The backs of the Tribe Leaders’ houses cast shadows in the pale moonlight, eeriness weighing down atop the walkways. Past the edge of the cliff, I can see the water dancing, waves crashing against each other violently as clouds begin to roll in, covering the sky’s many stars. A storm is coming, I realize, feeling the electricity in the air and the wind pick up speed.
Using the Wall of the Dead to help me stand up, I look out at my village, my home. Who knew that just over a year ago I was a completely normal girl, living a completely normal life in the Initi Tribe? So many things have happened since then, so many twists and turns that have spun me around, making me confused, lost, and dizzy.
And it’s not over yet.
My feet crunch on the grass, paranoia rising inside of me. What if the Unwea Clan is watching me, waiting to get me alone? They could drain my powers and kill me. If that were a choice to save my tribe, I’d give it all up. But it seems as if the only one that would be swayed by this would be Damian. Whatever he thinks he feels for me isn’t real. I can tell by the way he kept trying to manipulate my emotions and feelings. The flashing green eyes—I wish I’d recognized it sooner. I’m sick to my stomach thinking of the night he came to me and I was confused on what I was feeling about him. The night he was running from a wolf…
Could that wolf have been Dametria?
I sneak a quick glance over my shoulder, hoping no one is actually there, that I’m just scared out of my mind.
I wrap my arms around myself, not because of the cold but from the chills rushing below my skin and raising the hairs protruding from it. I’m shaking. A part of me wishes Tamir were here.
Oh, Tamir… I sigh. Jackie had told me he loved me. At one point in his life, he was madly in love with Amawa-na, or Dametria, and look how that turned out. How would I know it was true? Love is such a strong word, one that was overused years and years ago, and one that we use only when we know what it is and that we have it. Like I love Lily-flor as if she were my sister, the Tribe Leaders as my mentors, Nan-ah as like mother…
My body stiffens at the thought of her name as the image of it etched on the Wall of the Dead comes back to me. She’s gone. And now that I’ve had closure through the Tribe Leader Initiation, it seems as if the hole torn in my heart is bigger. The happy turnaround of the forged memory didn’t happen. It was all just a magic trick.
I swallow the ball in my throat and make my way between two houses. The moonlight illuminates my body, and I direct my attention to the door to my left. The moon cannot take me tonight. It’s not completely full.
My knuckles make three light knocks on the door, and I hear shuffling coming from inside. They should have been sound asleep by now. I knock again, praying they have awoken.
The door cracks open and a familiar face pops out. Tears fill my eyes as I squat down to be eye-level. A smile forms on my lips.
“Hi, Lily-flor,” I whisper.
Her brow furrows, as if she’s unsure of what she’s seeing. This reaction makes my heart break. I haven’t been gone that long. Has she forgotten about me? Or did the Tribe Leaders erase the memory of me like they did that boy? Drea-de.
“Lily-flor!” The scolding voice is familiar, and I stand up to the sound of it. “You are never to open this door, especially when the moon is—”
Tani-mah stops dead in her tracks, looking straight at me. My face is hard as I stare back, my hands shaking. Her face is unreadable.
“Who are you?”
“What?” I gasp. Does she not remember me either? “It’s me, it’s—”
My brain kicks on. Damian had put a spell on us to hide our natural appearance. That’s why neither of them recognizes me.
I hit the palm of my hand to my head, groaning, although the strike of the thought makes my heart feel better; perhaps Lily-flor hasn’t forgotten me.
“Okay,” I begin, turning back to Tani-mah. “This is going to sound crazy.”
“I want you to leave,” Tani-mah says, veins popping from her neck, as if she’s straining not to… the moon. Does it affect people on land differently?
“The moon!” I blurt. “Tani-mah, it’s me, Cressa-la. When you took me to where we received the babies, the moon took me over and I got into the water. That’s when I disappeared. Do you remember?”
She looks at me for a moment, puzzled. Shaking her head, she begins to shut the door. I lurch forward to protest, but a little head explodes from behind Tani-mah, her eyes wide.
“Did you say Cressa-la?” she asks, coming near me. She rubs her eyes. “But you don’t look like Cressa-la.”
I nod, kneeling down. “Someone put a spell on me so people can’t see what I really look like.”
“Why?” she asks, not believing what I’m telling her.
“Because there are bad people after me. They come from the water.” I glance up at Tani-mah to see if she’s watching, and sure enough she is. Very intensely. “They’re called the Unwea Clan, and they’re after all who glow.”
Tani-mah goes ridged and disappears behind the door. Lily-flor purses her lips as she looks at me. It’s almost as if she’s trying to find some resemblance to what I used to look like.
“I don’t believe you,” she pouts, crossing her arms. “Tell me something only Cressa-la would know.”
I smile. She’s so stubborn. “After I had seen that boy in the water, you asked me a question.”
Her eyes fill with wonder and surprise, but she keeps her face still for the most part, trying not to show any change of thought about me. “What question?”
“If he was cute.”
A flash of remembrance slips across her face, but it switches back a second later.
“So?” she frowns. “Anyone would ask that question.”
I sigh heavily. “No, no they wouldn’t, Lily-flor.” At least she’s more reserved than I am when it comes to strangers, I think as that first night I had seen Tamir pops into my head.
“How do you know?” she accuses, sticking her tongue out at me.
My forehead hits my hand once again in defeat. There’s no getting through this girl. She’s too hardheaded.
The door to Tani-mah and Rai-si’s door opens again as they step through, looking down at me. Rai-si rubs his eyes sleepily as Tani-mah’s jaw clenches. Why is it so hard for her to resist? The moon isn’t entirely full; there’s still some darkness left on the edge of the sphere.
I stand to my feet, Rai-si giving me a once-over.
“You claim to be Cressa-la.” His tone is dubious. “Why?”
The question is so absurd I can’t help but let an airy laugh slip out in frustration. “Because I am. And I need help.”
“And what makes you think—”
“Because the Unwea Clan is on the brink of waging war on both the mermaids and the tribes up here and there are more of them than anyone would ever think there would be!” My chest heaves as I stare at them wide-eyed, my frustration finally breaking completely through. “I’ve been gone for over a week and I’ve learned more than you could ever teach me. It’s me, Cressa-la, the girl that passed every stage in the Initiation and delivered a fully-grown jaguar to your feet. The Unwea Clan is looking for me, so I suggest we stop wasting time and you heed what I have to say for once.”
Rai-si glances over at Tani-mah. He nods, Tani-mah taking a tense gulp as she looks down at Lily-flor. She looks up at them questioningly.
“Lily-flor, I want you to go to Yurt-sah’s house.”
“But I want to stay!” she stomps.
“No,” I interrupt, my nerves lighting a fire inside me as Tani-mah’s judgmental gaze falls upon me. “Let her stay.” Lily-flor looks up at me as I glance down. “After all, she’s almost six. She’s practically a grown-up.”
Her brows furrow as I smile, and her jaw drops open. She rubs her eyes and blinks a few times as she gapes at my face. Once more, she smashes them beneath her palms, this time in disbelief, before her pupils rest on me.
Lily-flor gasps. “It is you!” she jumps up onto me and I wrap her in my arms. “I knew you were coming back! I missed you…”
“Fine.” Tani-mah’s voice is sharp and short as she turns on her heel to walk back into the house. I follow her in, Rai-si closing the door behind me, his eyes contemplating as he watches Lily-flor wriggle out of my arms.
“Who’s the Un-wuh Clan?” Lily-flor asks, butchering the name.
“The Unwea Clan,” Tani-mah corrects, fuming before me. “She’ll know too much if she stays in here.”
“Let her know,” Rai-si demands quietly. “Now tell us all you know.”
“First,” I wager. “Tell me all that you’ve lied to me about.”
“Really?” Tani-mah spits. “Rai-si, we’re not even sure—”
“Tani-mah,” Rai-si growls. “It’s her. Lily-flor can see her through the glamour. And it’s due time she learns. But she won’t know until she reveals what she all she knows.” He motions for me to sit and he does as well, the rickety wood table making me feel small as I realize Rai-si appears enormous next to it. But I don’t allow myself to be afraid of them.
I lift my chin up and take a deep breath. “I want you to promise you’ll tell me.”
“And I want you to tell the truth this time,” Rai-si says, a glint of humor in his eyes. I can’t help but smile.
I place my hands on the table and turn them palm-up. “I promise.”
He places his hands on top of mine and looks into my eyes.
“Then so do I.”
I explain to them all I’ve seen. When I first laid eyes on Tamir, all the way up until Damian and Dametria’s fight, retelling the stories Tamir and Rave had recited to me. Tani-mah paces stiffly, but the fire rages with each step she takes for whatever reason. Lily-flor asks tons of questions, in which I answer fully. After I finish, there’s a stretch of silence as Rai-si and Tani-mah process what I’d told them.
“Damian. Damian-sai.” Rai-si repeats the two names the manipulating boy cowers beneath. “The young leader of the Revli Tribe that warned us about the tsunami.”
“That he created,” I interject. “He wanted to reveal all of the One-Hundreds so he could drain their powers and have eternal life.”
“You told me that part.” He stares into the distance. “He’s powerful… And you said he has clanmembers both underwater and above?”
Rai-si and Tani-mah exchange a glance as she stops pacing.
“What?” The way they’re looking at each other… makes me fear for the answer of the boy’s plotting. “What does it mean?”
“I guess this is where I uphold my end of the bargain,” Rai-si sighs, Lily-flor watching with wide eyes. “I’m going to explain some things before finishing that thought. It might shed some light on dark areas of your knowledge.”
Rai-si removes his hands from mine. “Don’t worry, you can trust me. I’ll be One-Hundred percent honest.” He grins a tiny bit at his absurd pun.
“The merpeople raised our ancestors, teaching them everything they needed to know about language, cooking, and caring for each other. When the tribes’ numbers began to increase, the merpeople parted from them, leaving them to fend for themselves. The knowledge of the clans is passed down from one Tribe Leader generation to the next as the years went on. The Tribe Leaders realized they had strange powers; some even began to change, as you had, and this was back when we were able to venture out into the sea. They contacted the clans below and they were as shocked as the Tribe Leaders were. So our ancestors were forced to keep it a secret from their tribes, the water off-limits completely. They would only use it for bathing and drinking, after boiling the magic and salt from it.”
“What about the rain?” Lily-flor’s body is completely turned towards Rai-si. He has her full attention.
“When the water is evaporated from the sea, the magic, much like the salt, stays behind. So when it falls, it doesn’t affect us in any way. Unless, of course, it’s brought upon us by magic.” He eyes me as I scratch the scales on my legs. “But tears are different because they have the magic from the One-Hundred in them—the, the person with the magic,” he explains to Lily-flor, who nods.
“Okay,” I say. The information he’s giving me is light and just something to keep in mind for possible future reference, but I want to know more. I want the answers to the heavy stuff. “Then what does the clanmembers above and below the water do for the Unwea Clan—or even Damian and Dametria?”
Rai-si holds up a finger. “I’m almost there.”
“When the moon takes you, you’re pulled to the water, am I right?” I nod my head at Rai-si’s question. “When Tani-mah and I are captured by the moon, we are threats to everyone up here.”
“Then why do you stay?”
“Because we’re chosen by the moon. We don’t need to be touching water for our powers to work, and when we do touch water, they fizzle out. We belong on this island to take care of everyone.” He pauses, taking a breath. “And when you’re chosen by the sea, as you are, if you’re touching the water during a full moon, you become just as dangerous.”
I tilt my head in confusion. If they belong on land then why are they so dangerous? “It sounds so backwards,” I mumble, and then I remember the story Tamir had told me, where he destroyed everything around him.
Rai-si nods slowly. “And you being lead to the water and glowing during a full moon means that you’re chosen by the water. Your powers work only when it’s touching you.”
“I don’t see where this is going.”
“Damian is special,” Tani-mah growls, coming close and sitting next to her husband. “We, on this island, are all one-hundred thousands—the saved,” she whispers. “You, Rai-si, and I are the One-Hundreds, the gifted. But there’s one more level to us humans, and even to the merpeople.” She leans towards me, her intensity making my heart jump into a quick pace. Lily-flor cringes on the other side of the table, her eyes tinted with fear and uncertainty. For a moment, I wonder how much of this she actually understands.
“He controls groups of people both underwater and on land. His powers work with or without water touching him. He’s something even more dangerous than any of us here. He is a One. Saved and gifted. And chosen by both the moon and the sea.”
Mariana, the woman Tamir had brought me to after he saved me from Damian and Dametria, had talked about being chosen by the water. She says I’ll know in time. I guess she was right.
Rai-si and Tani-mah are saying the water chose me, while the moon chose them. From what it sounds like, it’s one or the other. However they speak of Damian as if he’s a force to be reckoned with. Control of his powers both on land and underwater?
“Approximately one in every one hundred of the One-Hundred, the gifted—” Tani-mah eyes me, hoping I understood what she just said, “—are chosen by both the moon and the sea. Those are the people that need to be destroyed.”
“Why?” Lily-flor’s voice cracks Tani-mah’s hardened face for a moment.
“Because they are all evil.”
“Well,” I protest. “He has saved my life. I wouldn’t say he’s completely—”
“He tricked you, Cressa-la. He played with your emotions. Damian is evil, whether he is struggling against it or not. They all turn evil.”
My focus is drawn to my hands in my lap, where I pick at the callouses on them. Even though Damian had tricked me, I still don’t understand why he did what he did. Why isn’t he happy with Dametria? She changed her name for him. Not to mention his cruel way of stealing her from Tamir about five years ago. Why me?
“So what are we going to do?” The words fumble from my mouth, unsure of really anything at the moment. I’ve no idea what the Unwea Clan is up to or what their plan is, but it’s no doubt the One-Hundreds both on the island and beneath the sea are in danger.
Tani-mah looks over at Rai-si, who crosses his arms over his chest and glances sideways at me. “He’ll be looking for you,” he mumbles. “And so will the girl. If she hates you so much, it’s most likely because of him. And what better way to get revenge than to destroy the girl her boyfriend has been sneaking off to? You must mean something to him.”
“So… what does that mean?”
“It means you’d better leave soon or hide, because the Unwea Clan can transform, giving them all the senses of the animals living in the trees.”
I nod, swallowing the hard knot in my throat.
“So I’m just going to keep running?” I whisper, my mind drifting back to Tamir. I had left him behind to take Damian and Dametria down single-handedly. What a stupid decision.
And then I have an idea.
“What if we joined together?” I look over at the Tribe Leaders I’ve looked up to for so long, their faces stricken with confusion.
“To protect you?” Tani-mah scoffs. “You betrayed us. You touched the water.”
“I did it because—”
“We heard your story,” Rai-si interjects. “And we know it’s true. But I don’t think—”
“Damian was going to flood the island to weed out the One-Hundreds!” I burst. “He was going to drain each and every one of their powers for his own selfish desires. If you don’t want to protect me, fine, I don’t care. But if you don’t want to protect your own village—”
My voice cuts out and I resort to shaking my head in disgust.
“We’re meant for peace, not war, Cressa-la.” Rai-si’s voice is soft. It almost makes me feel sorry for what I had said.
But I’m not.
“What is peace without war?” I hiss, standing up and walking out the door. The moon makes my skin tingle, and I glance up at it, a new feeling washing over me.
I clench my fists and turn, walking up the island as the door slams shut behind me. I said once that it’s time to stop running. It led me into the hands of the enemy. But now it’s time for tides to turn and the darkness to disappear.
I’m going to break all the rules.