“I don’t see anyone,” Jackie mumbles as she steps out from the hole. “Do you?”
Demetria takes a moment before responding. “Me neither.”
I dart out of the cave, willing them to follow me.
“Hey—where is he going?” I hear Dametria ask aloud.
Jackie says something, but I’m too far away to hear. I stop and turn back to look at them, waiting for them to pick up the slack and follow along with what the leopard had told them. If I didn’t listen, I’d probably be dead by now. I was close to it when I was left in the woods by her, alone and confused and blacking out at a rapid rate.
Demetria stares at me for a long moment, and I grow impatient. Freaking follow me, I growl at her in my mind. You good-for-nothing—
“What I most desire,” she mumbles as she draws closer. I stand my ground as she stares down at me. “But what, exactly, do I most desire?”
“What are you doing?” Jackie presses, a slight attitude spewing into her posture and words. “We should go check on my brother.”
“No,” Dametria quips, almost too harshly. “We need to do what the leopard says.”
“Oh my—you’ve gone insane.”
“One wish, Jackie. One wish!” Dametria turns toward the girl, tears in her eyes as she begs her to go. “What do you most desire? What is your wish?”
Jackie is taken aback by her explosion. “I, uh... my family. I just hope they’re... you know... alive.” She sniffles at the word, and then clears her throat. “But that isn’t the point. The people on this island—”
“I’m going,” Demetria interrupts. “You can come if you’d like, or you can fend for yourself in the water, fish.”
Dametria storms away, walking in the direction I’d been heading, and Jackie scoffs. She looks once behind her, as if she’s longing to leave, but her feet don’t move. She sighs. “Oh, alright. I’m sure they’re fine—Damian and I made a promise, anyway...”
I lead the way as they moved in silence, causing irritability to stir inside of me. Dametria’s never quiet. And when she is quiet, she’s thinking of something that’ll cause more harm than good. It’s just her nature. She’s probably wondering how she’ll get me back, or something. Perhaps it’s some way to draw my attention to her rather than Cressa-la.
“What was the ‘quest’ the leopard was talking about?”
“Hm?” Dametria sounds, pulling herself from her thoughts. “Oh, I don’t know. But I feel like it’s something important.”
“What—so... you’re following an animal’s directions when you don’t even know what it’s for? This could be a trap.”
“Trap or not, I need that wish.”
“You must be desperate.”
“You have no idea.”
We continue to walk, silence spilling between each crunching leaf beneath our feet. My body is getting tired, and it wants so badly to rest, but I feel I have to keep going.
A growl escapes from the densely packed trees to my right, and I freeze. The pig inside me wants to scurry away as quickly as possible, but the human wishes to stay, to fight. Jackie whimpers slightly, and I can nearly feel her panic. She doesn’t know this world like Dametria and I do. We had grown up in it; we had ruled it—even if it was for only a moment.
And I can’t wait to be back on top.
Another growl slips between the leaves before us, and I hear a voice in my head.
Damian, your first test has arrived.
I know the voice.
What do I need to take tests for? I wonder. Have I not proved myself?
You must prove you are still worthy, Damian, for you failed to complete the number one task before you. One I practically handed you. And now, you must regain my trust. I’m counting on you.
The voice disappears abruptly.
A wolf jumps into our path and rams into Dametria. She yelps and squirms to get out from beneath it. Jackie’s fingers buzz with a red lightning, a ball of energy crashing into the animal’s side and flinging it to the ground. It gets back up and growls, something flashing in its eyes. Something familiar. Something human.
Another wolf creeps out of the trees and up to us, his head low, and I see that familiar there. These were my people. And they will be once again, soon.
They pay no mind to me. Even as the third appears. Their eyes are focused on the girls. Everything about them screams human. They’re ignoring the easiest prey.
They attack. The girls fight. Dametria finds her water and pours it over her, shifting her shape into a tiger. The wolves don’t stand a chance as she leaps into the air and pins one down, biting into the back of its neck. It howls in pain as the other two jump atop Dametria, willing their teeth to cut through the thick fur. She lashes out, able to throw one off while a red ball of light smacks the other one clear across my vision and into a tree. It falls to the ground with a crack, its leg broken, and she watches the one she’d bitten back up a few feet, barely able to keep himself upright as he attempts to change back into a human.
“You were my people,” Dametria shouts, demanding their attention as her voice wavers with mourning. The animals fall back for a moment, glaring at her.
“You were never our Queen,” the wolf with the broken leg grumbles cruelly. “We never bowed to you.”
Dametria growls, her tiger morph surging forward and pinning the broken wolf to the ground.
“I am his match!” she roars, and swipes her claws quickly across the wolf’s face, who whimpers loudly. “We’d been together for years. We were engaged. I have earned the right to stand next to him and claim the title of Queen!”
Her rage makes me smile. I’ve always loved watching her squirm.
The wolf scurries out from underneath her and begins to head into the forest, the other two following. The first looks over his shoulder and glares, but I can see the hint of fear radiating through them. Perhaps she isn’t as stupid as I’d thought, but she is controlled and fueled by emotions, ones that will get in her way.
They disappear into the trees as I stand. Dametria raises her head, and I watch her body take a deep breath before returning back to her normal self. Jackie says nothing, only stares as Dametria turns toward me. Her face is crestfallen and close to tears. She’s so weak. So controlled by her emotions. I need someone who will use her head—that is the person that should stand beside me. That is why I wanted it to be Cressa-la. But no more. On my own, I am best. Anyone above me is lying to themselves. I don’t need anyone in order to fulfill my quest. I can see that now.
“Let’s go, pig,” Dametria snaps, and I shake my head. I’m not going anywhere. Especially if someone else orders me to. I’d been running all day and I feel a bit tired. And when Dametria gets impatient, it’s fun to watch. She’s adorable.
“Go!” she shouts, and I can see the pain in her face. It makes me want to laugh.
“Let’s set up camp here,” Jackie suggests softly, clearly phased by all that had gone down today. “It’s... getting dark anyway.”
Dametria looks around and I lay down, ready to sleep. I haven’t moved a muscle since the wolves attacked. And I won’t move a muscle until I’m ready to walk the rest of the way up the island.
Tomorrow, I will be returned to normal. Tomorrow, I will complete the quest that was placed upon my shoulders all those years ago—
To avenge the fallen One-Hundreds.