Fear swells inside me, almost completely masking the anger boiling in my chest. The boy that had fallen stares at me for a moment, confused, his blue markings seeming to glow in the moonlight.
“Stay out of this,” the angry one growls at me.
The boy next to me stands sluggishly, and I can see the anger radiating from the other one, the confusion illuminating from this one. What had I just thrown myself into?
“Damian-sai, why are you doing this?” The smaller boy is gentle with his words, trying to understand. It sounds like he genuinely doesn’t know what he did to make the other boy so upset, not to mention violent.
I decide to stand as well, figuring the boy named Damian-sai is too consumed in what’s happening before him to notice me. Besides, I’m mostly hidden behind the other boy.
“You knew I loved her. I told you to go find someone else.” Damian-sai pointed to the girl standing off to the side, who watches with wide eyes, but she doesn’t seem afraid. She seems more confused than anything. A ring glistens once in the moonlight around her slender finger. Did the other boy ask her to marry him? It’s so rare here in the Initi tribe; the only time we marry each other is if someone needs to learn how to communicate, or how to be caring towards someone else, or… or for whatever other reason they marry us off.
They are from another tribe, I remind myself, forgetting about the danger present for a moment. You can’t honestly say you know why they’re getting married.
“I had no idea, Damian-sai, I—”
“Please,” Damian-sai gets in the boy’s face. “You knew exactly what you were doing, Tamir-in. Otherwise you wouldn’t have made her sneak out in the middle of the night to do this.”
I see Rai-si walking up hastily in the pale moonlight from the Feasting Table, ready to tear the boys to pieces, and maybe even me, but he’s still a ways away. Our village is kind of the biggest out of the three, and we take up the most room.
“Damian-sai, I was just—”
“You don’t even love her!” Damian-sai shoves him, but not as hard as before. ”You’re just blinded—” shove, “—by—” shove, “—her—” shove, “—pretty—” pushed directly into me,”—face!”
Damian-sai pushes him one final time and Tamir-in slams into me. We both tumble down, flying right off the edge of the cliff.
Hot pain erupts from every part of me as I land on my shoulder and begin to roll down the steep hill. Branches slap at my body as I try to curl myself up into a ball to make myself smaller. Why did I intervene? Couldn’t I have just stayed out of the way and let Rai-si handle this one?
A rock cuts deep into my back, and I cry out, uncurling, dirt and leaves filling my mouth. I hack it up as I continue to roll, sounds of complete terror escaping my throat. My body finally slows enough for me to try to stop myself from moving anymore, but the pain ripping though me makes me cringe, and I continue to roll until the momentum is gone. Sounds of my ears ringing and the pounding of my speeding heart fill my ears as my eyes focus lazily above me. I can see the moonlight through the trees, casting down shadows onto my face and creating unique patterns onto it. Will my tribe leave me to die down here? I can barely move…
My eyes are wet with tears, the ravines they had created frigid on my skin. I can feel the dirt and leaves caking onto my back as it bleeds out, black beginning to form around my vision. How deep had the rock cut me?
Suddenly, there’s a blurry face just before mine, worry glinting in his eyes. He speaks. I can barely hear him.
I shut my eyes, hoping this will all disappear, hoping it’s all a bad dream and it will fade from my memory.
But I hear him talk again. I grow tense, the long gash beside my spine suddenly aching as if I had been ripped open once again. I feel myself cry out, everything muffled and numb and cold but the hot, searing pain along the length of my back. I push myself over onto my side, my vision pulsing with my heartbeat. Everything looks so strange…
He’s talking to me. Saying things I can’t hear. Things I don’t want to pay attention to. Suddenly, I just want him to leave me alone.
And then he lifts me so I can sit.
I scream, my hearing beginning to come-to. My arm feels as if it’s out of place and one of my legs is beginning to hurt too, as if the bone is broken.
“Shh, shh,” the boy coos. “It’s okay.”
“Okay…?” I huff, gritting my teeth to fight the pain. “How is this… how is this okay?”
He shakes his head. “This is going to hurt,” he says, lifting his hands up and placing them on my shoulder.
A cry that would scare off a mountain lion explodes from my throat as he pops my shoulder back into place. I give him a death glare as he checks both of us for further injury.
“Can you walk?” He asks.
He helps me stand. I yelp.
“Here,” he says, and before I’m able to protest, he picks me up and cradles me in his arms. I hang on tightly, fearing he’ll drop me. He’s barely even a man, hardly even taller than I am. I’m not sure how long he can hold me. I’d fall right on the gash if he does.
“You won’t fall,” he chuckles as he begins to ascend back up the island and to my village.
I wince, and he pulls me closer.
“It’s okay,” he says softly as I squeeze my eyes shut and tighten my jaw. The pain is intense. It makes my head throb, and it’s about the only thing I can think about.
He begins to walk in the opposite direction. I don’t pay attention, although I probably should, considering I’d only met him moments before this, and I didn’t really even meet him…
Suddenly, something cold and wet wraps around my lower body. My eyes fly open as the cut on my back begins to sting, and I realize we’re in the water. We’re actually touching the water—the one thing we should never ever even think about touching.
He holds onto me, even with my tiny spastic squirming and breathy protests. He just shushes me and tells me it’s okay as my wound burns excessively.
“It won’t harm you.”
“How do you know that?” I growl as I begin to still. My body is exhausted. It doesn’t want to fight anymore.
“I touched it earlier tonight. It was an accident—” he reassures me, “—but it didn’t do anything to me.”
He runs his hands up and down the cut on my back, and somehow the feeling of it calms me down. My brain is on high alert due to the water all around me, but his careful touch calms me.
“There,” he finally says. “All clean.”
I nod, still hurting everywhere. He lifts me up, letting out a small grunt.
“We’re you not injured?” I ask quietly, the full moon shining down on us.
He shakes his head, the smeared blue streaks on his face seeming to glow.
“Not really. Just some scrapes and bruises. I think I just got lucky is all.”
I nod. Strange how he wasn’t harmed as bad as I was…
We make our way up the inclined island. Once he can’t carry me anymore due to the steepness of the ground, he slows.
“This might hurt a little bit.”
He begins to make his way uphill, pulling at branches and stepping on rocks. One of the branches snaps and we slip down a bit, my arms tired from squeezing onto him.
He finds his balance again and we trudge up. There are voices up ahead. Calling my name.
I stiffen. I touched the water. I touched the water. And I intervened between a fight—which isn’t that surprising, considering our tribe keeps the peace—but I still stepped in.
I see Rai-si, his eyes settling on me. He lifts his hands to his head, and everything goes dark.