SPOILER WARNING: Don't read this if you haven't read river secrets yet! It'll just spoil everything and won't make any sense anyway.
During the process of writing this book, I wanted to be closer to Dasha, to make sure I understood her. I chose a scene, the end of Chapter 18 and beginning of 19, and wrote it from Dasha's point-of-view. This was a writing exercise only, never meant to be part of the finished book. It's a rough scene, never edited, but I thought you might enjoy it anyway.
Dasha was fingering a peculiar silver brooch when she spotted that sneak, Tumas. Just the sight of him made her hands feel dirty. She left the shop, vaguely aware of the merchant shouting lower prices at her back, and ran after him.
The streets outside the market hushed, the day stilled. In the solitude, she was aware of the thickness of the air. She parted her lips and breathed in, tasting water on her tongue. Everything was so heavy. The clouds were crowded, their presence pushed down on her. The hairs on her arms tingled, suggesting that the sky was full of lightning unspent.
She glared up. “I am not playing this game.”
Clouds jostled each other, eager to unload their weight. She felt that familiar pull on her skin. All she would have to do is feel it, close her eyes and feel the clouds release, the rain break apart, the world sigh in relief, and she knew it would happen. The desire tugged on the corner of her mouth like a hopeful smile, but her belly felt black and heavy. Again, the image of her grandfather pulsed behind her eyes—the defeat on his face, his skin wet, his body leaning into the river. It was a sight so familiar in memory, it was like the smell of home. A home where she did not want to stay.
“I won’t do it,” she whispered.
She ripped her attention away from air and sky and realized that Tumas was no longer in sight. She kept wandering, hoping to find him. Ever since the day she saw him climbing a tree to peer in Enna’s window, she had kept watch on him. Why had he been spying on Enna? Did he guess that she was the fire-witch?
Dasha harbored a mad, hopeful fancy that once she knew what Tumas was up to, she could go to Enna and tell her, that Enna would be grateful to Dasha for looking out for her, that they would become friends, and Enna would understand about the water and the desire and offer a cure…Dasha smiled sheepishly. It was a lovely fantasy, but it crackled and fell away under scrutiny. Enna would, naturally, be suspicious. No friendship was likely to spring up between them. Relations between Bayern and Tira felt like holding a glass pane above her head, balanced on her fingertips, her arms tiring. But perhaps she could talk to that boy Razo...
Then, suddenly, there he was, standing over something dark. The day dimmed as though taking a long blink. He was gaping down at a body. Burned body. He pushed it to the bank and sent it into the river, mumbling something to himself. Curious to hear, Dasha stepped closer.
Razo looked up, and the expression on his face pierced her—shock, pain, fear. Didn’t he recognize her?
“Razo,” she said, so that he might hear her voice and remember that she was a friend. But his eyes were crazed.
“It was you,” he said, stepping away.
He was backing up, toward the river. She should have reached out to stop him, but for an instant his movement made sense to her; she herself felt drawn toward water, it seemed only natural. It was not until his body tumbled over the edge that she realized it had been a mistake.
The wall beneath her was sheer, no hand or foot holds, and the current was pulling him hard toward the sea. She ran alongside.
“Swim that way!” She pointed to the other bank, where tiled steps led out of the water. “You can climb up there! Swim away from me!”
Razo was thrashing madly, churning water, his neck bent back, his head up and pleading for air. A wave struck his face, and he disappeared, leaving a trail of bubbles.
“No, no, no,” Dasha breathed, running, watching for him to come back.
He can’t swim. The thought slapped the hesitation out of her, and her fear of the threat water promised her lifted as the very real threat of his immediate death weighed down.
From so far away, her link to the river was weak, connected only by the invisible water that hung in the air. She needed direct contact to communicate this need to the river, so she ran off the edge, a final thrust from her feet pitching her into a dive.
The impact shoved away her sense of her bodily self. She floated underwater, dazzled by the touch of so much water. Its song filled her ears and its sense spoke of tiled banks and garbage wood, the skeleton of a dog in its depths, spots where warmth gathered and other plunges of raw cold, down where darkness sparked with drops of sunlight and up where the surface undulated under strokes of air—the river’s touch exhaling a thousand images. Dasha pled with it to speak to her of a boy inside the river, air leaving his lips, body falling down.
Then she found him. Her eyes closed, she could see the image of him in her mind, carried to her by the water. She was too far to touch him, but the water touched all.
Moving water was like dreaming. When she was only half-asleep and pierced with slivers of dreams, she could change the story they told, move herself into a different story, a nicer one, a dream story where she wanted to stay. Water was like a dream—not something she could hold, not easily changed like clay in her hands. She had to will it, want it, see it before it would obey her. And even then, it was a slippery thing to hold.
Dasha kicked and rose upward, all the while keeping with her the picture of Razo as he sank down, his eyes open. She held that thought fiercely and imagined him now head up, body rising. Her face broke through to cold air. He was near the surface now, too. She forced herself to feel the water roiling beneath him, lifting him, snaking beneath his body, carrying him across the current. Moments after she felt it, she was relieved to see it happen, the water complying with her vision. Dasha swam behind him, watching the ripples of water spray around his body. She did not ask the water to carry her. Just the thought of how much she had already done filled her with a dark panic that threatened to weigh her like a stone. She had to work with the water to save Razo, but she would make as little contact with it as possible. Already she was feeling a strange, lovely tingling in her fingertips and toes, almost as though the tips of her were in danger of being lost, the river taking her into itself, forgetting where Dasha ended and water began. It was a gorgeous sensation, and one that frightened her, shooting an unearthly cold through the insides her bones.
Ahead of her, Razo reached the bank and pulled himself out. Dasha was a few laps behind.
She fluttered her legs one last time under water, feeling as light as a butterfly, as sleek as a snake. She kicked herself out of the water and onto the bank, and the sense of her body returned, as heavy as the world.
Razo said something to her, but she did not hear it. Though in the hard air now, her head still felt underwater, sound softened through a river. Her feet to ankles hung in the water, and against her skin she heard the river muttering in its swift, cold voice, passing on images of all that touched its bank, all that passed over its surface or lay in its depths, ruffled by the pull of the current like leaves are in a wind. How easy it would be to just fall back in, how lovely not to have to struggle any more on dry land.
Her awareness of the clouds pulled at her skin, dragging her gaze up from the water. The dampness in the air tickled her face and arms with the knowledge that the gravid sky was groaning with the weight of rain. She knew lightning would flicker in the west the moment before it flashed. Her soul felt pierced, and she remembered that she was fighting something. She remembered Grandfather. She had promised the flowers blooming around his grave that she would never succumb to what had taken him, to the lies of solidarity the water gibbered. She’d had to save Razo, but she would not toy with that curse anymore. She would live.
Razo was pulling her to her feet, and she followed, tearing herself from the river. Thunder laughed at her, and she glared up.
I won’t play. I am done.
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