I jump a bit, the shiny blue scales shimmering in the overhead lights. My body somehow seems to know exactly what to do to keep from sinking to the bottom. It sways back and forth slowly, the fishlike fins drifting back and forth whimsically. Just like Tamir, and unlike Damian, my tail is simple; no fins on the sides or back, with a large pair of fins at the very bottom, glistening like the surface of the water in the rising sun. I’m mesmerized by the way the lights dance.
The Queen chuckles. ‘It seems you forgot what we One-Hundreds are capable of.’
I glance up at her, her eyes gleaming, a mirror image of Tamir’s. He had rejected this life. He cut the scales off of his own back so that he wouldn’t be what he was born to be: a prince, and in the future, a King.
So what about me? Now that I have a tail, now that I know what the scales on my back mean… where do I stand on all of this?
Blinking a few times, I shake my head. This is all so surreal… Not that long ago I was out hunting, helping raise Lily-flor, and getting ready to be a Tribe Leader. And now I seem to be caught up in more danger than I could ever dream up, I’m in the middle of a war, and I’ve become a fish-person. None of this should be real. But it is.
‘Cressa-la.’ The Queen talks softly, but not so soft that I stay in my own head. ’I meant what I said. You need to find your parents. If they’re anything like us, they’ll be thrilled to meet you.’
My eyes lock onto hers for a moment as I ponder this. If I went to find my real parents… If they even still exist or want anything to do with me…
My heart hardens as I shake my head.
‘I can’t,’ I say, pulling away. ‘There’s no time and too much at stake here.’
‘There’s always time, Cressa-la.’
‘Not if what you say is true.’ I turn to where both the King and the Queen are within my view. ‘If there’s a clan trying to take over, we are getting closer to losing with every wasted minute passing. Going to find my parents… that would be… selfish. And I can’t do that to my tribe or the people I’ve come to know.’
I become aware of what it is I need to do.
I glance over at Rave, who stares at me with a strange face. It’s as if she’s trying to figure something out about me, almost like she’s studying me. ‘We need to go.’
Rave sighs dramatically, but follows me as I open the door a crack. Remembering my manners, I bow slightly to the King and the Queen, and I thank them.
I slide through the door, banging my knees (knee?) on the doorframe. I utter a small groan as I look up. Tamir sits at the other end of the hallway, his knee pulled to his chest and his eyes glazed over in a daze. My body goes tingly, and all of a sudden I’m worried about what he might think. I want to know how he’s going to react—and yet I don’t want him to see me at all. I shake my head. What’s going on with me?
‘Tamir,’ I call softly.
He looks up at me, his eyes filled with something I’ve never seen in them before. It slowly morphs into something else, something like confusion with a mix of some other emotion I can’t read as he gets up.
‘What happened?’ he asks. The light green scales glimmer on his tail as it moves him close to me.
‘I have a tail now. You don’t have to drag me around anymore,’ I smile sheepishly. My heart is beating rapidly as his eyes trail over me again, and I have to focus on something else to keep from glowing, like the fact that we need to stop Damian and Dametria from doing whatever it is they’re going to do. But I can’t help but think that I’m like him now. Maybe it’d be easier for us to—
He shakes his head. Not even a hint of a smile flashes on his face.
My stomach knots around itself. I reach up to tug at my hair, to keep my mind on something else, something non-problematic. I hear the door behind me open slightly as the King and Queen slip out into the hallway.
‘You do realize you can’t see Lily-flor at all now, don’t you?’ He asks quietly, gently. But it’s enough to make my heart shatter into a million pieces.
I can’t see Lily-flor. I can’t see my tribe. Ever again.
“But what about the full moon when you—”
Tamir shakes his head, knowing where I was going with my argument. “I don’t even know how I did that, Cress. It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing…”
Everything hits me like Dametria did when I had first encountered her in her dolphin transformation. It knocks the wind out of me—water—whatever. I feel like I’m being crushed by the weight of the world. I will never see Lily-flor again as long as I’m like this. There’s a clan out looking for the One-Hundreds and draining the life and power from them, both under and above the water. Everything that has happened over the past year grips my heart and strangles it, and suddenly I’m glad you can’t cry underwater.
Tamir shifts a little bit, almost as if he’s going to touch me, maybe try to comfort me, but he changes his mind. He speaks instead. ‘Come on, let’s go. We need to hide.’
I watch him as he starts to swim away. Rave comes out into the hall where we are, the King and Queen watching from the doorway.
‘No,’ I say, finding my nerve and making him turn around and look at me. The sadness I had felt has transformed into a placid anger. ‘No more running and hiding.’
My body begins to course with adrenaline, my head dizzy for a second. Tamir had rejected my standing up to someone once—will he do it again?
‘Has that tail made you go berserk?’ Tamir asks, swimming closer.
‘I was hoping you’d agree with me—’
‘Cress, the Unwea Clan—’
‘Is stronger than the two of us. I get it,’ I huff. ‘But are Damian and Dametria? I can’t believe Damian is all bad, not from what I’ve seen of him. If we could just get them alone—’
‘Cress, it’s a suicide mission.’
‘So was pulling me into the water with your power!’ I explode. ‘So was what you did to keep me from touching the water. You lived. I lived. Rave lived.’
‘That doesn’t mean we’ll make it through this one, Cress,’ he growls, getting in my face.
‘You don’t know that.’ Out of the corner of my eye, I watch as Rave draws nearer, just in case she has to get in between us. ‘All we would need to do is lure them away from their clan and then—’
‘And then what, Cress?’ Tamir interrupts. ’Destroy them? Kill them? I don’t know about you, but I’m not a killer. Especially when it comes to two people I used to know, not to mention care about.’
I hesitate with my next backlash and take an unsteady breath. The water between us seems to crackle, and it’s lit with our glowing. I hadn’t even realized it.
‘Fine then,’ I shrug, shoving my anger back down to a simmer. ‘You don’t have to come.’
Tamir’s eyes widen as I begin to go back the way we entered, where the front door is. His gentle hand catches my arm, and I turn back to face him.
‘You said you wouldn’t go looking for them.’ His voice wavers as his light brightens. ‘They’ll kill you.’
My eyes fall upon him one last time, memorizing everything about him. It hurts to know I might not ever see him again because of the odds stacked against me, and I don’t understand why. Wasn’t I just furious with him?
‘They might.’ I pull my arm from his grasp.
‘Cress—’ he protests. ‘Please, just—’
I shake my head. He stops in mid-swim and mid-sentence. ‘I’ll be fine. You taught me how to use my gifts.’
‘You can’t go by yourself.’
‘He’s right, Cressa-la,’ The Queen interjects. She comes forward a few feet, wringing her hands nervously. ‘The Unwea Clan has grown up learning how to use their gifts.’
I shake my head, my brain swelling from the next words about to slip past my lips. ‘First you say you don’t want me to go. Then you say that you don’t want me to go by myself? Which one is it?’
‘Cress,’ Tamir says, his face and his glow the only things I can see as he touches my shoulders and comes closer. ‘I know I can’t stop you from going. I just want you to be safe.’
‘Really?’ I scoff, my heart jumping at his closeness. What’s going on inside me? I’m upset with him… right?
‘Then why don’t you come with me? Why don’t you fight back? Afraid Damian’s going to rip your heart out again? Afraid he’s going to knock you off a cliff? Or are you afraid to see the love of your life with someone else?’
He stands, stunned at the venomous words that had bubbled out from my throat. After a moment, I turn to leave.
‘I let you in, Cressa-la,’ I hear him calling behind me as I make my way out of his presence. ‘I told you my whole life story and still you don’t understand why it is I do what I do for you!’
‘Then tell me!’ I scream, whipping around and almost getting tangled in a curtain draped over a window. ‘Then tell me why you do what you do. Explain it to me. You may have told me your story, but you’re still practically a stranger to me. I don’t know the you that you are right now as well as I know your past.’
‘Cressa-la,’ Rave interrupts. ‘He’s just trying to help.’
‘Well he can quit trying. If I don’t stop them, they will kill my tribe.’ I switch my attention back to Tamir. ‘I wanted to know who you are. I wanted to know if I could trust you. And this right here proves that I can’t. You’re just a spineless, shell of a boy who rejected his own future.’
I watch him for a moment, waiting for him to argue, to tell me I’m wrong and for him to explain everything. But he stays silent.
‘Goodbye, Tamir,’ I respond calmly to the absence of his words, hiding the raging emotions inside of me.
He nods stiffly, his hands balled into fists and his face tight, like he’s hiding some emotion from me. He glows slightly, the light unsteady.
I nod once. Turn around. And find the door.
Damian, here I come.