnamon.
‘There was nothing out there. When are we leaving?’ I sip gratefully, and feel the warmth spread to my toes.
‘Maybe tomorrow, if we can avoid being seen. I don’t have enough supplies to last longer than two days. If not tomorrow, we must leave at daybreak the next day,’ he says, his dark eyes impenetrable.
‘Okay. How long will it take to reach the city? I know we’re not far away, but it will take longer if we want to be hidden,’ I feel nervous all of a sudden, knots tying up in my stomach.
‘Like I’ve said, it will probably take three hours. Michael is taking us in. He knows to expect us in the next day or so. Remember, we’ve done this all before…you’re safe with us.’ He smiles in that brief way of his, not quite reaching his eyes.
‘Sure. I just wanted to know.’ I smile, feel reassured, only just.
We sit on the makeshift table, assembled out of driftwood. He has skills, this man. He knows how to tie wishes and create them, forming kinetic energy into solid objects. He has explained that his affinity is for nature. He uses the elements to tie his wishes, to bring things into being. He isn’t forthcoming with the instructions, but I had watched him form two chairs, a table and a small hut from the rocks and pieces of washed up boat debris surrounding us. I have no idea how pure energy can hold it all together, but it does. He already has an oil lamp, old and rusty. He says it is more reliable than an electric torch, since his energy interferes with electricity. He knows how to communicate with me, clear lip patterns, and well lit, facing me. He tells me that he has never met a water element who can’t hear. He found me, yesterday, lost, swimming for my life, confused.
As we settle for the night, I am unable to sleep, my mind drifting. The ground is hard, the cold seeping into my bones, despite the three blankets I am wearing. My ears are still humming, the inside of a conch. Silence is not silent. I can’t remember falling asleep, but I do, eventually. I dream of bright stars, falling, exploding with blood and power.