Perhaps everything she did was an act of defiance.
A chilled wind snaked its way through the temple, slithering its way through the halls and chambers. She felt it touch the nape of her neck, her skin responding with a shiver. Her eyes were locked on the page, ignorant of anything else. A thumb pressed against the bottom of the pages, rubbing against the next page. Her fingers toyed with the paper, waiting for her eyes to catch up to their intent.
She continued to scan, continued to absorb. Page after page. At some point, the tiny mechanisms of linguistics all start to fall away. Eventually, the process of learning, of absorbing — it becomes so addictive, so absolutely crucial, that it starts to become a challenge to place exactly where you are in the process. The information travels from the page to you, but that pathway — even the temporality of it — becomes impossible to pinpoint.
She’d always been like this. It was a curse, really.
Stick someone like her in this order, place her near this much knowledge… the end result was inevitable. That’s what she told herself, at least. Over and over. It was always so cold in here, and these books were a constant source of heat. Of warmth. They were a flame she could place her hands over and just… absorb it all.
Or maybe she was just a moth.
Did it matter?
It did. But it was like pornography. The words faded into sigils, into tantalizing secrets. Things she never was supposed to know. Things they kept from her. There was good reason for that, mind. She was aware of that. But, truthfully: if someone sets all the knowledge in the world in front of you, and you just happen to pick up the bits that are forbidden… I mean, what did they expect?
Her life was always supposed to be a certain way. She never had much of a choice in it. None of them did, really. It was just that her sisters, well, they all seemed to want to belong — to serve Her. She did too, deep down.
But in pledging service to the moon, does that mean ignoring everything else? Does it mean that there is only one path?
Her eyes closed, slowly drawing in a breath.
“Cel,” a gentle voice called from behind her.
She nearly jumped out of her chair, slapping her palm into the page — an exaggerated, if futile, attempt to censor the information on it — to keep it from prying eyes.
“By Her grace you frightened me,” she said. Her pulse thumped in her ear louder than the voice that startled her.
“You’ve been here for hours. Don’t you think you should rest?”
She let her shoulders drop, slipping the book in front of her closed around her fingers, letting them spill out from between the pages.
“I haven’t been here that long, not really.”
“Not really? You’ve been here for hours today. Days, lately. Weeks, even. You are long sense done your studies — shouldn’t you be moving on to more practical things?”
“Practical things,” she repeated under her breath, the slightest hint of distaste. “Yes, I should be spending more time with the others in ritual, but… I’ve still got a lot to learn here.”
“I saw what you were reading.”
She froze, suddenly very aware of the breeze passing through the halls. Very aware of the book still in her grasp. Very aware of the Druid behind her, and his stupid, prying amber eyes.
“If I told the Priestess, would she find it interesting.”
“Please… just — look, just don’t.”
“You know I wouldn’t.”
She’d known him for decades, but that still didn’t calm her nerves. She wouldn’t be able to hide that — so she didn’t. Instead she just glared at him. That’ll do it.
“I’m serious. I just am worried about you.”
“There’s nothing to worry about.”
There wasn’t even a gram of truth in that statement. There was a lot to worry about. If ever possible thread of anxiety existed in front of her right now, she could weave a damned quilt. It wasn’t just what was in those books — it was the very real knowledge that she wasn’t the only one to read them, or to ever have read them.
She was being taught one side of a coin when others had mastered the whole thing. Was she worried that one day that ignorance would haunt her? Yes. Was she also worried that the lack of ignorance would ruin her? Also yes. Funny that — sometimes, the tiniest, most seemingly innocuous scrap of knowledge can build into a curse. Once you become aware of a thing, it’s impossible to ever turn away from it.
Her fingers played against the cover of the book. He’d said nothing more, but she could still feel his glare.
“Look, I’m not about to do something stupid or drastic. I just think it’s best that we are aware of all the forces around us. I don’t think we should be using them, or even shouting about them — these things are hidden for a reason — but I can’t just act like I never heard of the shadow.”
He grimaced, shaking his head.
“You can’t be serious. I thought maybe… I didn’t really think you’d been reading up on that this whole time.”
“Well, not this whole time.”
“I’m going to stay quiet, but you promise me — you promise me right now — this is just another one of your sudden interests, right? Same as alchemy? You’re going to be interested and then… not?”
“Probably,” she said.
“You’ve got to do better than that.”
“Okay, fine, I promise. It’s just curiosity, nothing more.”
His frown faded a bit, though it was hardly gone. “Fine. We’re going to be heading out soon — will you come with us? Maybe breathe less musty air for a change?”
It was a lie and she knew it. This was more than curiosity. Deep down, she knew that was the case. Or, at least, part of her did. The other was confident she’d put this book away, follow her friend out of here, and be distracted by something or something else and that’d be it. She’d never return to this.
But the other part of her — it was defiant. It was stronger.
It already had her hooks in her.