I make my way up to the flat rock that holds my home, unsure of what I will find there. Had the water touched the villages at all, or did it only capture me?
The flat rock is deserted, I recall as I pull myself up over the edge. Our houses still stand tall and proud, although they lean a little more than they had before the earth quaked.
“Cressa-la?” A small, familiar voice makes its way out from one of the open doorways of the houses. My house.
“Lily-flor?” I gasp, sprinting over to my door.
She steps out and gives me a big smile as I envelop her in a hug.
“You could have—did they leave you here?” I demand suddenly, angrily.
“No!” She protests into my hair. She lets go of me and holds my hands in front of her, palms up as she places hers on top of mine. She’s making sure I know she’s telling the truth.
“I snuck away. Tani-mah wouldn’t let me leave the tribe to wait for you. She said a big wave was coming to kill us. But there was no wave. I didn’t see one. I wanted to wait for you.”
I pulled her into another hug and closed my eyes.
“Why is your hair all wet?” She asks suddenly, and I feel my body go cold. “Did you see that boy again?”
I look around for a moment as I let go of her small frame. I’m suddenly aware of every drop of water clinging to my skin, to my clothes. Tamir had told me to lie… but could I lie to Lily-flor? About any of it?
“What’s that on your legs?” She asks again. My hands fly down to cover up the bluish scales peeking out from my peeling skin.
“It’s nothing,” I tell her, looking around again.
“It’s not nothing,.” She crosses her arms over her chest. “That’s not skin. Skin isn’t blue and it isn’t hard like that either!”
“Lily-flor,” I say, sounding a lot like Tani-mah when we don’t do something we’re supposed to. “You’re asking a lot of questions.”
“I just wanna know,” she pouts. “I’m almost five. I’m practically grown up.”
I chuckle a bit at the thought of Lily-flor being grown up. And then something hits me like a rock in my heart. The probability of her living to be an adult is slim. She can’t defend herself—but that’s why I’m here. I need to take care of her, and with what’s going on… my chances of living seem slimmer than usual.
“Oh, Lily-flor,” I sigh quietly, tucking a stray strand of light blonde hair behind her ear. “I sure wish you were practically a grown-up.”
As her hair falls from my fingers, it seems to glow slightly pink, but it’s gone as soon as I blink. The strangeness of it catches the breath in my throat. I almost hope what I saw wasn’t real, that it’s just another strange occurrence of today. But today is the day where strange things happen and mean something. Breathing under water, scales growing from under my skin, glowing when I’m touched by water…
I close my eyes and push what I think I saw away. Maybe it’s just something my mind made up, something I’m imagining.
I glance back up at Lily-flor and give a soft smile. “Lily-flor, there are many things I wish to tell you at the moment, but right now is not the time, nor the place. You just have to promise that you won’t tell a soul about anything you’ve seen since I’ve come back.”
“But why, Cressa-la?” She asks, her eyes shining with curiosity and disappointment.
“Because if you do…” I swallow. “Because if you do, I’ll be banished. They’ll send me out into the water or—or the trees to fend for myself and to… to die, Lily-flor.”
“But you can’t die,” she says, confusion making her face scrunch. “You know how to take care of yourself. And me. And you’re going to be a Tribe Leader.”
I shake my head. “Not if you tell someone. Not even Tani-mah.” Even though she already knows about my glowing… They all do.
Lily-flor considers this for a moment and then nods. “Okay. I won’t tell anyone.”
I nod. What will the Tribe Leaders do to me once this is all over? They know I touched the water; they’ve seen me glow. They even know about the strange fish—dolphin, they had said—that keeps appearing. Have I become a threat, and will they cast me out into the sea, or even the wilderness because of all this? They did trap me under the water, probably hoping I’d drown. But why did they let me back out?
“Wait here a moment.”
Lily-flor chirps a small “Okay,” and I stand up and rush through the doorway of my house. In the back corner, there is a pair of boots for which I keep for the winter months, where frozen water falls from the sky: snow. The tops will hide the scales, but the soles of the shoes… Our tribe and the Revli Tribe are the ones that walk with naked feet.
I use the knife on my belt to tear the bottom of the boots off and I slip the tops on over the peeling skin on my calves. Wrapping a bit of twine I find on the floor of the house, I see Lily-flor burst through the front door.
“Cressa-la! Cressa-la!” She shouts, her eyes wide with fear. “It’s the Wurn Tribe!”
I stand up straight and follow her out. The men and women of the now largest tribe are jumping out of the trees and surrounding the village, spears held out threateningly. Their covered feet make no sounds as they close in tighter, choking the empty houses of my village. I pull Lily-flor closer to me so I can protect her if I need to. The Wurn Tribe can get very, very violent and I seem to be empty-handed.
The leathery faces of the men and women around us stare in confusion and anger, their long hair pulled back in tight braids on their scalp, one for every year they have lived. Dirt is smeared on their almost bare chests, animal hide covering enough to remain somewhat modest.
“What happened?” A girl shouts at us, thrusting a spear forward with her hands as she takes a step our way. She looks about my age, maybe a year or two older. “There was a tsunami. We were going to be hit. And then it disappeared.”
“I don’t know what happened,” I say, half lying. It didn’t hit because of me, because of Tamir, because of Rave, I believe. How they did it, I’ve no idea.
“You lie!” she shouts. “Take her.”
Two men surge forward and grab me roughly by the arms, tearing me away from Lily-flor. She screams as a woman pulls her farther away from me.
“Did you touch the water?” The girl who had been jabbing the spear towards me blurts as she stalks toward me. She presses the tip of the sharp stone to my sternum. “Did you touch the water?”
“Why would you—”
“I asked you a question,” she spits, pressing the spear to where it draws blood. I gasp slightly from pain.
“No,” I growl through gritted teeth.
“Liar!” She snaps.
She yanks the spear away and slams the butt end against my head. I fall to the ground, my head throbbing with each fast-paced heartbeat. Lily-flor cries out for me, but I can barely hear her over the ringing in my ears.
The ground moves slightly as the Wurn Tribe girl kneels down next to me and sticks her spear in the ground. She leans over me and I look up into her eyes. She might be only a year or two older than I am, but her eyes tell me that she endured something that had made her much older inside.
“I will ask you once more, Initi girl,” she whispers in a low, threatening tone. “There’s only one plausible reason why the tsunami didn’t hit us, and it’s one only the Tribe Leaders know. Did you touch the water?”
“No,” I say.
She hits me again and my head bounces off the ground below me.
“You’re a bloody liar,” She says softly to me, danger dripping from each word. “Kill the little girl.”
“No!” I scream, and then a foot is pressed against my head to keep me down.
“Then answer my question, child.”
“If I say yes will you leave her alone?”
She looks at me again, triumph and power swimming in her gleaming hazel eyes as she smiles. “You have my word.”
The Wurn girl shakes her head and smiles cruelly. Her eyes flash with worry, but not towards me. What could a Tribe Leader of the Wurn Tribe possibly be afraid of? “Lock the little girl up in one of these houses. Hopefully her tribe will find her when they return.”
“What about this girl?” The man with his foot against my head bellows, my skull throbbing with each of his words.
“Bring her,” she glares down at me.
Straightening her legs, she stands to her full height. The men holding me down take my arms once again and drag me into the woods behind their Leader. The rest of the tribe follows behind, snickering and laughing.
“Drop her here,” the Wurn girl says, turning around and facing me. “And tie her up. Whatever could be coming because of her actions can find her first. Maybe then he’ll leave us alone.”
I struggle against them as they shove me onto a tree. My brain whirls with her words. What is she talking about?
Wrapping me up, I try to break free and call for help. But I’m too far from my village, too far from anywhere. I’m in the exact center of the island where the animals are the most active. Where the predators are most active.
“We handle rule-breakers differently than your tribe, Initi girl. Your tribe delivers you to the water while we let them think about what they’ve done, no matter how long it takes for them to die.”
“You’re—you’re wanting to kill me?”
“You know not the consequences of what you’ve done,” the girl says. “You. Know. Not.”
The tribe slowly begins to chant those three words. You. Know. Not. They back away into the trees despite my protests and cries for help, and, soon enough, I’m left alone.
Left to die.