‘What?’ Tamir and I shout.
‘What does that mean?’ I ask her.
‘Damian is the new King. He leads the Unwea Clan. He has no Queen; he never married. He has a girlfriend though, and you could never guess who that is,’ Rave says, turning to Tamir.
‘Amawa-na,’ Tamir gasps, setting his head in his hands, his eyes open wide with this information.
‘Bingo,’ Rave says, her smile gone. ‘She changed her name to show her faithfulness to Damian. They’ve been stuck like that for four years and she’s getting restless. She wants to be his wife, and, not to mention, Queen of the Unwea Clan. They have the same view of the world, and they both believe they should rule over it.’
Something inside of me feels like it’s died. I can’t tell if it’s from hearing these things about Damian, or learning more about him from someone else besides him.
Suddenly, I feel defensive of him.
‘How do you know that?’ I ask, shrugging my shoulders and trying to keep the sharpness from my words. ‘Maybe all you’ve heard is wrong about him.’
‘Oh, it’s right,’ Rave says. ‘Anything that comes from the Unwea Clan can never be good. I’d suggest you stay as far away from him as you can, Cress.’
I look down at my hands clasped in my lap. I hadn’t realized I’d started glowing. Tamir had too. He looks at me with wide eyes now, watching my reaction to this lengthy story.
‘I’d like to go,’ I say, trying to maneuver my way out of the cave. Tamir’s hand is on my arm before I can squeeze my way to the entrance. His eyes are pleading. I sit back down as Rave excuses herself quietly, and makes her own way out of the hollow rock.
I look at Tamir expectantly, his eyes glinting with mixtures of many emotions. They pass by so quickly I can hardly understand what it is he’s feeling.
‘What?’ I whisper, unsure how it sounds coming out of my mouth.
‘Please don’t go looking for him,’ he says quietly.
‘I wasn’t going to,’ I say, realizing I just might have. I needed to hear his side of the story.
Tamir shakes his head. ‘You would have eventually. All he wants is power, Cress, and he doesn’t care how he gets it or who he destroys to acquire it.’
‘You don’t know that,’ I shake my head and begin to make my way out again, but he stops me, his hand still on my arm.
‘I do know that, Cress,’ he says, his voice sincere. ‘I grew up with him. He’s always loved power and taking things that mean a lot to someone away from them. He’s not a good person.’
I’m silent for a moment before I speak. ‘And how much better does it make you when you’re assuming that he’s nothing but evil?’
Our glowing gets brighter as emotions stir inside of us. Maybe he’s feeling guilt. I can see a bit of it in his eyes as he lets go of me and looks away. He nods. ‘Okay… I’ll see you out there.’
Tamir leaves the cave, the empty rock seeming cold and too big now. A part of me aches for Tamir. I feel like I had hurt him with the words I used. I didn’t mean to, I just wanted him to know that no one is entirely evil.
I follow behind reluctantly, the magic doing something to my skin once again as I exit. To the sides of the rock are Tamir and Rave, but it’s not them that catch my eye. It’s the Flatfins holding onto them as they squirm.
Hands grab me as well, and I try to rip away. My eyes catch on something in the distance, black modes surrounding her. She smirks. Dametria.
Her body shifts shapes and she returns to a dolphin, swimming over us. I can hear her laughing in my head. Won’t be long now, Cressa-la. You’ll come crawling to us in no time.
I struggle against the Flatfin holding me.
‘Cress, don’t struggle,’ Tamir says weakly, unable to look me in the eye. ‘We have to go with them.’
‘Boy’s smart,’ the merman holding Rave back smirks.
I grunt as the man grips my arms more tightly than before. ‘This one’s got legs, Mern,’ he announces.
I think of saying something smart, but instead I focus my mind. I’m lurched forward and out of the man’s hands as a ball of light hits him in the tail. He cries out and I hold out my hands to the other two.
‘She’s a One-Hundred!’ The man that had been holding me cries, clutching his tail and smoothing it out.
‘Good going, Vea; we would have never guessed. It’s not like she has legs with scales or anything.’
I pick up on the sarcasm right away.
‘Cress,’ Tamir says, his eyes piercing mine as he looks into them. ‘Stop. Just obey and go with them. We have no choice.’
I stare at him for a moment, not understanding. I’ve always bowed down to authority, and when I finally stand up he tells me no?
‘There’s always a choice,’ I tell him. He doesn’t remove his eyes from mine. His skin begins to glow slightly, and the man holding Tamir looks down at him too.
‘Whoa, we caught another one. The King will be pleased with us,’ he chuckles, and Tamir tugs one of his arms, muttering that the man is hurting him.
‘We have no choice, Cress,’ Tamir says, his eyes tinted with something sad. ‘They’ll kill us either way.’
I had forgotten about the death penalty for leaving the city. I look over at Rave, who hangs her head in defeat. It’s like our personalities had been switched. Since I met her, she’d been so tough and strong, but here it seems as if she’s the one bending to authority, not me.
So I lower my arms. Hold them out in front of me. Look at the merman that had captured me.
‘Fine,’ I say. ‘Can’t say I’m excited to meet your king though.’
We swim at an utterly slow pace towards the palace. The doors open for us to slip through, many eyes lingering on my legs. I try to keep my head up high, but the truth is I’m petrified. I don’t know what waits for me, for Rave, for Tamir. All I know is I might not live through the day.
We weave through hallways and in and out doors. I glance back at Tamir, who holds his head down, staring at the ground and breathing hard. The Flatfins really freak him out. He had shared that information with me while explaining to me who they are. His body shakes though, and I’m unsure of what it is. Surely it’s not because he’s cold. It’s rather warm in here, like a warm spring day, the few we have up on the shore.
I turn back around as someone tells one of the Flatfins something. The one holding me, the one in front of the other two, groans.
‘Then where do we take them?’
The lady at the door shrugs, the thick leaf she writes on dancing in her hand as she moves it around. ‘The cells, I guess. Just stick them all in one.’
‘But we have two One-Hundreds.’
‘Yes, I see that,’ she says, narrowing her eyes at me. She switches back to the Flatfins. ‘But the King is busy with another matter at the moment. We will have escorts to bring them to him. I’ll mention you to them and maybe you’ll get a promotion or something.’
The Flatfins groan but give her their names anyway. They take us down to the cells and throw us in. I crash into Tamir and Rave, Rave complaining for a moment that my scales scratched her arm.
We find our corners in the cell, each one of us quiet as we wait to be escorted to see the King. I look out the cell door, the bars obstructing my vision. I can see other mermaids in different cells, some of them crying out to the guards walking by to save them.
‘I’m sorry,’ Tamir sighs. Both Rave and I look over at him.
‘For what?’ Rave asks. ‘It’s not your fault the cops caught us.’
‘Well if I wouldn’t have gone to your house to ask for food like the low-life ocean scum I am—’
‘Take that back,’ Rave snaps. ’Now is not the time for your self-pity.’
Tamir sighs and tilts his head back. It hits the corner behind him and he closes his eyes. ‘I just never meant for any of this to happen.’
‘It’s not your fault,’ I mutter, picking at a loose string on my shorts. ‘Dametria tipped them off.’
‘What do you mean?’ Tamir asks, looking at me.
‘I saw her in the distance when I came out. She spoke to me again. She thinks I’ll come crawling to them…’ I’m quiet for a moment. ‘Maybe that’s what I need to do.’
‘What do you mean?’ Tamir asks, his frame perking up.
‘Maybe I can stop them.’
‘Not by yourself,’ Rave interjects. ‘It’s a suicide mission to do that.’
‘Well what do you expect to do?’ I snap at them, my voice raising. ‘Sit around while I’m mentally tortured by Damian and his girlfriend? They’re a threat to my tribe, and possibly the entire island. I don’t want to be responsible for their deaths.’
Tamir gets up. ‘They’ll kill everybody either way, Cress, don’t you see that?’
‘Maybe I don’t,’ I say, standing up myself. ‘But I don’t think sitting around and doing nothing will really do anything to prevent them from doing it. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.’
‘You two fight like an old married couple,’ Rave yawns, staring out the cell. ‘Sit down. Fighting won’t get you anywhere.’
She rests her head against the wall and closes her eyes. Tamir and I look back at each other, tension still there between us. After a moment, his shoulders slump and he runs a hand over his face.
‘Let’s figure out what to do after talking to the King…’
‘There’s no way to escape?’ I ask him.
He shakes his head.
‘Not even for a One-Hundred?’
’The cells have the same magic as the cave, only it holds everything inside of it unless released by the King’s permission. The King and Queen are One-Hundreds themselves, remember?’
‘They are?’ I gasp.
Tamir nods and chuckles softly. ‘Remember Mariana’s story? The One-Hundreds are meant to lead, and they’re either chosen by the moon or the water. The Tribe Leaders are chosen by the moon while the Clan Kings and Queens are chosen by the water.’
‘Oh,’ I say, remember thing story once again. She had said that, only more vaguely.
‘Yeah,’ Tamir breathes. ‘All we can do is wait.’
‘Did you tell her about your scars?’ Rave asks, her eyes still closed.
‘No,’ Tamir says, his voice hinting that he isn’t comfortable talking about it.
I look at him curiously as he looks over his shoulder at Rave. ‘You don’t have to…’ I say, feeling as if he’s told me enough about himself.
‘Why not? We have time.’ He looks back at me and smiles a small smile. ‘After I’m done you can tell me about you.’
I realize I haven’t really told him much about myself. And here I am demanding to know everything about him. How hypocritical.
I nod and he motions for me to sit.
We lean with our backs against the wall and he begins to talk.
’I don’t know how long I was out when I was underwater, but I had most of the scales you do on me when I woke up. When Mariana found us and took us to her home, she did something. It’s like she paused time or something. She told me some things. Things about One-Hundreds and magic, and even the Unwea and how they want to drain the life and magic out of people. She slipped a sentence in there about everyone having a bit of magic inside of them, and then she told me to control my emotions and try not to feel or else I’ll be killed. And then time unfroze and she turned me into a merman.
’While trying to fit in, I was attacked by three guys and a girl from the Unwea clan. It was my fault, I was alone in the middle of the night and it was a full moon. They radiated with magic, and I was afraid. I couldn’t control the fear and I began to glow. They saw that and immediately began to charge at me with their spears and swords. They pinned me against a building, out of the way of others. It had a large land with different crops and animals.
’They demanded me to give them my powers. I told them I didn’t know how and they tried to persuade me by cutting me deep enough to bleed. After a while of torment, I could see the sharks coming.
’That’s when the moon hit its peak. My light took over my sight and I blacked out. When I woke up, there was nothing but charred crops and dead animals around me. The house looked like it had exploded and there was no sign of the four merpeople that attacked me. I realized I did it.
‘Instead of coming to Rave, I found Mariana and told her. She explained to me what the moon does to One-Hundreds. That’s when she saw the scales on my back.’
‘Like the ones I have?’ I ask. ‘But I never saw any on you.’
‘I know,’ he says. ‘That’s because I… I removed them.’
’Why? How?’ Wouldn’t that hurt?
‘I used a sword and I did it after I had left her home, after I learned what it meant. She told me… everything… She said that they were there because—’
‘Okay, let’s go,’ a guard bellows, interrupting his sentence. I look at Tamir and he gives me an apologetic look, his eyes quickly showing his fright.
We’re taken to the room the girl with the leaf was standing outside of, and she opens the doors to let us in, doing a slight bow with her head as she looks at the King and Queen.
‘Thank you, Princess,’ the King roars from his glorious seat on the other side of the room. ‘You may come forward.’
The guards approach.
‘Those three Flatfins brought them in, the same ones that had caught Narmind the Killer. Two of them are One-Hundreds, and—’
The King holds up a hand, silencing the guard that is speaking. His long brown hair dances slightly around his shoulders, and his crown sparkles in the light above. He holds a staff with a red ruby at the top, his ringed fingers wrapped around the golden stick tightly. He wears a vest of the same colors, the same color of rubies on each shoulder.
‘I want them both to come forward. The One-Hundreds.’
Tamir ducks his head as the guards let go. Both he and I get closer to them, and I’m able to see the scar on his back from the scales he had removed.
‘What is your name?’ The Queen asks me gently, her dark blue-black hair falling in ringlets around her waist. Her torso is covered with a whimsical top, the color of the ruby.
I look up at her. ‘Cressa-la.’
The King’s eyes dart to me for a moment, as well as half the room. I can feel my cheeks flush, and I look at the ruby to keep from glowing.
Tamir on the other hand glows faintly, as if he’s not trying to hide it at all.
A ball rises in my throat. They could be plotting to kill me right now.
‘Cressa-la?’ The King repeats. Nods. And then looks at Tamir. ‘And your name?’
Tamir sighs and looks up, his eyes seeming greener than usual. ‘Tamir.’
The Queen draws in a breath, and the King is silent.
Tamir looks at me, his eyes telling me sorry. But what is he sorry for?
The Queen lifts her hands to her face, a smile beaming into her eyes. She lifts herself off of her throne and comes to stand before Tamir. She removes her hands and touches him on the arms.