The water surrounding me is warm as I open my eyes. The grainy sand shifts below me, and I squint as the dim sunlight pushes its way through the water. Is it morning already? Last thing I remember—
And then I remember.
I was trapped. Last thing I saw was a light growing brighter in the darkness, the color red in the water, the same color coming from my nose. The last thought that had wrapped itself around my brain…
‘Oh, good, you’re awake.’
That voice. I recognize that voice.
I glance around for a moment, a blurry figure moving closer. Then, suddenly he’s in focus and right above me. In his hands, he holds a fish—or what used to be a fish. Its scales are gone, leaving only the dark pink meat. He had somehow cooked it.
‘I hope you don’t mind,’ Tamir grins sheepishly. ‘I took the liberty of making you breakfast.’
My brain swarms with inquiries as it catches up to my body, but there’s only one I’d like the answer to at this moment. Maybe two. Possibly three…
‘What happened?’ I croak, closing my eyes for a moment to push out all of the other thoughts. One step at a time.
Tamir peers down at the dead fish he holds and then back up at me with a small smile. ‘You have to eat first if you want the answer,’ he says. ‘Please? I made it special for you.’
I can’t help but crack a smile back at him and take the meat from his hands. Biting into it, the taste makes my stomach grumble. Suddenly, I’m scarfing it down. Tamir chuckles softly.
‘I’m glad you like it.’
‘It’s so good,’ I sigh in between bites. ‘Why don’t we eat this up there?’
Tamir’s sudden silence to the question makes my eyes jump up at him. Many things swim in his eyes, and, for a moment, it’s as if he’s about to explode with words, with everything he wants to tell me. But somehow he keeps it contained. Somehow his eyes calm and he says, ‘There are some things you need to be aware of to survive down here.’
I watch as he nods to the half-eaten fish in my hands.
‘Finish up. I have a lot of explaining to do.’
The fish disappears quickly, even though my stomach has begun to churn with worry and anticipation. What will he reveal about this world no one had ever told me about, the world I had no iota of for almost seventeen of my eighteen years? Had the Tribe Leaders known? They must have…
‘I’m going to warn you about something first,’ he says, taking the fish bones from me and tossing them aside. They drift down to the tan sand like a feather in still air. ‘There will be many things you won’t understand, and some things I won’t be able to answer because I don’t know. Other things might come across as offensive or like we hate people like you. If you need to, ask questions. If you ever have a question I can’t answer, I will try to find a way. I promise. And I always keep my promises.’
I take a second to let that soak in. There’s just so much…
‘Okay.’ I take a deep breath, the gills on the back of my neck expanding and contracting easily. It’s almost as if I never had any lungs at all. ‘Just… start from last night.’
Tamir nods and looks around us. There’s nothing but water and colorful hard coral, unlike the one I had seen when I had been trapped. The only reason why I know their name is because sometimes pieces would wash up on the shore and Rai-si told me what they were once. But these are rounded and strangely shaped, and they seem alive and cheerful, rather than the lifeless and deadly ones I was trapped behind because of Damian. Fish of all colors and sizes swim around, not afraid to come near us. It’s almost enchanting.
‘I heard you,’ he says. ‘Your thoughts. You called out to me… you wanted me to find you.’
‘What?’ I gasp, a little embarrassed. I can see myself beginning to glow as he does too, our colors similar.
’There’s this, um—let me start over. I knew something was wrong. Something wasn’t right inside of me and I couldn’t shake it. It was a full moon, and that has its own strangeness, but… I had been on the shore, waiting for the moon to do its worst, when something inside of me beckoned me to the water. It wasn’t the moon’s pulling. It was… different. Something inside of me was unsettled, like something wasn’t right and I needed to fix it. I sat there, debating on whether or not I should follow through with this awareness for a solid amount of time. When the moon was almost at the peak of its climb in the sky, the feeling grew intensely stronger. And that’s when I followed the feeling. Touching the water made it even more potent, and I swam in the direction the pull was the strongest. The unease only grew as I distanced myself from the shore.
“I reached the Unwea Clan, their castle made of thick basalt by the hands and gifts of their leaders long ago. I entered. Quietly. Two voices were echoing through the halls and getting closer to me, so I hid as best I could with what little furniture was in the castle. They found me and we fought, and to say it was a fair fight would be a lie. Then these bursts of energy and light exploded from nowhere. That’s when I actually heard your voice in my head. You called out to me. It sounded like you said it aloud, but I realized that couldn’t be it. And I found you and saved you with my mystical gift,” he laughs.
‘What about Damian and Dametria? The—the two that held me captive?’
‘They’re perfectly fine. The full moon did its job.’
I shoot him a strange look. ‘Okay… Then… Why the full moon? Why does it do what it does?’
‘Because you’re half mermaid at the moment.’
‘Yeah, it’s… kind of what I am. It’s what you call a half-fish, half-person… thing.’
‘But why the moon?’
Tamir smirks and shakes his head. ‘Here.’ He holds out his hand for me to take. ‘I’m going to show you something.’
I take his hand, chills working their way up my arm as he pulls me up to the surface. We go at somewhat of an angle, I realize, as the ocean floor comes up to meet us. After breaking the surface, he looks at me and asks if I’m okay.
“Yeah,” I croak, my gills closing up as I touch air. “What did you want to show me?”
“You see the way the water is closer to the shore than usual?” He asks. I nod. “The moon does that. It’s a high tide. Why? Because of gravity. You’re knowledgeable about its existence because it’s what your Tribe Leaders taught you. But what you don’t know about is the magic involved in its process, the magic coursing through our veins.”
I stare at him, unsure of what to say next. He smiles, his eyes glistening.
“No one on land believes in magic except for the Tribe Leaders because they use it. And hardly anyone down here believes in it either. It’s kind of… unacceptable, and is kept a secret when people have it.”
“The Tribe Leaders? You mean, like, the mind tricks they would do for initiation to be a Tribe Leader?”
“I guess, if that’s what they use it for. We’re connected to the moon in a supernatural, magical way. Come on, I have one more thing I want to show you.”
He ducks down under the water and I follow, my hand still in his. We reach the bottom where I can stand and he sits on the ocean floor.
‘Sit down,’ he says, his tail folded beneath him.
‘What are you doing?’ I ask.
‘Trust me. Sit down real quick.’
I sigh and do as he says, not really wanting to argue.
‘What is the next thing you were going to show me?’
‘After this. Give me your legs.’
He chuckles. ‘I mean hand them one at a time to me. I have to do something.’
Skeptically, I stretch one of my legs out in front of me, my toes almost touching his bare chest. His hands start to glow as he gently takes my ankle with his right hand. He begins to move his left down my shin, so close I can almost feel his skin. The scales dance in the light both from his hand and from myself as I glow, and the skin that had been hiding the last bit of scales disappear quickly, disintegrating into nothingness. Right above my knee, the hard blue scales fade into skin.
He sets down my leg and fixes the other one. Once he is finished, I inspect them myself.
The scales are slippery, almost like a slug if it had scales. The knuckles that come just before my toes have the same fade as above my knees, catching my eye In a strange way. Small webbing that reminds me of a fish’s tail laces itself between the toes themselves.
‘Whoa,’ I breathe, touching the scales obsessively.
‘Are there any other places where the scales have appeared?’ Tamir asks, looking proud of a job well done.
‘Uh,’ I stutter. ‘Yeah. On my back.’
‘Your back?’ Tamir asks, his face twisting in a small look of confusion. His glow fades a bit. ‘But it only appears there if…’
I snap my eyes up to him. ‘If what?’
‘Never mind,’ he says as he gets up.
‘No, what?’ I ask, strangely terrified and stuck in the spot I sit.
‘It’s nothing bad,’ he murmurs. ‘Just… not for you.’
‘Not for me?’ I ask, staring off into the distance.
‘Here, stand up,’ he says softly, his tone somewhat sad. He holds out a hand for me, I realize, as I decide to glance back at him. His eyes are on fire as I stand up.
‘What?’ I ask, my voice barely above a whisper as the blue glow appears brighter around me.
Tamir shakes his head. ‘I’m just trying to figure this out. How could I be so… Turn around.’
‘What—why? Are you going to do the same thing you did on my legs?’
I hear an, ‘Mmm-hmm’ before I turn around. My heart beats in my chest as I lift the back of my shirt up a bit, just for him to see the scales appearing.
‘Hm,’ he says, placing a hand on my hip. I take in a sharp breath as another chill slivers through my body. ‘Maybe…’
I watch as his glowing reaches around me. He moves his hand close to my skin once again.
‘It’s not working as well. There are more than just those scales on your lower back. My guess is it goes down further or up higher, and I don’t want to venture to those places.’
I gulp the saliva built in my mouth as I replace my shirt and turn back around to him. His eyes are filled with both wonder and sadness as I find myself gazing into them. His glow is almost gone, opposing my own.
‘Why do you look so sad?’ I ask him quietly.
He smiles sheepishly again. ‘It’s an ancient secret.’
And suddenly he’s back to his normal self.
‘Come on—I can show you what I wanted to show you now.’ He takes my hand and begins to tug at me gently. I follow behind him, feeling as if it’s easier to swim now.
‘Can we stop for a moment?’ I ask, out of breath—water—oxygen?
‘Not yet. We’re almost there,’ Tamir smiles over to me.
‘There it is!’
He stops suddenly, and I have to dig my feet into the wet sand below me to help me stop as quickly as he does.
‘Look,’ he says, his eyes excited and his body glowing bright blue.
I follow his gaze. In the center of the distant large village stands a big white castle. It towers over the smaller buildings and structures built in strange shapes and forms, all of what I see gorgeous. I see people with tails swimming back and forth, in and out, and up and down. So much sound comes from the underwater village. Village. This would put any of our villages to shame.
‘This is a city. Well, it’s actually a specific clan’s city-mine to be exact. The Sivoli Clan. We’re one of the largest.’
‘Who’s the largest?’ I ask out of curiosity, in awe of the sight before me.
‘The Murlan Clan. Their city is four times the size of this one.’
‘Amazing,’ I gasp. ‘Are we going down there?’
‘Not yet,’ he smiles, backing up a bit. ‘You have to meet someone first. She doesn’t live inside the city.’
‘Who is she?’ I ask.
’Well, she was one of the servants inside the castle where the Sivoli King and Queen reign, but she’s long been kicked out since then.’
‘She cast a spell on a baby before it went to the surface. It was nothing big, nothing really important, but she was told not to return to the castle ever again. She was banished.’
‘That’s a cruel thing to do, I think,’ I say, wondering what it would be like to be thrown out of your tribe—clan.’
‘Yeah, well, the baby was important. The son of the clan’s Royal Leaders. Come on.’
Once again, he takes my hand and we swim along through the water. It doesn’t take long to arrive at a small house made of rock and seaweed. Tamir pulls me right in through the door made of the green underwater plant, calling out ‘Hello?’
‘In here, dear,’ a scratchy voice calls.
Tamir makes a left into a room where an old lady sits on a rock. Her gray tail moves slightly as she sits in front of a reflective surface. Gray strands of hair swirl around her face that seems to grow more and more startling as I stare at it.
Her eyes widen in shock as I enter behind Tamir.
‘Get her out,’ she wheezes to him suddenly. ‘Get her out of my house right now!’
Tamir protests. ‘But I—’
‘Out!’ She shouts, lifting something sharp and shiny up over her head.
A long dagger.
She brings it around to the front of her, moving it across her body, and it slices through my hip.