My hands shake as I follow behind Rai-si. Questions flow through my mind like a river, my heart pounding like a drum. He stops suddenly and I almost run directly into him.
“Cressa-la,” he says, sighing as if he holds the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“Yes?” I mumble hesitantly.
He turns and gazes at the surrounding trees. “Look around us. Can you see the balance in our environment? It is the reason why we live in peace. However, if something happens that isn’t meant to occur in nature, whether it’s from our hand or God’s,” he says, cutting the air with his hand. “Things get destroyed and habitats are thrown into danger.”
“But there’s something you must know,” he goes on, looking straight at me this time. “Nature will always correct itself. We learned to adapt to this world of water and have lived a long time because we are able keep peace with nature.” He holds out his hands, his palms facing up. I place mine on top of them, the shell around my neck seeming heavier with the weight of the secrets I keep.
We do our hands this way is because we focus on trust between our tribespeople. If I tear away, that means I’m untrustworthy, that I’m a liar. That means I won’t become a Tribe Leader and will most likely be cast away. Not into the water like the Sea-Man, but into the wilderness where hungry animals roam.
“Cressa-la, you must be careful. Not everything is good and not everyone is honest. The darkness is very present and very real in this world, and it latches onto people that succumb to it. Remember that the next time you talk to someone from another tribe.”
My heart skips a beat. Does he know what Damian had done for me?
I nod, gulping down the fears and the words that want to spill out. This is going to be a hard thing to elbow through… And abruptly, a sense of misery sinks into my heart as I realize I don’t know if I’ll see my tribe again after this, or if I’ll even see Lily-flor again. I pray silently for a brief moment, willing him not to ask me the question that’ll spill the beans. Please ask any other question.
“Cressa-la,” he says my name again, softly and sweetly, much like Nan-ah had when I did something wrong. It’s as if the world is crumbling beneath my fingertips. My heart is about to leap from my chest and my throat stings. “Did you go beyond the edge of our rock last night?”`
Everything inside of me freezes at the question I’d anticipated. So he asked it after all… I could lie, tell him I had never passed it, or I could tell him the truth—but what would he do? What would happen if I told him the truth?
“What if I had?” I ask, my voice shaking. “What if I went past the edge?”
“You’d be banished immediately,” he says, his mud-colored eyes placid.
I shake my head, holding back the tears. I knew that would be the punishment, but hearing him say it out loud… I realize it’s gotten harder to breathe. “I didn’t.”
“What about your house?” Rai-si asks, his voice still soft as my hands stay placed on top of his. I try not to move them, try not to let them shake. Easier said than done.
“It fell over. I went to Nan-ah’s old house to sleep. That’s all that happened last night.”
He nods, seeming to buy it, but his eyes give off something else. Unease wraps around my gut, squeezing tight. Our houses don’t just fall over…
Rai-si walks away with a nod, leaving me in the densely packed forest.
He doesn’t believe you,my brain screams.
My head throbs as I realize what I’ve done, what this could mean in the future. I had lied to the Head Tribe Leader. And if he doesn’t actually believe my lie… what would be waiting for me tomorrow, the day after that, or even next week? Would I make it another year?
But if he knows I’m lying,thenwhy did he let it go?
The days pass slowly, most of my time spent in the upper part of the island hunting for food. The animals I find seem even more dangerous and aggressive than the ones closer to the water. There’s a small part of me that still wants to venture down there, hoping to see Tamir and to ask him the questions burning in my mind, the questions I have reason to believe he knows. So many inquiries about “the One-Hundred” nonsense he had been talking about that night stay at the front of my mind. Uncertainties about the so-called “gifts” he says I have, and about the sea itself—about myself even. I want to know why everything has changed. Why is everything different now? And why do I sense someone is watching me at all times?
Stubbornness is what makes me go out into the forest alone over and over, unless stupidity is a part of it. Many times, various large beasts living in the upper parts have attacked me. I got away, losing all of the animals I had hunted to them in the process. A few times more than that, I’d stumbled upon Wurn Tribe booby traps. If I hadn’t have been wearing the upper parts of my thick winter boots, I’d be missing feet and possibly a leg. There was always a possibility of my dying out here.
My scales have spread too. They take up my calves completely and my skin is beginning to peel on the top of my foot. Thankfully winter is almost here, but the question is how will I hide it in the summer? My feet will be bare and exposed—someone will realize my feet shouldn’t have shiny blue scales on them. The bottoms of them are already turning fish-like. They’re harder than the scales on my legs and are less likely to rip out, should I scrape them on something or step on, say, another trap set by the Wurn Tribe.
The scales have also appeared on the lower parts of my back and at the base of my spine. My clothes easily cover those, but bathing is hard to do with them. Thankfully, I learned to maneuver around everyone else’s schedule to do so at the end of the day after everyone else is finished.
I still glow when I touch water. The water we use to bathe is from the sea, but we’ve boiled it and placed it in a man-made well inside of one of the larger houses. The idea originally belonged to the First Initi Tribemembers. We just clean and refill it. Strange how I only began to change when I touched the unboiled water. I wonder if the fire does anything to it…
I wake to knocking. My hammock sways and threatens to dump me onto the floor as I sit up and rub my eyes. The moonlight is barely visible through the cracks in my door as I stand up and walk over. Slowly, I unlock and open up my house to whoever stands outside of it, and before I can utter a questioninghello,I’m pushed back into my house.
The hands stay on my shoulders as we back up, and the figure stops and turns around, closing the door. My eyes focus on the person, and I realize who it is.
“Damian?” I ask, yawning.
He places a finger over my lips as his other hand touches my shoulder, sending icy chills through my arm. He glances back at the door again. My heart beats fast with confusion and fear.
“What are you doing—”
“Shh,” he exhales softly, his finger to my lips still making my nerves crack with ice. The painted blue streaks on his cheeks make rivers down his chiseled ivory face. He’s sweating. How long had he been running for? And what from?
An animal howls just outside the house.
“Why didn’t you just kill—”
He shushes me. I grow impatient and annoyed at the repeated command.
“Sh!” He hisses again.
I give up my probing and sit down on my hammock, rubbing my eyes. Why is he here? He’s been completely silent for two cycles, and then, in the middle of the night, he shows up out of nowhere, running from something and hushing me? I never called for him. I didn’t need his help. And if the reason he’s here is for my help, I don’t think I could be much of assistance.
I shake my head and watch as he quickly peeks through the cracks in my door.
“Okay, she’s gone.”
I shake my head again, my hammock rocking beneath me. “What are you doing here, Damian? I didn’t need you.”
“It’s nice to see you too,” he chuckles, his eyes sparkling with the color green for only a moment. I furrow my brow. “I just… thought I owed you a visit is all.”
“It’s more than that,” I accuse, folding my arms over my chest and pushing away what I’d thought I’d just seen. It’s probably the lighting. “You were running from something. Why did you run here? Of all places?”
“Because I could,” he shrugs, turning from the cracks in the door to face me. Something flickers in his eyes, turning them green again for a split second. I remind myself it’s the lighting. “And maybe I was running from something, but I’m here now. That should count for something.”
I stare at him for a moment. He’s so strange… But that slightly uneasy feeling I get in my stomach when he’s around is beginning to disappear the longer I stare at him. It’s replaced by something else, something stronger, something almost safe.
I break my stare and get to my feet.
“Is there anything you needed?” I ask.
“Well, I wanted to check up on you as well. How are the full moons treating you?”
“I wouldn’t know, I haven’t seen any for two months.”
“Good,” he smiles, standing only a few feet from me as his eyes flash again. My heart speeds up as he moves a fraction of an inch closer.What is happening inside of me?
“Yeah,” I croak.
I clear my throat as I fight the urge to play with the necklace draped around my collarbone. It’s the one I had received that night I had been attacked by snakes and learned magic was real. Not to mention I had been threatened that my tribe would be destroyed if I didn’t go touch the water.
A chill works its way down my spine as I remember it all. “I did what you told me to. No seawater, no moonlight. Aside from what we boil for bathing.”
“Good,” he repeats himself, sliding closer.
My heart pounds loudly in my chest as red flags rise in the back of my head. Something about him feels dangerous, like I should be scared of him…
He takes a deep breath as his eyes flick up from my mouth and to my eyes. This time I see the green flash up close. I pull back a little bit, the stove almost touching my legs.
“Your eyes…” My voice disappears.
Damian’s eyes turn hard in confusion and his smile falls.
I turn around to do something else, anything else. Whatever it is that he’s doing to me makes me even more uneasy, but not in a bad kind of way, almost. More like… like he forces me to be all warm and fuzzy inside.
I smooth out my hammock and the hide blanket on top of it, keeping my mind busy—and off of him.
“What are you doing?” He chuckles amusingly, moving closer to me.
“I’m fixing my hammock,” I shrug, trying not to look up at him. “Is that so strange to you?”
I see him shake his head out of the corner of my eye. “I’ve seen stranger.”
“Yeah?” I ask, realizing the hammock couldn’t be fixed anymore than it already is. I stand up, my eyes catching his face for a moment. He’s looking at me like he’s seeing me for the first time, like he’s studying something meaningful to him…
I duck my head and walk over to light a small fire in the block of stone we call a stove with two rocks and grab my lighting stick.
I’m suddenly tired of being in the dark.
The end of the thin stick catches fire and I bring it up to wood cradled in a clear glass bowl protruding off the wall.
“Like what?” I ask him curiously, waving the lighting stick until it’s no longer lit. My body tingles. I can feel his eyes on me.
“Like… fish people,” he begins to list, and I can hear him moving a closer to me. “And transforming animals…”
“Transforming animals?” I spin around, momentarily forgetting about the way he was making me feel. It comes crashing back as soon as he takes another step in my direction.
My thoughts switch to Tamir, as they often do when my tribe or scales doesn’t preoccupy me. That night I last saw him, he seemed to be in so much pain and he was glowing so brightly… What he did to keep me from touching the water both amazed and surprised me—his tail had turned to legs!
“I don’t understand any of it,” I mutter, looking up at him.
My heart skips as I realize how close he is. Cold electricity seems to take up the space between us and I can hardly catch my breath. His eyes flash green again, but only for a moment.
“What’s happening to me?” I whisper.
“I could ask myself the same thing,” he whispers back, his eyes searching my face for what looks like answers. His hand comes up to my face and touches it, icy tingles forming where his skin brushes mine.
Suddenly Damian lets out a breathy sigh and takes a step back. He moves his hand to his side and clenches it. It’s only then that I realize how close he had been to me and that I can get control back over myself. What had come over me?
He shuts his eyes and breathes for a moment, as if he is trying to recollect himself.
“I’ve got to go.” His jaw is clenched as he opens his eyes back up and walks to the door. Anger flares in his blue eyes and his body has gone rigid. What changed in the span of a few seconds? Did I do something wrong to upset him?
Words escape me.
He unlocks the door and turns back towards me, sadness shimmering in his irises. I cock my head at this, unsure of what’s exactly going on inside his skull. First he was—and then—and now—
“Goodbye, Cressa-la,” he says sternly as he opens the door.
“Wait, will I see you again?” I blurt, following him out the door.
“You’re still wearing your necklace, right?” Damian asks over his shoulder. “Just blow it if you need me.”
With that, he runs away into the trees and vanishes into the disappearing shadows of their leaves.