Damian stands over the oven on the opposite side of the room as me, his jaw relaxed. He seems almost at home, his body as at ease as I’ve ever seen it. It’s as if nothing could break him from his trance of cooking.
I, on the other hand, can’t sit still. My eyes keep flitting back and forth, to and from Damian and the door. What the little girl had written to me sends chills up my spine as it replays in my head. Don’t trust him. It makes me wonder if his trickery has its limits. It also makes me wonder if he’s used it on me.
The stone Damian’s cooking with makes a clanging noise on the top of the stove, making me jump. As he turns around, his face breaks out into a big smile. My heart picks up its pace, but not from excitement or with the excitement Tamir gives it. It’s darker, heavier—scarier.
“Don’t worry, Cressa-la,” he chuckles as he turns his body back around to the stove. “My clan can’t won’t find you here. I’ve casted a spell over us. Only the people of the Revli Tribe can see your true form, and when anyone in the Unwea Clan looks at us their eyes fool them into thinking we’re someone else. So, you see,” Damian places food onto two plates for us. “There’s no need to worry.”
I nod, gulping.
With one stride he’s standing beside me. He slides the plate in front of where I sit, resting a hand on my shoulder as his smile remains where it had been. He must have noticed the absence of sureness in my eyes, but I don’t think he understands what it’s for.
“It’ll be okay,” he says.
Damian makes his way around the small table on the right side of the Revli Tribe’s home we occupy for the time being, and he places his own plate down and begins to devour it. I watch him as he does this, reminding me of a starving animal. My heart pounds in my ears. What if he isn’t who he says he is? What if he’s tricking me right now?
“I’ll be right back,” I mumble, pushing the chair back so I’m able to stand.
“What—where are you going?” Chunks of food fly back onto his plate from his fork as he looks up at me expectantly.
“I just need some fresh air.”
He hesitates for a moment, his mouth poised to say something, but, instead, he nods.
He turns and goes back to eating within an instant, the food he’d created disappearing quickly.
“You said I’m safe here,” I smile forcefully as I open the door. “I think I’ll be all right.”
The sun is beginning to set, and the strange pull hits me as the door closes behind me. Tonight is the closest you can get to a full moon. The question is: when it comes, can I handle it?
I’ve spent a good chunk of time underwater, where the moon hasn’t reached me like it had the night Damian ‘saved’ me from it. However, it was between moon cycles. Am I strong enough to resist the magic, now that I know more about it, about myself?
Shaking my head, I push away the thoughts. I take a deep breath and glance around, my eyes falling onto the spot the little girl had been the last time I’d seen her. Her dark hair shivers in the warm wind as she looks out to me, her green eyes almost glowing in the suns’ light.
She waits patiently as I slowly make my way to her. Paranoid, I can’t help but over-analyze my surroundings, jumping at every branch snapping, at every leaf rustling. Of all places to take me to, why the Revli Tribe? Could it be he feels at home here? He grew up with these houses, this culture. Is it possible he just missed it? Or did he want me to see the side of him that isn’t tainted with what Dametria’s personality leaks on him, what his past stains him with?
“Come sit,” the little girl whispers, patting the green grass beside her. Hesitantly, I obey. Something about her reminds me of Lily-flor.
There’s a pang in my chest as a knot forms in my throat. I try to shove the thoughts away of the little girl I’ve known her whole life, but I can’t, as if she were my own child. As if I were her mother.
But I’m not,I remind myself.We don’t have mothers.
I take a shaky breath. These thoughts are too deep right now. I have to focus on the matter occurring in this moment, not the past, not the future, but now. My tribe is safe, as long as the Unwea Clan doesn’t lay a finger on Jackie. That much I can be sure of. Damian on the other hand…
“I waited for you,” the little girl says, her face grave. The smudged blue streaks have traces of mud around their edges. Her skin is almost golden, kissed by the sun.
“How long did you wait?” I ask, not knowing what else to say to her.
“Did you eat?”Calm down. She’s not Lily-flor, so she’s not your problem.
She nods. “I only eat berries and fruits and vegetables. I don’t like eating meats. They used to be alive.”
I don’t have the heart to tell her so did the plants.
“My name is Quata-sai.” She sticks out her hand for me to shake. “And you’re Cressa-la. You came from the Initi Tribe.”
My mind flicks back to the lie Damian told when we had first arrived, when I had first seen this little girl. He had said I was banished from the Initi Tribe and he took me in, his skin glowing slightly. I had never seen him glow before that point. What changed?
“He gave me a different name when I came here though, Quata-sai.” I speak quietly as if the leaves themselves would betray me to the Unwea Clan’s land clanmembers.
She shrugs. “I know. But the wind told me differently.”
“It’s a long story,” she says, waving the words she had just uttered away. “I’d rather not talk about it now.
“You said not to trust Damian.” I glance over at Quata-sai, changing the subject. Her big green eyes are focused and clear, narrowed as she looks directly into mine. “Why?”
She nods solemnly, her eyes beginning to glisten. “Damian-sai…” Quata-sai sighs. “I was out hunting with my father in the woods. He had just shot down a deer with his arrow, and we began to bless the animal. We believe that all living things should die in the embrace of love rather than hate or hunger.
“I hadn’t memorized the words yet. It was only my second time hunting, plus I wasn’t really enjoying the killing animals thing, but people had to eat—people that I loved had to eat. So I looked up at my father’s mouth to try and read his lips to keep up.
“There was this boy in the woods. It was Damian-sai. His body was soaked with water and mud and leaves were covering him. He looked like a monster! My father realized I had stopped blessing the deer and he looked up at me. He followed my gaze and took in the image of Damian-sai. The boy began to walk towards us, his steps heavy like stone.
“My father warned him not to come any closer, holding up his arrow at him. Damian-sai smiled and shook his head. He said something I didn’t understand and then ran forward towards my father. The next thing I know, the arrow is all the way through Damian-sai’s stomach. I remember screaming and then running from my father as he yelled for me to get away. When I looked over my shoulder, the boy was standing over my father. He was lying on the ground next to the deer. Damian-sai pulled the arrow from his stomach, and then it healed. He killed my father.”
I stare at Quata-sai in shock. No words are able to form in my mind to say to her. Nothing I could say would be able to explain the tidal waves of emotion storming through me as I think about her story, should it be true. But how do I know it’s true? How can I be sure this isn’t another magic trick?
I close my eyes and steady myself as my head grows light. “Are you sure?”
“Excuse me?” The little girl’s eyes widen.
“I mean—look. Damian…-sai uses magic. He manipulates people into thinking something over something else. He used it on your entire tribe when we came here. How do you know he’s not tricking you too?”
Quata-sai shoots me a confused glare. “Magic only works on the people that allow it to.”
Her response almost makes me fall over. How can she know about magic, and, even if she really does know anything, how can she possibly know something like that?
“There are three types of people on this island,” she speaks, counting on her fingers. “The good, the bad, and the gifted. The good people are those that are good, like the people in the Initi and Revli Tribes. The bad are like those in the Wurn Tribe, along with some stragglers from Initi and Revli. And then there are the gifted; the people that are magical. They can control water, bend light, and even make a weapon of their powers. They are like you and me.”
“What?” So many things… So, so many things… How much more will there be to boggle my mind? “So… so you know about magic? How?”
“I’m the Tribe Leader’s daughter. Well—not biological, like some of us here are,” she shrugs, looking down at her hands as she picks at her fingernails. “He told me everything though. He had it too. He was gifted. He told me not to tell anyone of our powers or else bad things would happen. I was always too scared to ask though…”
“He’s right,” I say, my hands lifting to rest on her shoulders and my eyes wide and pleading. “You’re lucky I am who I am. If I were anyone else… Look. Quata-sai, I believe you. But what do you mean, ‘magic only works on the people that want it to’?”
Her shoulders lift as she adjusts her clothing made of skins. “Everyone wishes for a better life, and yet they want nothing to change. The Tribe Leaders use their gifts to make us forget and remember things differently. Magic isn’t one hundred percent perfect. In fact, it has more holes and loopholes than raindrops on a stormy day. You just have to be looking for them.”
I let that sink in. The boy I didn’t remember that was kicked out of my tribe, he had been erased from every member of the Initi Tribe’s memory. Had I wanted to forget him?
And the memory with Tamir and Damian. Had I just let my Tribe Leaders take that from me because I subconsciously wanted to forget it ever happened? What if I had never forgotten?
I look back at her, her eyes searching my face. They’re wet with almost-tears, the irises seeming to glow a soft purple. Suddenly I want to know how many One-Hundreds there are on this island and if I can save them.
What if I can save them?
“Please don’t trust him,” Quata-sai whispers. I want to respond, my mouth halfway ready to form a word, when the grass crunches in front of us.
Our head snap to look up at the person looking down at us. The rising moon plays with the features on his face, and I don’t know whether to be afraid of him or melting at his feet. My heart shudders.
“Time to come in, Cress,” he says, a pang of anger flaring through me as he uses the nickname Tamir assigned me. It’s not the same when he says it. “I think you’ve had enough air.”
Damian reaches down with one hand to help me up. Quata-sai gives me one last glance, her eyes begging me to heed her warning. She doesn’t move from her spot as we begin to walk away.
I peer back over my shoulder and give her the slightest nod. It seems to help her ease up, and her frame relaxes. She stands and runs over to another house, not taking her eyes away from Damian and I as he opens the door for me.
“After you,” he smiles softly, sweeping his arm in front of me. Suddenly I’m afraid to be in the same area with him.
If the story the little girl told me is true, then who knows what Damian is capable of. I certainly don’t, and I don’t intend to find out. However, curiosity takes me over and I make a beeline to the table and sit down, my food now cold. My body shivers. The moon is rising quickly—I can feel it.
Damian strides over to take my plate. “I’ll warm it up,” he says quietly, a small, dim, green light appearing in his hand as he moves it beneath the stone disk. “It’ll only take a second. My powers are weak right now.”
“I’ve never seen you glow before today,” I blurt out. He glances at me out of the corner of his eye. “And you didn’t even touch water. Why’s that?”
Damian’s chuckle is cut short. “I’m good at controlling my emotions.” He sets the plate back down in front of me and steps back to stare at me for what seems like an eternity. I’m silent as he does this, hoping I didn’t thrust myself into the danger-zone. “I don’t know what you’ve heard of me.” He straddles the back of the chair. “But I’m not sure it’s correct.”
There’s a stiff pause as I try to control my breathing. His eyes seem to grow harder by the second and it gets tougher to sit still. I clench my fists.
“Why don’t you tell me what you’ve learned of me while you weren’t in my presence?”
All I can hear is my heartbeat in my ears. There’s a metallic taste in my mouth as my throat becomes a desert, and my fingers quake as adrenaline slips into my veins. Is this a test, or is he really asking?
I end up shrugging, coming across more calm than I am. “Noting much, really.” My voice is smooth. “But I’d really like you to tell me instead. Who knows what lies could have been planted within their words?”
I sound cruel. I sound cunning. But I’m not. Scared out of my mind is what I am, and I don’t know how else to come off as but this way. Never have I ever been in a situation like this. The closest thing was lying to Rai-si about touching the water. It’s as if I’m playing a more dangerous game now, as I sit with the King of the Unwea Clan who has hundreds maybe thousands of clanmembers with gifts and powers.
I try to pretend the tension in the room isn’t growing, but you can see it in every muscle of my body. I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror on the opposite side of the room. There’s a fire in my eyes and my jaw is set. I look foolish in my dirty animal skins and unwashed brown hair.
My gaze switches back to Damian; he is completely at ease. His arms are draped over the back of the chair before him, his head only an inch or two above them. A lazy smirk lounges above his chin as he watches me, amused. The only thing that gives him away is his pair of irises. They’re as tense as my body feels, possible more.
“So what are you suggesting?” Damian’s voice is tight.
“You tell me instead.”
He laughs loudly.
“I mean, what else do I know about you besides you’re the King of the Unwea Clan?”
His eyes lock on mine, green flashing across them and a corner of his mouth lifting a bit.
A memory flickers across my vision.
“You—” I gasp.
His smile falls for a brief second. “What?”
“You attacked my village!” I cry, the chair falling to the floor as I stand straight up. “Transforming… You were one of the wolves!”
He stands. “What, why would you think—”
“My… You killed Nan-ah.”
“The woman that raised me, Damian. The stories I was told are right, aren’t they? You take the life from people to be immortal. You take the gifts from the One-Hundreds, draining them of everything and they die. That little girl’s father is dead because of you…” I look him up and down in disgust, tears impairing my vision. “And I thought you were good.”
I storm to the door, Damian moving faster and blocking it off. His body is inches from mine.
“Listen to me, Cress,” he pleads.
“Don’t call me that!” I shout. “Don’tevercall me that.”
“Why? Because he does? Tamir leftyou to fend for yourself, remember? He didn’t want you.”
“Shut up!” I snap, a tear falling. I begin to glow brightly. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t I?” He moves forward. “This may have all started because I’m King of the Unwea Clan, but it changed into something else. We were invading the Tribes to extract the One-Hundreds when you caught my eye. I took over the Revli Tribe after creating that tsunami to weed out the One-Hundreds, but it took you instead for some unknown reason.” Damian comes closer, his eyes flashing green. “And then you were in the woods and you needed my help. Dametria was the wolf and she was going to drain you of your powers but I stopped her. I wanted to know what was so special about you. And then I found you, I got to know you…”
His face gets closer to me as his arms hold my shoulders steady. Something is trying to get through inside of me. I can’t tell what it is. Something warm wants to squeeze through the coldness and anger I’m feeling towards him—
Damian’s eyes flash green again.
“No,” I say just before his lips can touch mine. I recognize the manipulation. I recognize the uneasy feeling. He’s trying to make me fall for him somehow with magic, with the flashing of his irises. I’m no different than anything else he’s used for God knows what, although he tells me differently. I refuse his magic.
A flash of light forms between us, static filling the air.
Damian’s back hits the door with athud,his nose bleeding. He lifts his hand up to touch it, staring at it as he brings it back down. His eyes flicker up to me, flashing again. The green stays longer than before as I focus on them, keeping them from influencing me.
A flash of blue passes across my own vision and Damian’s hands shoot to his head as he cries out.
“What are you doing?”
“You’re trying to manipulate me,” I growl. “Why?”
“Because I love you, Cressa-la.”
The words make my heart leap. With what, I’ve no idea.
“There’s something Tamir would never say to you,” he smirks as he stands up, realizing what the words had done to me for a split second. “He doesn’t have the guts.”
“Is that all this is? A competition? You got the girl he loved, shouldn’t you be happy?”
Damian shakes his head, chuckling softly as he comes closer.
“You don’t get it.”
His hands rest on my arms. The tear is long gone from my cheek, yet my skin still glows.
“Don’t touch me!” I wriggle violently from his grasp. “I do get it. You don’t care about anyone but yourself.”
“You’re wrong there, Cressa-la,” he sighs. “I care aboutyou.”
“Why should I believe you?”
“I saved you from my own Clan and ran away with you, giving up my crown! It was all for you, Cressa-la. I want to be with you.”
“Me?” I take a few steps back, disgust growing and collecting beneath my sternum. “What about Dametria? I thought you lovedher.”
“That was before I met you.”
I shake my head in disapproval. “You’re a liar and a cheat. Even if Ididwant to be with you, what would you do with me after you get bored of me too? What would you do if Tamir found someone else better than me and you wanted her? What then, huh?”
“There isn’t anyone better than you,” he almost whispers. “And Tamir has nothing to do with us.”
“Us?” I question, breaking away from him and walking around his body. “Damian, I hate to tell you this, but thereisno us.”
I fling the door open and walk out into the night, the moon rising higher in the sky, tugging at my blood.
“Just listen!” Damian calls as he runs after me. “I want you and no one else—you’re my soul mate!”
“And you’re a fake!”
“But Cressa-la, I mean it!” He begs, catching up to me and grabbing my arm. I yank it away from him.
“Don’t touch me.”
“Cressa-la, I love you with all of my heart—”
“Oh, you do, now, Damian?”
The voice drifts out from between the darkness strung between the trees. A face is bathed in the moon’s light as she comes out into the villages’ walkways. Dametria looks even more stunning than she’s ever looked, her body radiating with energy as her black clothing seems to float around her. A green glow escapes from her body as her straight black hair whips in the wind.
Her piercing eyes dart to me, narrowing.
“How can you see us?” Damian asks in a demanding voice, standing beside me and looking ready to pounce.
“You’re not the only one that knows spells, my love,” she smiles. Her eyes snap back to me. “Didn’t I tell you to watch your back, Cressa-la?”
Her body shifts, green light and black modes drifting around her. Within only a few seconds she’s down on all fours, growling as the black stripes stretch across her growing body. Her eyes are the last to change as her body glows with the green light.
She stalks towards me, claws glistening in the almost full moon. Everything seems to stand still for a moment as the three of us watch each other. My breathing is ragged and I’m ready to run or fight, whichever comes first.
Dametria roars and leaps into the air, her orange furred body coming straight towards me. Balls of light are already in my hands, ready to be released and wreak havoc on Dametria.
But another big, black cat gets in the way, knocking Dametria to the ground.
The orbs in my hands grow as I hold them before me. Should I attack them both? Or should I just attack Dametria? What if this is another trick?
I groan internally as they break apart. Dametria and Damian are so caught up in their brawl, it’s like they’ve forgotten about me. Or so I would like to think so.
“Go, Cressa-la!” I can barely hear Damian’s warped voice coming from the great black cat. “Run!”
I hesitate, watching them circle each other.
“Go!” Damian cries urgently.
“You’re next, Cressa-la,” Dametria growls darkly.
The balls of light flicker out as I stare at them. They lunge at each other again. Now would be the time to run, to disappear. I need to get away from them, from them all.
It’s another moment before I turn around and fade into the trees. I run until I can’t run any longer. I run until the moon is high in the sky and I can feel its pull. It’s almost to the top. I need to hide from it.
I keep going, my body growing numb. I stumble and stagger over the crunchy ground.
And then there’s a tree root.
I pitch forward. Hit my head hard on something. A tall plank of wood.
Taking a brief moment to rub my head and check for blood, I look up at what I had run into. In the moonlight drifting past the leaves above, I’m able to read a single name etched into the hard wood.