Their sounds increase as they draw nearer. I use my arms to pull myself back into the waves, but my tail is heavier than it was in the water. I’m stuck.
Turning back to the animals, I watch as their bodies radiate different colors. The glowing isn’t very bright, but I can see it, their eyes shining the brightest. I can feel fear taking over my body.
The shell around my neck seems to grow heavier, Damian’s words replaying in my head. All I had to do was blow into the shell and he’d save me. But what about now, now that I’m his prisoner?
As a tiger claws his way forward, I decide I’d better take the chance.
I fumble to get the necklace up to my lips and I blow into it. It makes no sound. I blow again. Nothing.
A whimper escapes my lips. Have I broken it?
The animals begin to change again, back into humans, but they still run full-force towards me. I feel along the sand below me for something, some kind of weapon. A rock.
I pick it up and throw it at the nearest person. He dodges it, his body moving almost too fast for me to comprehend. And then they’re almost on top of me. I can see their glowing even better than before now as it illuminates their faces. Some are angry, some smiling with insanity, others are staring me down hungrily. Although completely possible, I pray they don’t eat people too.
Everyone freezes. Silence falls. Only the crashing waves and the rustling leaves around us break it. The Unwea clanmembers part into two, making a pathway through them and directly to me. They bow their heads.
Damian walks down the path, his body standing tall with power. A twisted crown of twigs and leaves rests on his blonde hair and his jaw is tight. With his eyes trained on me, he makes his way to the water. I find myself trying to back up a tiny bit, trying to get away from what I created from the moment I had met Tamir.
“You didn’t have to blow it that many times,” Damian says, a soft smile curving his lips.
“What? But I didn’t…” I stare at him, genuinely confused.
He laughs and looks at me, obviously amused. “Your ears aren’t trained like mine. The sound it makes is too low of a pitch for you to hear. Call it magic.”
His mysterious smirk makes my heart jump as he winks at me playfully.
“Now,” Damian turns to his clan for a brief second before spinning back around to me. The twig crown shimmers with a green light and begins to turn yellow—golden. It’s become a real crown. “Let’s take her to her room, shall we?”
“What a fine idea, my King,” Dametria chuckles venomously, touching the metal longingly. “Drea, would you do the honors and—”
“I’ll do it,” Damian says, cutting her off. She gives him an incredulous look, her eyes flashing bright green, and he shakes his head.
“But you’re the—”
“Dametria, lead the way.” Damian glances at her, his tone implying that he wants her to drop the conversation. Her jaw clenches, as well as her fists, and she gives me a long glare. Barking out commands, she twists around quickly and marches into the forest, her black hair trailing behind her.
The clan follows, talking and shouting excitedly. How can they do what they do? And what exactly do they do?
“Hey,” Damian says quietly. I can barley hear him over the water around me. My entire body cowers away from him, not wanting to trust him. He captured me. I’m his prisoner. I trusted him for the longest time, and then he… he and his girlfriend stalked me and hunted me down.
“What’s going to happen to me?” I ask, my voice quivering. I know they want my powers… but what will happen after they’re drained?
Damian looks over his shoulder. “They want your powers. Ours are draining.”
My stomach twists inside of me. I recall the story Rave had told me. “Because you wanted to be immortal?”
He shrugs. “Not necessarily. The mermaid clans hate us and they destroy us when they can. However, they’re acting as hypocrites. Every mermaid in the royal family, aside from a select few that don’t inherit the gift, is a One-Hundred. Because Dametria and I have used our powers… unwisely… it’s become like a disease, sucking the life from us.”
I nod. “But what will happen to me after…?”
Damian looks at me. “You’ll die.”
“Oh,” I nod, looking down at the scales that cover my tail. I hold back the tears in my eyes, push away the lump in my throat. I remind myself why I went looking for them in the first place. I need to take them down to keep everyone safe and this is the only way. I just have to be careful.
My eyes drift up to Damian’s. I suddenly want to know everything. Why he was in the Initi Tribe before the tsunami. How he knew I needed help in the woods. Why he was there the night the moon captured me. Why me?
I want to hate him. If I wished, I could try to take him down here and go out with a fight. But wars rage inside of me. My heart, my gut, my brain, they all tell me something different about him. I don’t know which to believe.
“Who are you really?” I ask. “I know two different sides of you, Damian, and I can’t tell which one is the real you. So who are you?”
He looks at me, a strange gleam in his eye. “It depends on what you do from this point forward.”
I open my mouth to ask him what he means, when a green light begins to shift around us and he lifts me from the wet sand. He looks at me, a smirk with an edge stretching onto his face. And he’s running through the forest with me in his arms—at hyper speed.
I dig my face into his neck, closing my eyes tight. Again, my stomach ties itself into a knot. I don’t know what to feel about this boy and what he says, not to mention what he does. I have to remind myself about what I’m doing here once again. No distractions. Close off my heart.
“Okay,” Damian finally says aloud.
I shift to look around us, my breath shallow and my heart pounding against my ribcage. Trees stand around us, silent in the night air; not even the animals make a sound.
“Where are we?” I croak.
The green glow appears once again, and we begin to descend into the ground below. I feel the grass as it moves around my body. We’re sinking into the dirt.
I squirm, but Damian tightens his grip around me, stilling my movements. “Moving makes it worse.”
The grass passes by my field of vision and I close my eyes.
Dirt and whatever else stops touching me, and my skin breathes air. My eyes open as we descend to the stone floor below. Around me, a village like the ones underwater stretches out in every direction. Gold, metal, wood, and water are everywhere, making up buildings, waterways, pathways, houses… and then there’s an entire body of people—Unwea, it seems—watching expectantly as we descend and touch the cold ground before them. Damian nods once a slight bit to his right, and a pathway appears between the people, looking like the parting of a sea. At the other end, an ominous cube like a prison made of stone and metal slumps, its frame lopsided and cracked with age and, allegedly, mistreatment. Rust is beginning to burrow themselves in the cracks, turning metal parts shoved into the rugged stone a reddish-orange. The warped, metal door has a bright blue glowing orb centered in a circular indention positioned in the middle of the slab. Its white body pulses with its blue outer light, moving hypnotically.
Damian strides towards it, hands me over to someone for a moment, and then he creates an orb of his own, one of his color, light green. He brings it close to the orb and they both begin to tremble. Damian’s arms begin to shake as he forces it closer, veins beginning to appear around his temples and all along his thick neck. With a loud whoosh, the two balls collide, the light blue orb drifting whimsically from is position. Dametria comes forward to take it in her own hands, slipping back into the crowd with everyone else. Damian, after wiping the sweat from his brow, takes me from the stranger and the rusty door makes a low hissing sound, as it’s been holding its breath, just waiting to let it out. It pops open, and then swings out until it can’t anymore. The inside of the prison is hard and benumb, with no light whatsoever to penetrate through the thick stone and metal walls.
Damian walks forward, toward the box.
“Why are you doing this?” I whisper, afraid.
“Because I must,” he says, his face hard and his body stiff. “I have no choice.”
“There’s always a choice, Damian.”
He says nothing as he steps through the doorway with me dangling between his arms. Immediately, I begin to feel the effects of isolation and solitude as we go deeper into the mouth of stone. The cube is bare, aside from a hole in the ground—the bathroom.
Damian sets me on the floor, the ground’s coldness making me cringe. He hesitates before standing back up and looks at me.
“You won’t be in here long,” he says. “I’ll come back to get you.”
With that he finds his feet and leaves, slamming the door behind him and letting the prison swallow me whole.
My skin is dry. It’s beginning to flake. I don’t know how long I’ve been in here. Too long, I’m guessing. Too long.
My stomach rumbles furiously. Too long.
Small intakes of frigid oxygen make it to my lungs. Coming out, it’s like fog.
Goose bumps cover my arms, my body. It’s freezing. My fingers are purple. How could he do this to me?
My eyes want to close. Can’t. Have to stay awake. I might die if I don’t. Then I’ll never have the chance to take them down.
I shiver. Blood trickles from my lips. They’re too dry.
How long can I stay out of the water with my tail? What if I die before they come back for me? What if Damian doesn’t come back?
“Tam…” I whisper, my voice hoarse and stinging as it bubbles from my chilled vocal chords. I can’t call out to him now. I told him not to come if I did. He hates me. Doesn’t want anything to do with me.
A pang in my heart.
I pull my numbed tail up to my body, hoping to warm up somehow. My scales seem colder than the rock I lay on.
I quake violently.
He left me in here.
My breathing becomes rapid. This is it. This is where I succumb to death.
I lay on my side. Stare at the cold, gray, lonely stone wall. Curl up in a ball.
And then I sing, the tune in my head but not slipping past my lips.
“You were a part of something bigger than yourself.”
The whispered song is supposed to comfort me.
“But you had to leave life behind so soon.”
Supposed to calm me down.
“I was sure you’d live here forever.”
Instead, it makes me feel lethargic and want to cry.
“But I must now face the sad truth…”
I will die in here.
“The waves washed you away with their glory…”
I shiver until the cold ceases, until I can no longer feel the bite of the icy air surrounding me, suffocating the life from my blood.
“And the sun beckoned to you with its light.”
My eyes close.
“Your ears heard me calling, but you knew…”
I give in to death.
“It was time for you to say goodbye.”
The remaining life begins to drain from my body, escaping from my mouth. My heartbeat is all I hear as it slows.
I don’t know if I say it. I don’t know if I think it. But it’s the last word my brain creates before I begin to slip into unconsciousness. Into death.
The unreasonably loud, muffled sound almost jerks me out of my daze. I slip back into it, the new light becoming lasting darkness as my brain shuts down once more. It’s time.
I hear a voice.
My heart beats slower.
My breathing is less frequent.
Could I be imagining things?
Am I moving now?
Let me die, my brain calls out.
Let me die, I tell the voice in my head. It’s not mine. Could it be death’s?
Lights are coming back. My heart is pumping blood. My brain is waking up. My body is no longer numb. What’s happening?
That’s a different voice too. It’s outside of my head.
My fingers. They move. I can move.
Am I still alive? Or did I die and…?
The voice again. Familiar. Close.
My tail feels funny. I can move the end. Ends. There’s more than two fins. There’s one… two… three…
Confusion. I feel it hit me hard. How many tails do I have now?
My eyes open. Struggle to adjust.
Damian. He’s above me. Looking down.
I cough and sputter, the warmth covering my entire body now. My muscles begin to ache and I sit up, my body sighing with relief. I glance back at the box, now realizing he had taken me out of the mouth, the edges seeming to be frozen with ice. Damian says something.
“What?” I ask. My lips don’t hurt anymore and I reach up to touch them. Smooth. They aren’t bleeding or cracked anymore.
“Someone froze your prison,” he says, his voice clearing up with each word spoken. “Sorry it took so long.”
I look down. My brain goes into panic mode as I count not to one, but two.
“My legs,” I gasp. “What happened to my tail?”
“I got rid of it,” he says quietly. “But it’s not gone forever. All you have to do is want the tail and it will reappear, but only if you’re touching water.”
“My legs…” I whisper, my fingers brushing against them. The scales residing in their lower halves glisten in the firelight around the Unwea Clan’s hideout.
“Come on. We’ve got to get you to safety.” Damian takes my hand and pulls me to my feet. I sway, his arms catching me as I cry out with pain from the soreness in my legs. He smiles down at me.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
Damian and I sneak into the Revli Tribe’s village and he puts the blue streaks on each of our faces. He nods.
“Okay. They’ll listen to me. I’m the Tribe Leader here.”
“How?” I glance at him as he walks over to the door. “You’re the King of the Unwea Clan. How did you trick them into thinking you’re their Leader?”
He hesitates. “Their eldest died. I snuck in, stood up, and changed their memories.”
The door opens.
“Come with me.”
He walks out the door and I follow, questions dancing on my tongue.
“I’ll tell you more later,” he whispers as the Revli Tribe wakes to the break of day. “After I explain why you’re here to them.”
He told them I had been banished from the Initi Tribe and that he took me in, giving me an entirely different name. They believed him. I couldn’t happen but to notice the soft green glow coming from his hands as he lied. Something inside of me tells me to distance myself from him.
A little girl stands off in the distance, away from the rest of the tribe. Her arms are crossed across the top of her body, and the markings on her face smudged as if she had tried to take them off. She glares at Damian, her eyes telling me she knows something about him.
And then she glances at me.
The little girl uncrosses her arms as Damian finishes speaking. Clenched in her fists are two objects: in one is a stick of charcoal, the other holds a piece of paper. She scribbles something down and then tilts the paper up so that I can see it.
Don’t trust him.
The words disappear as Damian looks over, the girl glaring at him once again. She crumples up the paper and stuffs it in her pocket.
The girl turns on her heel and goes into the trees, sitting just past a few rows.
“I’ll be right back,” I mumble to Damian, but he catches my arm.
“No,” he whispers sternly. “Not yet. Wait a few days until you decide to go off on your own.”
I look over at the girl again, her back to me. I want to know what she knows about him.
“Okay,” I say.
We walk away from the center of the village with me looking over my shoulder. The girl turns, glancing back at me. Her eyes are filled with worry.
Damian says something about me walking slowly.
The girl stands, looking right at me. Nods.
She lifts her right thumb to her mouth and touches it to her tongue. She drags it down her cheek and then holds her hand, thumb up, out to me.
It glows yellow for a moment, and then disappears.
I crane my neck more, ignoring the nagging coming from Damian. She nods once again and sits.
Damian jerks my arm roughly and I abruptly turn to face forward.
“Hurry up,” he spits.
I spin around to look once more at the girl before we disappear inside the house. She’s holding up the paper again.
I’ll be waiting.
Damian shuts the door.