I was fifteen years young when I went swimming in the local lake. Because it was normal, and I still passed for normal in ways other people did. The lake was old and deep, the undertow that dragged me down a thick and dark thing. I drew up the magic in me, reached out into the world and found the sea, and the sea was older than magic and far too large for me to touch. We bargained, deep under the waters, and the sea did not take me in turn for aid when it needed aid. I was wise enough to wonder what the sea could ever need, but also to realize it was the only option I had.
Which is why I am standing on the edge of the pier in jeans and a t-shirt, my socks and shoes and personal items warded and left behind me. I told Charlie and Jake I was just going for a walk, and perhaps one of them believes me. The sea called in the tap water, in the rain that touched the earth and in my dreams: for we are born of the sea and all dream of it at some point. I wrap power about myself, and something not at all magic as well that cuts power to four city blocks.
I dive down, and the water embraces me, slides off of me. I slip through water easier than air, gliding down to the mud and sand and echoes of old magics that make up the sea bed. There are old compacts and powers that hold the ocean from the land; I don’t brush the edges of any, merely walk in the darkness lit by sea magic. The magics of the sea are a beautiful death, but against even those my bargain holds.
There are other things in the sea, too: monsters born of magics, creatures born of other worlds. Entities from outside the universe who slide into the oceans and never escape them. The bargain I made means little to them, perhaps, but I am a magician and that is enough to hold them at bay at well as I walk down until the sea rumbles with power and a deep darkness pushes in on the world from all sides. There are things in the sea older even than it, and one such stirs against ancient pacts to shudder the sea floor and shred apart the balances that hold the sea together.
“Hello,” I say, and both magic and the sea carry my voice into tones and registers not at all human.
“Magician,” the creature says, in stone and magma and the first iron. It is from before oceans and I shudder to think of how it was bound at all, or by what. “You would bind me?”
I laugh, and the laughter needs no touch of power to pierce the barriers of our natures. “You are of this world: that is not what magicians are for.”
“I itch,” it says, and far below the earth shudders and groans under movement.
“Yes. Humans, the sea says. Perhaps it is right, or perhaps it is time for you to itch.” The sea presses around me in a cold silence. “There are other options,” I say, and reach for the power I pulled down from the surface and offer it.
The creature accepts, examines, and absorbs it in the same moment, certain there is nothing I could do to harm it. Information pulses through water and air and ether for a moment, another, and it lets out a slow and deep sigh. “You expect me to hold myself back for this?”
“No. Not at all.” I spool out the last of the magic, cable tv flowing from me and to the creature. “I am showing you humanity. And what we have done. What we could do. We could leave this world without magic in time. Head to other worlds, explore other lands, and you would rise them, and move, and the sea part itself and be free of you. It is not long for you, but so long for us. You are, but we are a becoming and I ask for that chance to leave this world as you once left your own home.”
It lets out a deep, slow laugh. “You do not beg.”
“No. I offer knowledge, in the hope that we are allowed to find wisdom.”
It lets out a rumble of movement. “We are in agreement, magician. The Sea chose well,” it says before sinking deep below waters and magma, perhaps as far down as the core of the world. I don’t even attempt to follow or sense anything of it.
I turn and walk back slowly toward the world I know, and nothing of the sea stands in my way. In time it may claim me, because of bargains and debt, but this is not that time and we both know it. I climb out of water and slip into the rest of my clothing and walk slowly back toward the motel, my feet wobbly and unsteady, and it takes all the strength I have not to jump at any sound behind me, not to feel subways under me and take it as something else entirely.
Charlie and Jay are both waiting in the motel room. I am shoved into a warm blanket in silence, a hot chocolate thrust into my hands, and they each take a seat across from me and wait, the weight of them pushing something of the sea aside in time, and I speak and I say:
“I was fifteen years young when I went swimming in the local lake...”