‘Well, yay,’ Tamir huffs as we swim away from the home of the old lady. ‘All I wanted was for her to give you a tail. That’s all. It’s not that hard…’ He shakes his head. ‘I don’t know what her problem is. She’s never stabbed anyone before—at least I don’t think she has.’
‘Can’t you just give me a tail or something?’ I ask, looking at him. He shakes his head as he pulls me along by my hand.
‘I’m not that good at magic. And besides, I wouldn’t know where to start.’
‘But you made yourself have legs.’
‘That’s different,’ he snaps softly. ‘Besides, I had the full moon to help me. You only saw a sliver of what I can do when the moon reaches its peak, and, trust me, you don’t want to be there when my full potential is released on everything around me.’
I’m silent for a moment, mulling it over in my head. I had seen how bright his light had gotten, and he moved water to where it couldn’t touch me. He even made himself human. He made himself look like how I do with all my scales. But how?
‘How does she do it then?’
He sighs and looks over at me. ‘She… she does this thing with her hands. She puts them to her temples—’
‘Like my Tribe Leaders did when I was becoming one of them,’ I offer, not knowing why exactly I said that. Maybe I wanted to understand why they do that, why they put their hands there. What does it do? I resist temptation and decide not to try it myself while we’re moving towards the city.
‘Um, yeah, I guess,’ Tamir says, his gaze distant. He shakes his head, as if he’s shaking off a thought. ‘Anyway… She does that and then closes her eyes. She mumbles something under her breath. I have no idea what she says, but whatever it is, it seems to do the trick.’
‘How do you know all of this?’ I ask suddenly, realizing how little I know about Tamir and his past, and how little he knows of me. ‘Wait.’ I tug on his hand and stop swimming. He turns around and lets me drift to the bottom, his hand still holding on to mine. His eyes are as steady as the current while he tries to read me.
‘Before we go anywhere,’ I start, my voice shaking as the water turns cold and I touch the sand below. ‘Tell me who you are.’
‘You know who I am,’ he laughs, confused.
’I mean—I mean who you are. Not what your name is or the color you glow or that you’re one of the One-Hundred. I want to know you before I go anywhere.’
His face falls. ‘You don’t trust me.’
‘I have reason to not trust anyone right now, Tamir.’ My voice catches on his name. It’s so strange saying it out loud. ‘Please? I really need this right now.’
He nods. ‘Okay.’ Sighs. ‘Okay.’
Looking over his shoulders into the nothingness around us, he pulls me a bit further from where we stopped, and he lays on the ocean floor, staring up at the sun refracting through the water. In this moment, he’s absolutely beautiful, perfect, as if he’d come from a dream. But this isn’t a dream. I could die out here and I need to know that I can trust him to keep me safe.
‘Come on,’ he smiles boyishly at me and pats the sand beside him. ‘I don’t bite.’
For an unknown reason, I look over my own shoulders and decide to obey. I lay about a foot from him, feeling his warmth radiating from his body as we both start to glow dimly. A part of me wants to be closer, to be touching him, but I stay where I am, my hands folded over my stomach while his make a pillow for the back of his head.
‘I won’t hurt you, you know,’ Tamir says, and I hear a smile in his voice. ‘Otherwise I would have never let you leave when I was out there with the full moon.’
I shrug and pick at my fingers. ‘Never thought Damian would trap me either, you know.’
He chuckles. ‘Damian… Of all the backstories you want to hear, you want to hear mine? His is the most colorful—’
‘Did you know him?’ I ask, my head snapping to look over at him. He wears a smirk, but it’s not cocky or smug—it’s something softer.
‘Like a brother. Look, there’s going to be some things you don’t want to hear,’ he says, using his left hand to talk while his right stays beneath his head.
‘I don’t care,’ I say, looking back up at the ceiling of water. ‘Just tell me. I need to know I trust you.’
He glows a little brighter. ‘Okay.’ Takes a steady breath. ’I grew up in the Revli Tribe. Love was what I knew, what we grew to be—and of course you knew that. Just as the Initi is peace and the Wurn is war. Anyway, when I turned thirteen, there was this girl. Her name was Amawa-na. Strange name, but she was a beautiful girl nonetheless.
’Damian and I grew up together. His name used to be Damian-sai before becoming… what he is. We were best friends, although we were more like brothers. He was a year older than me and looked out for me like I was his own blood.
‘But this girl. I’d had been swooning over her since I was nine. Swore she was my soul mate, and as soon as I would be able to, I’d ask her to be my wife. Of course, I’d have to wait for the dot above the eyebrows to ask her, and I was waiting patiently. Asking for marriage before then would only mean trouble.’
He sighs, shaking his head. ’And then I turned thirteen. A few moons later, the dots appeared just above her eyebrows, and she began to change and I did too. I was so excited… I’d never been more excited in my life. Damian picked up on it and asked me what was making me so happy, so I told him. I still remember that moment like it was yesterday. The way he looked at me… It was like I’d slapped him across the face. He covered it up immediately and slapped me on my back, gave me an encouraging smile. And then he started talking.
‘‘Are you sure?’ he asked me. ’How do you know she’s the one for you? Maybe you should keep your options open.’ And then he told me to try to get to know some other girls first because marriage is a big thing to our Tribe. I listened, of course, but none of the girls measured up to her. I was so set on Amawa-na being my wife that I found everyone else bland and dreary. So once I was absolutely, positively sure she was the one for me, the one I would marry, I made a ring. Every ring made in our Tribe was different, made of different materials and have different designs, and how much effort goes into making the ring shows how much the boy loves the girl and how devoted to her he is.
’I made it from leaves and from twine. It took me two days—I had even found a gem to place on it. It was perfect. Everything she loved all wrapped up in one little circle that would be placed on her finger forever.
‘I felt as if I was glowing as I looked for her in the village. I held the ring in my right hand, the weaker one, so I didn’t smash it. I found her,’ he says, his voice dropping off, not in sadness, but almost in bitterness. ’He was with her. Damian. They were laughing and talking, sitting in the shade of a tree. I was crushed. Heartbroken, I turned away and went home.
’I couldn’t sleep that night. So I concocted a plan and headed out after we were all supposed to be going to sleep. I woke Amawa-na up, told her to come outside. She came out, rubbing her eyes and looking at me in wonder in the full moon. She told me we were supposed to be sleeping, but I told her I had to show her something. Knowing she’s overly curious, I tugged at her hand and we went into the woods and I took her down to the shore, slipping past the Initi Tribe. Only one light still glowed, the door still opened, and it was enough for us to see the path to make our way down to the shore.
Once we were there, she was almost in tears with how beautiful it was. She’d never seen the shore. It was there that I asked her to be my wife. She hesitated, and I always hoped it was because she was taking it all in, but then agreed. I was so ecstatic I forgot all about the water around us and picked her up in a hug. When I set her down, the water came up and touched my feet. I looked down in fear and jumped back, and she squealed with joy, unaware of what I had done. If anyone had seen that, I would have sealed my own fate.
’I smiled, realizing there wasn’t anybody to see, and returned to my joyful self. We made our way back up, giggling and talking about the future. I stopped cold when I heard a voice. Damian had called my name.
’He was standing in the middle of the Initi Tribe’s village, his stance much like the Wurn’s when we offended them. He was ready to pounce.
’Immediately, my smile fell and I knew something was wrong. ‘Damian-sai?’ I remember saying. He came towards me hastily and shoved me, almost off my feet.
‘‘I thought you were my friend,’ he had said, shoving me again. I was close to losing my footing on that one. Someone came out and shouted for their Tribe Leader, clearly shaken by the scene before them.
‘‘I am!’ I cried, ‘I am! I am…’’ he drifted off in thought, reminiscing. ’He asked me why I took her from him. I was so in shock that I said nothing. He shoved me again and I slipped and fell. My head hit the stone beneath me, and I could feel my hair dangling over the edge of the village, over the trees and the beach… Everything was blurry.
‘There was a girl that ran up and punched him in the face.’ He laughed shortly. ‘It was you.’
I snap out of my trance and turn to him. ‘Me? But I don’t remember—and I don’t think I would—’
He laughs again and shakes his head, looking back up at the sun shining through the waves. ‘I was confused at the sight of you. You were so angry he was harming me, a stranger, that it took me off guard. And then he slapped you, and you hit the ground.’
He pauses for a moment, letting it sink in. ‘I don’t remember.’ I look over to him, my eyes wide and a knot in my throat. ‘Why did they make me forget?’
‘Because it only gets worse from there,’ Tamir says, propping himself up on his arm. ‘Do you want me to go on?’ He asks. I nod, my eyes stinging.
‘Here,’ he says, sitting up all the way. His shadow falls over me. ‘Sit up.’
‘You sure do a lot of sitting,’ I mumble through my emotions.
‘Swimming is exhausting. These muscles didn’t come from nowhere, you know,’ he smiles, all sadness gone from his voice.
I obey and sit up, groaning to keep my mind from drifting back to the fact that the Tribe Leaders made me forget something—made me forget him.
‘Come closer,’ he says, waving me closer. ‘Closer.’
I move to where we’re knees to… fish-knees… and I look up at him. ‘What are you going to do?’
He lifts his hands up. ‘Don’t freak out.’ I give him a look and he smiles. ‘I’m not going to hurt you.’
His fingers find my temples beneath my hair and he closes his eyes. I watch him as he breathes in.
‘Do I—do I close my eyes too?’ I ask, and he jumps a bit. Laughs it off.
‘Don’t talk. And, yes, close them.’
I nod, and he looks at me again. ‘Don’t move either.’
‘Tamir,’ I say, holding back a giggle.
Why am I laughing? If I close my eyes, he could kill me immediately.
But if I keep them open, what am I missing out on?
I close my eyes and he takes a deep breath. Light makes its way through my eyelids and I struggle not to shy away from the brightness. I’d like to think it’s him glowing and not me, considering my heart is pounding like a bird’s wings as it falls from the sky.
I promise, Cress that this is a memory, I hear. It’s Tamir. How is he talking to me in my head? I’m not manipulating your brain in any way. I have no idea how to do that. I never made it that far. It’s going to feel funny at first, but the memory will show itself. Just watch. It’s all you can do.
How are you doing that? I think. I hear him chuckle in my head.
Suddenly, the darkness comes alive, and fourteen-year-old Damian stands over me.