Chapter 16

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Almost two weeks go by without seeing Willow again, but she sends me messages letting me know she is fine, just busy with her lessons. And though I'm dying to see her again, between day-to-day training and my extra sessions with Hale, I hardly have time to think. Missing her has become a steady ache in my heart.

Today ends up being surprisingly hot, summer's last desperate blast of heat before fall. The air feels sticky and after a few hours of training, I'm not the only one covered in a layer of sweat. Even Maddox is sweating profusely, his face bright red, and I feel a surge of satisfaction.

The captain calls for attention when the sun is high in the sky, crisping the back of my neck. "You guys have done great today and I thought as a reward, we could move to the lake."

 Groans of relief break out across the clearing. It takes me a second to get what he's saying, then my stomach sinks. 

"Don't think you're getting off easy," Sebastian says with a grin. "Nothing builds endurance like swimming so I think we'll set up-" He cuts off as a messenger comes running into the clearing, rushing over and whispering in his ear. 

A deep frown cuts across his face. "We'll set that up when I get back," he calls. "Take a break until then but no one gets in the water. Understood?"

"Yes sir," echoes through the clearing as the captain nods then hurries down the path. 

Cold sweats break out over my body at the thought of getting into the lake. If I tell Sebastian I can't swim, there is no way he'd make me get in... right? The thought doesn't do much to calm me down though. A flash of that face pulling me under flickers through my head and I shiver, the scars on my arm throbbing.

"The captain had better hurry so I can get in that water," Gareth whines, shifting from foot to foot. "Elias, be a lookout and Talia and I can run and jump in really quick and-"

"No!" I cut him off loudly- too loudly. A few people glance at us curiously. "Sorry it's just- I don't swim. I- I can't."

"You can't swim?" Gareth asks incredulously. "How is that even possible? How do you keep cool during the blistering hot summer days? You should have melted by now!"

"I just never learned," I say, feeling very uncomfortable. Gareth and Elias are both looking at me like I've grown another head. Surely it wasn't that unheard of for someone to not know how to swim. "Just drop it, okay?" I snap.

Gareth holds up his hands in defense."Okay, okay. You're just lucky you and the captain are all buddy buddy, or he'd be tossing your ass in that water for the first lesson of swimming; swim or sink." He sighs loudly, back to shifting from foot to foot. "Look, can we at least go sit on the dock? No getting in the water, I promise," he adds quickly, seeing my look.

I glance at the dock, anxiety already twisting in my stomach. I'm ashamed of my fear, of the way it controls me. Normal people aren't afraid of water, and definitely not afraid of sitting on a dock above the water.

"Sure," I concede uneasily. "But if I trip and drown, I'm haunting you."

Gareth laughs and pulls me over to the wooden stairs of the dock. A few other recruits have the same idea, sitting around and dangling their feet over the edge. It's built up a few feet above the water- perhaps to factor in the rainy season when the lake would swell- so no one is actually getting wet. A nice breeze rolls off of the lake though, cooling the sweat on my brow.

I grind my teeth and force myself to walk up those couple of steps, fighting the instinct to run the whole time. Once up on the dock, I stay safely in the middle, the edges still too close for comfort. Hale is one of the recruits already on the dock and he gives me a strange look, which I ignore, sitting down near Gareth and Elias. They thankfully chose a spot next to the stairs.

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