The ground of the ocean has never been so comforting. The sun above hurts my eyes as I stare up towards the surface of the water. Every part of me is sore. The time I’ve spent swimming is unknown, but by the way my body aches it’s been several hours. Where I’m going is far from my knowledge—who am I kidding?—even where I am right now is a mystery. Maybe they’ll just stumble upon me, or I on them, and I won’t have to swim any longer.
If only it was that easy.
I sit up and twist around in alarm.
I wince as pain rips through my body.
There it is again, sounding as if its owner hurt itself.
‘Who’s there?’ I call out, and everything is silent once again. A ball of light grows between my palms, and I point them at the rocks and coral surrounding me. ‘Come out or I’ll use my gift on you.’
There’s a yelp as a piece of coral flies out into the open. With her hands up, Jackie comes into view. A sheepish smile plays on her mischievous face.
‘You shouldn’t announce that you have a gift. Someone could hear.’
I sigh and the glowing ball disappears with the light radiating from my skin.
‘What are you doing here?’ I ask.
‘I couldn’t let you go alone. And Tamir wasn’t going, so I did. I left him back there with ol’ mom and dad. Let them catch up.’
‘Does Tamir know you came after me?’
She laughs, as if I had said something ridiculous. ‘Of course not.’
Disapproving of her following me, I frown and glance around. ‘You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.’
Jackie looks at me, puzzled, as she rubs her wrist. I guess she had run into that piece of coral with it. ‘Of course I do. I understand everything about the Unwea Clan.’
‘Knowledgeable of them or not, you shouldn’t have come.’
She scoffs. ‘And stupid or not, you shouldn’t have left.’
She gives me an apologetic look and continues to rub her wrist. I shake her rude accusation from my head and turn away. I need them to find me. Or I need to stumble upon them. Like I said, I am tired of running.
‘No, wait,’ she calls.
Jackie swims in front of me, and I’m forced to stop. ‘Look, I understand that you don’t know me, and you’re all weirded out because I followed you… but I promise I’m here to help. I understand what I’m getting myself into. Just… trust me. I know how to use my powers and I can control them very well. Let me come with you.’
My breath comes out hot and, well, wet, as I take another long glance around us. Still nothing but rocks, coral, fish, and water. I’m far from the city now. But how close am I to finding Damian and Dametria?
I turn my eyes back to Jackie, to Tamir’s sister, and I realize how much of him I see in her. Her build, the shape of her face, even the shape of her eyes. And a small part aches and calls out for him.
But he left me to face the danger on my own. It was his sister that followed me, not him.
I shake my head. ’I can’t let you. If something happened to you, I’d never be able to forgive myself. Tamir, although he just met you, would never be able to forgive me either. Not to mention your very important parents.’
I make my way past her, and drift over a rock covered in spikey little creatures. The sun seems to dim momentarily, as if something is attempting to cover it up.
‘I can hold my own,’ she calls from behind me. The familiar words tingle across my skin. That’s what I had said to Nan-ah the day I decided to move into my own house on the other side of the village. She was heartbroken.
So many sad, unforgettable moments…
My eyes squeeze shut as I shift my thoughts back to the present. No more thoughts of the Tribe, no more thoughts of Nan-ah, of Lily-flor… But aren’t those the reasons why I am giving myself to Damian and Dametria? So they can be safe?
You’re in our world now, Cressa-la.
The voice echoes in my head. Chills rush down my spine and its as if I’ve frozen over. They’ve found me.
Just cooperate, Cressa-la, it says. Or else she dies.
‘You can’t hurt Lily-flor.’
Not the child, Dametria chuckles, her voice echoing in my head. Her.
Realization hits me like a poison arrow. Jackie.
I turn around to look back at her, the sore muscles in my back numbed from the adrenaline pumping through me. A long gray fish circles around a glowing Jackie. Its features turn vicious as it smiles in the red light, several rows of teeth staring back at me. Jackie trembles, but she holds a ball of light in her hands, slowly spinning with the beast as she struggles to hide the fear swelling inside of her.
I lift my chin a fraction of an inch. ‘What makes you think killing her would make a difference?’ I ask, managing to keep my voice steady but unable to hide my glow.
The fish seems to smile as Jackie glances my way, about to say something snarky about my remark.
In an instant, before she can react, Jackie’s arm is between the animals’ teeth. She and I are taken aback by this action. She cringes and cries out. Her voice quivers as she says my name questionably. The red light coming from her body brightens, her free hand unable to pose a threat to Dametria from the pain.
‘Because she’s Tamir-in’s long-lost baby sister.’
From behind a rock, Damian swims out, his fins drifting as his tail goes up and down to move him. His chiseled face is plastered with calmness. ‘Come with us and we leave her be.’
‘How can I be sure you won’t harm her?’ I growl, drifting closer to Damian. Something inside of me is unsettled, as if all this is wrong. ‘How do I know she’ll be okay if I come with you?’
‘Have I ever broken a promise?’ He smirks. His blue eyes glisten as if he’s trying to tell me something, something he isn’t saying aloud. For a moment I try to decipher it, but I give in to the anger and the irritability they’ve created inside of me.
‘I don’t remember you making any,’ I snap.
Damian chuckles. ‘I remember one,’ he says, coming too close for comfort. Half of the scales that had been on his neck have disappeared, along with on his shoulders. He tugs up on the string around my neck. From my shirt, the little shell he had given me floats out. I jerk away from him, the object slipping from his fingers.
‘You still wear it.’
‘I’ve never used it,’ I growl, tucking it back into my animal skin shirt.
He smiles sadly, his eyes soft. ‘Yeah…’ Damian backs away, his eyes tainted with dejection, green flashing across his irises. ‘You’ve never really needed me, have you?’
That makes my heart hurt. I want to say something, to make him feel as if… as if…
He waves it away. ‘I promise she won’t get hurt. None of my clanmembers will harm a hair on her head.’
‘And if they do?’ I ask, glancing over at Jackie. Her eyes never leave Dametria’s dolphin form clasping onto her arm.
‘What do you want most?’ He asks.
I blink. What a strange question to ask.
‘For my Tribe to be safe from harm.’
He nods, a quick smirk lifting on the left side of his face.
‘This’ll be interesting,’ he says quietly. A soft green glow begins to come from his hands. ‘If any of my clanmembers harm Jackie in any physical way, let there be a wall of protection around the Initi Tribe. This cannot be undone.’
The soft green light forms a small circle and lifts up through the water, breaking past the surface.
‘It is done. Release her.’
Dametria, in dolphin-form, releases Jackie, not leaving a scratch on her. The grey fish shifts and changes, black matter seeming to float around the figure as it shifts into her normal form, scales, gills, and all.
‘Now come with us, Cressa-la,’ she smiles tightly, her eyes darting to Damian. ‘Our powers are growing weak.’
Damian glances at her for a second, giving her a hard stare I don’t completely understand. Did she give something away?
‘Cressa-la, you don’t have to do this.’ Jackie’s voice is above a whisper, and it’s trembling as her glowing fingers dig into the sand below her. I can see the fight in her. She wants to go against them, but for whatever reason, something is stopping her. ‘Please.’
My eyes switch over to her and shake my head. ‘I have to do this.’ She starts to get up, but I lift my hand to stop her. ’Alone.’
She nods and looks down at the sand. ‘Tamir didn’t want you to leave,’ she whispers. ‘He loves you, you know.’
The words seem to make my beating heart stop. That word… It’s a word used rarely in my Tribe, mostly only to describe Revli. But the meaning of the word… it’s not seen as much in the other two tribes, Wurn or Initi. War and peace is what you see from us.
I stare at her for a moment, her brown eyes flicking up to mine.
‘He’s from the Revli Tribe.’ I narrow my eyes at Dametria, whose smile has faltered. ‘He thought he was in love once. And he was wrong.’
‘Let’s go,’ Damian spits as Dametria runs her tongue over her teeth. Something vile in his voice makes me snap around to see what emotion is playing inside of him and what is making his words clip. He’s staring straight ahead, fists balled at his sides. ‘Leave the girl.’
Dametria huffs, glaring at me. They both transform into a bigger version of the dolphin I had seen Dametria as so many times, only this one is black and white. Its nose is almost nonexistent and the fin on top is like a bare, branchless tree—tall and standing erect.
Put your arms out to either side.
This time it’s Damian’s voice that has eased its way into my brain. It gives me chills.
They take my arms gingerly between their teeth, putting enough pressure against my skin to send me the message I shouldn’t try to escape. Wherever they’re taking me, this could be it for me.
We swim for hours. The surrounding water is dark by the time they slow. Damian is the first to return to his normal form, and then Dametria. They hold me by my wrists, their mostly scaled-over palms cold to the touch.
The ground gets closer and closer to us as we move forward. Soon I’m trying to drag myself across the watery-sand. It scrapes at my belly, Damian and Dametria transformed into humans and standing on the shore. How can I defeat them if I can’t even walk?
“Dametria will take you to where you will be staying for now,” Damian says quietly, his voice sounding strange. There’s an edge to it now. “Don’t let her do anything to you.”
Dametria laughs out loud and shakes her head. She looks me up and down as I collapse onto the sand with a wet plop. ”Please. As if I wouldn’t do anything without you there, my love,” she coos.
He looks at her for a moment, and then turns towards me, no emotion showing in his face.
“Cooperate, Cressa-la,” he says, his eyes pleading. What is he trying to tell me?
My lungs ache as I breathe in and out actual oxygen. My muscles are sore now that I’m somewhat relaxed and all I want to do is sleep. Part of me wonders what would happen if they killed me now, got it over with? But the other half dreads what would happen. I need to protect my Tribe. I still feel as if they are unsafe with these two running around, threatening me for something I don’t know how to give them and that, if I don’t fork it over, they’ll destroy everything I know and love.
Damian disappears into the trees, giving me one last glance. My cheek is smashed against my hand, the water washing over me. I can’t move. Won’t.
Dametria waves to the confusing boy and turns back around, smiling. So many secrets and motives float past her eyes, but I can’t read any of them. If only I could understand…
She lifts her pinkies to her mouth and whistles a distinct tune with three notes. Within seconds, dangerous animals of all kinds are at the edge of the trees, growling, roaring, and pacing. Birds appear in the leaves above them, ones with claws as feet and beaks sharp like razors.
What have I gotten myself into?
I sit up as she laughs.
“Get ready for the worst night of your life, girl.”
The animals surge forward.