The moon takes a bite out of the sun, and my heart tells me we aren’t going to make it there in time and that they aren’t going to say yes to our proposal quick enough.
I hasten my pace. We’re almost there. We only need to get through the last bit of trees, and there the Tribe Leader’s houses will stand. The houses I’ve daydreamed about living in since I could remember. It’s all I ever wanted to be.
“Whoa, look at the sea,” I hear Namrina-mah gasp. She stops, staring out past the trees and over the steep rock we stand upon.
I follow her gaze. The water is sloshing around as if someone were walking with it in a bucket. Waves crash into each other as the wind picks up. Birds squawk overhead, the trees rustling with life. I become aware of the sounds in the forest, the animals sending out warning calls to each other. Suddenly, it dawns upon me: it’s almost time.
“Hurry,” I command. I turn and run, dodging the handful of trees left separating us from my village. I know this part of the island by heart. Every tree, every branch, every root plunging into the soil beneath my feet. Everything feels connected to me quite suddenly, as if it belongs to me and I need to protect it from Damian. He’s the intruder in my home. And he needs to leave.
My feet hit the large flat rock as I bolt into the center of my village. My people stand around as I halt, gathering closer to me, whispering as I glance around. They stare at me with wide eyes, not a glint of familiarity in them. They’ve forgotten me.
“Tani-mah!” I shout, my diaphragm tightening as I shout. My breathing is short and rapid. Exhaustion weighs on my muscles. I’ve been running for who knows how long, and then that last sprint I had exploded into took a lot out of me. But not all of it. Adrenaline still has the upper hand. “Rai-si!”
Twisting around, I search for their faces. I spot Lup-mem and Yurt-sah, a shiver stroking my spine as they move towards me. The traumatic experience I had gone through to become a Tribe Leader comes back to me. The torture…
They move swiftly, their eyes locked on me. I smile nervously, acting as if fear touches no parts inside me, and cross my arms, my body tingling as the moon’s power slips into my veins once again. I’ll only use it if needed.
“What are you doing here?” Kan-ner snaps as he comes closer.
“Take me to Tani-mah and Rai-si?”
“No, we have strict orders to throw you off the cliff if we see you. You’re wanted by the Unwea Clan’s King, and we believe he’ll do anything to get his hands on you,” Lup-mem says, grabbing onto my arm. “Sorry about this.”
They begin to drag me towards the cliff that I had fallen off of twice since I’d first met Tamir. Or since I had been manipulated to think that was when I had first met him. The crowd dissipates as Marin-nah comes out from one of the houses and places her fingertips to her temples. She closes her eyes and the tribespeople disappear into their homes.
I jerk away from Lup-mem and lift the arm he had been holding. Light shimmers around it as I touch Kan-ner’s shoulder with my palm. He jumps and releases me, a sound like a hiss escaping from between his teeth.
Their bodies shudder once as they raise both of their hands. I lift mine to each of them, only half afraid. Lup-mem’s hands begin to glow a dark brown as his eyes focus once again on me.
“It’s two against one, Cressa-la,” Kan-ner says, his hands radiating a soft yellow. “Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
I sigh, lowering my hands. “Fine.”
An idea appears in the front of my mind. Something Tani-mah had said the night before, something that might actually help me settle this absurdity. I pray it works.
Taking ahold of my pouch of water (it had been strapped to me since I left to befriend the Wurn Tribe), I open it up. The smooth leather bringing me back to the days where I wasn’t a One-Hundred, or even a One, and didn’t have these powers and secrets I do. Back to the days where Lily-flor would run out of Tani-mah’s house and into my arms, and the only thing I had to worry about was food.
I take a sip from it, the water stale and warm, taking on the taste of its container. My body welcomes the flood however, and I swallow, grimacing. My insides seem to tingle a bit as my attention switches between the two men I’ve known all my life standing in front of me.
“Well?” I shrug. “Are you going to throw me off or what?”
“You’re giving up? No argument?” Lup-mem asks doubtfully. “That’s so out of character for you…”
“I’ve changed, Lup-mem,” I spit. “I mean, if you can’t tell by the way I didn’t do everything you guys said. If you can’t tell by the scales on my legs. If you can’t really can’t… Go ahead and do it. Maybe Damian will give up if I’m dead anyway.”
Kan-ner and Lup-mem share a passing glance as they walk towards me, their hands still ready to let me feel the power they control. I take one last swig of water as both of them reaches to grab one of my arms. I wait until they’re just about to touch my skin, and then slosh the zestless water onto them.
They gape at me, and I can tell they don’t understand why I did what I did as I back away faster than they can grab me. And then the glow around their hands flickers out.
“Your powers don’t work when you touch water.” The lid pops back onto my water pouch easily. “Now take me to Rai-si and Tani-mah.”
“Cressa-la, you know we can’t,” Kan-ner sighs. “The Unwea Clan—”
“Will destroy you either way. This is one fight we can’t resolve peacefully. Take me to them… or I’m brainwashing this entire village.”
Glances of confusion dart my way. To my left the rest of my group appears
“You don’t know how to,” Lup-mem says. “Your powers aren’t strong enough.”
“But theirs are.” I motion towards Jackie, Tamir, and Namrina-mah as they finally catch up and make their way to my side. “All of us together will overpower this village.”
“You would do that to your own people?” Kan-ner spits.
“Why not? You already have.” My eyes narrow. “Take me to them.”
A door to my right springs open, Lily-flor running towards me. I bend down to hug her. She’s gotten so big… But how does she remember me?
“Cressa-la, they tried to make me forget.”
“Forget what?” I ask, my eyes darting up to Lup-mem and Kan-ner.
“You.” She wraps her arms around my neck and squeezes tight. “But I didn’t let them. I didn’t want to forget you.”
Magic only works on the people that allow it to.
Quata-sai’s words replay in my head and I smile. The moment passes though; we need to hurry.
“Lily-flor, where are Rai-si and Tani-mah? I need to talk to them.”
“But they don’t want to talk to you, Cressa-la.” Her lower lip pouts. “They said bad things would happen if they do.”
“Bad things will happen if I don’t talk to them.”
“But…” She looks up at me with her big blue eyes.
“Lily-flor, you need to trust me. I’m going to help save our tribe.”
“From the people in the water.”
She peeks over her shoulder at the house she had run from, unknowingly giving Tani-mah and Rai-si’s location away. She sighs heavily, her shoulders lifting and then slumping as she looks down at her knotted hands. Her arm shoots out to point behind her.
“They’re in there.”
“Thank you, Lily-flor.” I hug her, kissing her once on her forehead. “Don’t follow me in.”
I hear her protesting as my group trails behind me. We enter the house and shut the door, my eyes immediately landing upon the familiar faces sitting in two chairs at a table. I cross my arms.
“We’re all in danger. The moon is in course to cover the sun and the Unwea Clan will have the upper hand if we don’t do something. There is no other option than to join together and fight. This can’t be settled peacefully.” The explanation is easier the second time.
“Cressa-la,” Tani-mah starts, her voice sounding as if she’s talking to a troublesome two-year-old. “If we sit this one out, if we don’t pose ourselves as a threat—”
“You’ll die,” I interrupt.
“She’s right,” Tamir offers. “The way they drain the powers and lives of innocent people is not a smooth process. It’s rather slow and torturous, and they like to stretch it out to where they can return for more later. They live off of the youth and the magic, becoming immortal.”
Rai-si stands up, the chair scooting along the rock with a hollow scraping sound.
“And how would you know this, boy?” He asks, doing a once-over of Tamir.
“Because they did it to me.”
My eyes travel to Tamir’s face. He hadn’t told me this part of the story before. Why had he been keeping it from me? If he wanted me to trust him…
But maybe he just wanted to be able to completely trust me before sharing that information.
The ribboned scars along his torso seem to pull my attention to them. Is that how that happened? Did Damian and Dametria do that to him?
Something rises inside of me, something close to anger. It’s just one more block of wood thrown into my fire. My tribe needs to stand up and fight. We can’t always be the bridge. Sometimes we have to be the flooding river.
“Tani-mah, Rai-si,” I growl, my voice low and threatening. I feel the magic flow to my fingers, tingling. “I’m not asking you to be a part of this. I’m telling you.”
Rai-si glances at Tani-mah and sighs. They understand they can’t just sit back. They’ll be hit in the crossfire and overtaken.
“It’s either you’re with us or against us,” Namrina-mah growls. “My tribe wouldn’t have joined forces with Cressa-la if we thought this wasn’t real.”
“The eclipse is coming close to occurring as we speak,” Jackie urges, clutching the singed part of her arm. “This won’t just destroy your tribe, but the Clans underwater too. So if you don’t mind getting your human butts out there and telling your tribe to fight…”
“Fine,” Tani-mah huffs, standing to her feet. Her eyes cut like daggers into me. “But their deaths are on your hands, Cressa-la.”
She pushes past me, throwing the door open. I gulp painfully. The night I had been visited by the snake, whom I now know was Dametria, it had threatened to destroy my village and make me watch. She told me I would live out the rest of my life knowing their deaths were my fault.
Is her threat finally playing out? And what about Rai-si’s vision? A betrayal, mine, would lead to the chaos and destruction. But I never technically betrayed them. All I did was touch the water, and that was before he had even seen the vision. And then there was the night where I was pulled into the water by the moon, where I ended up staying with Tamir for a while. I might have broken a rule, the number one rule on the island, but I didn’t betray them. I wouldn’t ever dream of it.
Rai-si presses his lips together and places a heavy hand on my shoulder. He exhales. “I hope you’re right, Cressa-la.”
I watch as he walks by me, following Tani-mah out into the heart of the village. My group and I exit just as he stretches his arms out wide, calling for the tribe’s attention. I sneak a peek upward at the eclipse, the sun almost halfway gone. The weather gradually intensifies as the temperature drops. I can taste the salt water on my tongue as the wind wafts it up and over the island.
“My people,” Rai-si bellows over the rustling trees, the animal noises long gone. It’s almost like they’ve vanished. “An enemy approaches. We have joined forces with the Wurn Tribe and decided to fight.”
My tribe begins to protest, some shaking their heads.
“It’s true!” I cry, pushing forward. “The Unwea Clan—”
“There’s no such thing!” A woman cries from the front, someone I never cared to learn the name of because she was always rude to me. “This girl is a liar. What tribe is she from?”
“I’m telling the truth,” I shout over the rising voices. “I’m—Rai-si… you need to lift the magic off of their memory. They have to remember me.” Not that long ago, they were cheering me on to become a Tribe Leader, and today they aim for my ankles, not knowing who I am anymore. The contrast is sobering.
Rai-si gives me a long look, no doubt debating on whether he should do as I say or not. He shakes his head, closing his eyes. But then he waves the rest of the Tribe Leader up onto the stage, a dry Lup-mem and Kan-ner glaring at me.
“Lift the magic,” Rai-si tells them quietly, looking defeated but strong. Something sparks inside of me. The Tribe Leaders are listening to me for once.
They disagree. “But, Rai—”
“Do it,” he demands the men and the rest of the tribe leaders, his tone threatening over the clamor of the people.
Reluctantly, each of the surrounding Tribe Leaders lifts their hands to their temples and stare into the crowd. As they close their eyes, the tribespeople all begin to stumble, crushing their hands on their heads from pain. I stand for a moment, watching, and then I begin to tip over. Tamir has to hold me upright as pain blooms throughout my brain, my throat stinging from the cry released from my throat.
Images pass before me, around me. I watch children dying due to a plague sweeping through the tribes. One person after another fail the Tribe Leader’s initiation, glowing as water is poured upon them and they are sent into the sea before the Tribe Leaders replace what we’d witnessed. Merpeople with legs come to our village to take them away, our memories seeing something contrasting. Adults with scales teach me to sing, to spell, to write, and about the world; things I would have no idea how to explain I knew. I watch as several teenagers with scales try to overpower the Tribe Leaders, touching water somehow, but they always lose. They are killed by the Tribe Leaders—my Tribe Leaders.
I feel my knees hit the ground, my eyes unable to shut. So many more things stumble into the front of my mind. It’s as if the floodgates have been opened, the images, like the water, touching what once was its home.
So that’s what they hid from us.
The sounds and visions ebb away slowly. They leave a trace of uncertainty as I stand up on my shaky legs. On the ground are some scales that had broken free from my knees when I fell. They glow a light blue and the sun makes their surfaces shine even brighter, reminding me of the story of the Sea-Man.
Tamir holds on to me, steadying me. I look back at him, our faces inches apart. He had told me that everything had changed the day he and Rave had pulled me into the water. Had he known what I was then?
The sound of children crying reaches my ringing ears. My eyes flit over the crowd, shaky people standing up and looking at each other with sad eyes. The anger and mourning of the people come to the brink of existence, when Rai-si looks at me. It’s my turn to talk and be listened to.
“My people!” I yell over the noise, just as I have watched Rai-si do many times before. “These things you have seen passing before your eyes were kept from you to keep you safe. Every tribe does the same thing as our Tribe Leaders did for you to keep it that way. I asked for us to have them back so that we will fight. Any time now, the moon will cover the sun and magic will grow, and we will have to fight to stay alive. There is a King of an underwater clan and he wants to take our lives for his own selfish reasons, and you know I’m telling the truth, now that you know about the mermaids that have secretly walked among us. This King makes it sound as if he’s trying to save the One-Hundreds, the people both under and above water that have these powers, but he’s wrong. He wants eternal life and ultimate power over the world. There is more of his clan than we could ever dream of, and that moon is supposed to increase the people on the land’s magic exponentially, if I’m correct. We have to fight for our land.”
“How do we know you’re telling the truth?” The woman whose name I still don’t know because of her brash personality blurts. “They lied to us, so why wouldn’t you?”
Glaring at her, I raise my hand and produce a blue ball of light. The people let out a gasp, pressing against each other in fear, but their eyes fill with curiosity.
“They’re coming.” My voice projects over their heads as I look out at the water. It rises. I can see the waves crashing over their tops, various animals moving sporadically within them. Flashes of red in the water.
The war has already started.
“It’s either fight or die. Choose one.”