Tamir catches me in his arms as I sway, coming close to losing my balance. The world seems to twist around me. Damian and the Unwea Clan have won. We don’t stand a chance.
“We’re out of time,” I whisper, my eyes drifting up to Tamir’s. “We’ve lost.”
Namrina-mah utters something, but my brain is elsewhere and too crestfallen to listen or care. Our island is doomed and all of the tribes will be gone. Who knows what he wants to do to the rest of the people, the normal ones? Drain the life from them? Keep them as slaves? Drown them to see if they glow?
“Cressa-la.” Tamir’s voice reaches inside of me and pulls me back to the surface. His face rests inches before mine. “It’s all right. The mermaid clans are going to help us out.”
“How?” I whisper groggily.
“Once I figured out what it is you where, I alerted my parents. I had to let them know, no matter how much I wanted to leave. They guessed the Unwea Clan would be striking soon, so they’re alert and ready below the waters. There’s no way Damian can win down there. There are too many merpeople to fight against him.”
“But there are three hundred of them on land.” I shift my weight, standing on my own as my eyes dart around, taking in my surroundings. “I don’t even know how that many people showed up here. We have no idea how many of them will attack under the waters.”
“She has a very valid point,” Jackie interjects, her legs wobbling as she walks closer to the conversation. “They appear out of nowhere.”
“Wait—” Namrina-mah jumps in, joining in on the small circle we were forming. The Wurn Tribe that had followed Namrina-mah hangs back, surprisingly keeping their mouths shut. Had she told them to stay quiet until she says so? “That creepy guy in the Initi Tribe that was going to ‘cross us over’ or whatever—he had said that they have received a ton of babies. Is there any way the Unwea Clan could be stealing babies for them to raise?”
“Why is that a factor in this?” I ask, not meaning to sound rude.
She licks her teeth, glaring at me for a moment. “Why are they so important? And why, on top of that, did they choose the Revli Tribe?”
Tamir shrugs. “I would think they would have chosen Wurn—no offense.”
“I only find offense in them not choosing us,” Namrina-mah sighs. We all switch our attention to her. “What? Of all tribes to pick, they pick the weakest and least violent. It’s not a good choice, if you ask me.”
“Well, maybe they did it because they would accept everyone with open arms, no questions asked,” Tamir offers, and I can hear the homesickness in his voice. I wonder if he wishes his tribe was different in some ways, like I used to.
“Whatever reason it was for, it’s a stupid decision.” Namrina-mah crosses her arms.
“I think we should go check it out,” Jackie suggests, gazing off into the distance, lost in thought. She snaps back to the present. Her brown eyes are wide with curiosity and I can see the sureness in them. “You wanted to get them on our side anyway. Why don’t we go back and try to do both? You forget Tamir and I know spells and we can manipulate people just like Damian and Dametria.”
“But that doesn’t mean I’ve done it,” Tamir blurts, looking at me. “I’ve never used it on you once.”
I nod, holding in a tense laugh at his burst toward me. I trust him, not yet completely, but I do trust him, and that’s something. And that means I don’t believe he’s lying. He’s not the kind of person to manipulate someone else for his own selfishness.
My cheeks turn hot as I realize I’ve been staring too long. “Um, so… I guess—let’s vote?”
“Everyone for going back, raise your hand.”
With the sun creeping higher in the sky, we sprint into the village. No one is outside, thankfully not even Damian. Where could he have gone? Has the war already started down below in the water, or is he waiting until the eclipse?
The moon is visible now, closing in on the ball of light in the sky. I’ve never witnessed an eclipse, but I can feel the moon’s pull. It tugs at me lightly and I push it away, as easily as the wind moves my hair. If I can feel it already and it isn’t even at its peak (not to mention the sun being completely out), then how will the eclipse effect the One-Hundreds? I wonder if it’ll have a greater impact on those chosen by the moon.
What if that’s the reason Damian has people on land as well?
About to open my mouth to reveal my thoughts to Tamir, who stands beside me, Namrina-mah shushes us.
“They’re saying something in there.”
She has her ear pressed against a Tribe Leader’s house, her eyes closed as she breathes quietly. It’s like she’s done it a million times before.
“Moon or sea, sea or moon, reveal to us, a bit too soon,” she repeats whatever it is she’s hearing from inside. “Glow or light, light or glow, moon and sea join, show what future this body holds.”
Jackie moves slowly, yet clumsily, to the window to peer in. Her brown eyes grow wide at what it she sees. A white light reflects off of her face, glowing brighter and brighter as Namrina-mah stops talking.
She jerks back below the window, her face scrunched tight as she becomes the focal point of our silent questions. Namrina-mah quietly shushes us again. “Don’t make a sound.”
There are some louder words spoken, but they’re unable to be understood. Namrina-mah nods to us and closes her eyes to focus on listening once again. She presses her ear to the cracks in the door.
“He says he’s chosen by the moon,” she whispers. “And to do the spell.”
“What spell?” I press.
She shrugs and pulls away from the door, glancing over at Jackie. “What did you see in there?”
Jackie looks up at her, her eyes filled with fear and uncertainty. She takes a shaky breath before speaking. “There are three people around a baby on a table. A ball of light appeared over its body, and then one of them opened their eyes and looked my way. Otherwise they’re fully captivated and distracted by the baby. I doubt they’d hear a scream if they are as wrapped up in this spell as they were the last one.”
“So what are you suggesting?” Tamir questions.
“Let’s go in and watch.” She smiles, mischievousness gleaming through the fear in her eyes. “This might help us. Who knows? Let’s go.”
She begins to stand up when I catch her wrist. “We don’t know what they could be doing, Jackie. Let’s wait it out.”
Jackie shakes her head. “I don’t suggest something unless I’m ninety-nine-percent sure it’ll work. Everything is hopeless as it is, so let’s take some risks. Safe isn’t an option right now because danger is breathing down our necks. We’ve got to go in there.”
A sigh escapes past my lips. I hate to admit it, but what she says is true. We can’t dance along the line where protection encounters hazard. Full force, all the way, until the time is right to be cautious again. That’s what we have to do to win.
Namrina-mah mutters, “I have my tribe too, remember? We can take these pansy’s.” She hesitates. “They’re chanting again. It’s now or never.”
Her eyes fling open and they look at me. My heart slowly begins its crescendo of jackhammering. I take one more deep breath before nodding, telling them I’m ready. It’s time to not just face the enemy, but stand up to them and show them that we mean business, that we won’t go down without a fight.
I just hope this isn’t our last.
Namrina-mah stands up in front of the door, spotting someone in the trees and waving to them. Her tribe creeps up, weapons aimed at the house. Fear begins to fizzle up inside of me, my body tingling. The pull on the moon is back, its force almost jerking at me this time, but I shake it away.
They can’t be that dangerous, I tell myself, standing up with the rest of my group. They are the Revli Tribe after all.
But Damian controls them.
I wince at this last thought.
Slowly, Namrina-mah cracks open the door, slivers of light darting into the room like a river. I can hear the people chanting a spell as we open it more and more.
“…age. Moon, let him grow quicker than the others. Let his power strengthen like no other. Let time not be your cage. Grow to your best age. Moon, let him grow quicker than the others…”
Namrina-mah slides through the crack. Jackie is after her, and then Tamir. The people in the house begin the chant again as I step inside as well.
A tall, wooden table is placed in the center of the room, three men standing around him. Their eyes are closed as their mouths move mechanically. Reds, magentas, and oranges float around the baby, coming out in rhythmical wisps with each of the men’s words. The baby coos at the light, reaching his tiny, innocent hands out to touch them. They vanish as he does though, his own body projecting a light tan color.
“Let time not be your cage. Grow to your best age. Moon, let him grow quicker than the others. Let his power strengthen like no other!”
The men’s voices grow loud and then dissolve as they say their last word. Their eyes fling open and their arms rise quickly, their irises changing to their glowing color. Suddenly, the glow colors spring from their eyes like light beams. They land upon the child and he begins to cry; he begins to wail. It hurts my heart to stand and do nothing—to only watch.
His body is absorbed in light, until the colors blind us. I find myself shuffling forward to try to save or protect him, but the light suddenly cuts off. I rub my eyes, and it takes a moment for them to adjust, a circle staying behind as a reminder on my vision.
Looking up, I can’t believe my eyes.
The baby begins to grow rapidly. I watch as he goes from newborn to toddler to child to teenager to adult within the span of half a minute. He looks down at himself, unable to sit up n his own. He begins to cry like… like a baby.
I am unable to say a single word. I can’t. Everything that comes to mind disappears as I watch this literal grown baby scream and cry. The men around him do nothing but stare at him. My heart is shattered. They took away his life from him. He has no past.
It’s worse than killing him.
The men thrust out their hands and hold down the man-baby. He screams at the top of his lungs, his face turning red and his veins bulging out. A long beard and mustache had grown from the skin making his chin, along with his dark hair during the aging process.
“Hold him,” one of the men says, glowing red. I recognize him as the man that was going to pull Namrina-mah and I up onto the rock to convert us into a Revli Tribe member. Red shifts around his hands like gas clouds.
He lifts them to his temples, locking eyes with the man-baby. His irises flash red once. Twice. Three times.
And then the man-baby is still, his own eyes flashing red.
And then all four of their eyes flash green.
Dread seeps into my heart.
“What are you doing to him?” I crow. All three of the men snap from their trance, their heads turning to look at me.
“You,” the man I recognize hisses.
“Why are you doing this?” Tears spring into my eyes and a knot ties in my throat. The three men begin to move towards me, light drifting around their hands threateningly. “Don’t you know you’re under a spell?”
They keep moving towards me.
“Um, Cressa-la?” Someone from my group stammers. “I think it’s time to go.”
The three men stop a foot away from me, Red-glow grinning eerily. It’s a complete contrast from when he had first spotted Namrina-mah and I sneaking into his tribe. How strong is the spell Damian put them under? Surely they must have some control over what they do and say.
And yet I see no free will in their eyes.
I concentrate on producing a ball of light. It’s as easy to do as it is underwater, and I feel power begin to gush through my veins. The moon, although it’s outside the house, it pushes me rather than pulls. It seems to drive my magic into my warm fingertips, caressing every part of my insides and making me crave more of it, more of the power my blood tastes.
“Cress, forget about it.” Tamir’s voice is faint beneath the crackling of energy coming from the three men and I. “Let’s just leave.”
“We can’t just leave,” I spit, something foreign entering into my speech pattern. Venom. “They destroyed that boys’ life and they don’t even know it.”
“And they’re about to destroy ours too, Cressa-la,” I hear Jackie protest, her voice shaking.
“No they aren’t,” I realize. “Damian wants me. He thinks… he thinks he’s in love with me. He won’t destroy me, will he?” I ask the three men, my light flickering out as I drop my hand to my side.
“Not you. You have something he needs.” Red-glow says. “But they are a different story.”
Before I can react, a red ball of light explodes from one of the three men’s hands and collides with Jackie’s arm. She flips into the air and slams into the wall of the house, making it shudder. A blood-curdling scream erupts from her throat as I turn back toward the men. A ball of light crashes into Red-glow’s chest from my hand, sending him flying across the room and shaking the house once again. The man breathes heavily, hatred tainting every spot of his eyes as they drag up to mine, and with one last exhale he says, “Ren-mem—attack.”
He slumps to the floor as the man-baby charges towards us. We turn and sprint out of the splintering door. I spin around, and, with an apologetic look toward the man-baby, I slam it shut. If I’m correct, the house should…
There’s the sound of ripping as the house collapses in on itself. With Tamir carrying Jackie, we sprint out of the way of destruction. We halt just behind the rest of the Wurn Tribe, their bodies rigid and alert, ready to fight if necessary. The people of Revli make their way from their houses, gripping their own harmless weapons with their unsure hands. Their knowledge of making things to protect them is small and primitive, even to someone like me, Initi tribesperson. Wurn has the most advanced weaponry out of the three of us; they must be laughing inside.
The Revli Tribe seems to pour out of their homes. Three hundred people and counting. How many have they been adding each moon cycle? And how did the other tribes not know about it?
“We’re outnumbered!” A guy from the Wurn Tribe calls to his leader, Namrina-mah. “We’ve got to retreat.”
Namrina-mah grits her teeth. It must pain her to back down from a fight. It’s against everything she’s learned. But she knows we have to.
“So much for going full-force, huh?” I mutter jokingly to her, but she growls instead of agrees.
Our group turns and disappears into the trees. The Revli Tribe throws several of their weapons at us, something they wouldn’t normally follow through with, catching some of the Wurn’s tribespeople. They won’t be coming back with us.
Namrina-mah’s face is hard as she pumps her arms and legs harder, moving to the front. I catch up with her.
“Where are we going?” I ask, panting.
“Does it matter?” She barks. “Wherever we go, I’ll still be considered a coward.”
“No,” I argue. “It was the smartest thing to pull away before we lost completely.”
We’re silent for a moment as we slow to a jog. It dawns on me that once again we’re running away. When does it ever stop?
“Let’s go to my tribe,” I tell her. “My Tribe Leaders need to be persuaded to come fight with us.”
She hesitates, still jogging. “You really believe a war will be sparked?”
I nod. “I do.”
Namrina-mah sighs, looking over her shoulder as her tribe falls behind, stopping to rest. She knows they’ll be okay on their own; she can be gone with me at least until we get things set straight. “All right. Let’s persuade your tribe then.”
We take a sharp left and descend the island.