The rock we magically pass through suddenly cuts off and I see the ground open up before me. Hundreds, thousands of people crowd into the vast space I look upon, disappearing as the room—tunnel—bends upward with the island.
As we touch the ground, a snarling boy walks up, his face scarred and scabbed. “Why are they still alive?” He hisses, his breath foul and his voice scratchy.
“Patience,” Damian bellows to the crowd as their sound crescendos. He pushes through them, their voices still rising. His hand is around my wrist as I watch my feet, careful not to meet anyone’s eyes. One of my hands wraps around the clothing clinging to where Dametria had touched me, where she had tried to drain my powers from. I sneak a peek at where we had come through, longing to see Tamir. My heart aches for him. I need him to find me. How he’ll get me away from Damian, I’ve no idea. All I know is that he needs to find me and save me. This is something I can’t do on my own.
My eyes shift down to my feet as they shuffle along, scraping against the dirt and stone that make up the dreggy ground. Hands reach out to touch me, but they’re bent back if they get too close by a mysterious force. Probably some spell Damian had placed over me. Or perhaps it was from the deal we made; I’m part of my tribe too, so shouldn’t I be kept from harms way as well?
His pace slows but he doesn’t stop. Dametria stands before us, her body is rigid and her hands are in fists, resting on her hips. Her eyes and body glow green with the black spots as she stares at Damian, her hair still dripping with water.
“Damian, don’t do this.” Her stance is solid as she glares at him. She isn’t budging. “You don’t want to do this.”
“Oh, but I do,” he hisses in her face. He snakes by her, pulling me as if I were a tamed animal; a pet.
“What did I ever do to you?” She shouts as we get farther away, making our way up the slope. “I’ve been nothing but everything you need and will ever need—”
A single, powerful wind sweeps over the bodies in the room, silencing everyone as Damian looks over his shoulder. His jaw is clenched and his hand squeezes slightly around my wrist. I flinch at the sudden tightness.
“But you’re not who I want, Dametria.”
All is quiet as I glance back at Dametria, her dark eyes losing their glow and her shoulders falling slack. I can see the water line her bottom eyelid as she lifts up her chin. What exactly is happening here?
“Fine,” she says, her voice wavering. “When you realize it’s not her that you need, and it’s me, come and find me. I’ll be waiting for you. Just know that time is running out and the one you match is walking out on you.” She glares at me. “If he didn’t cast a spell around you, you’d be dead.”
Dametria, leaving a sense of dread in my limbs, turns on one heel, takes a deep breath, and marches away. The crowd peels back, letting her pass. Damian tugs at my arm as I watch her go. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to that knows of the mermaids has talked about a ‘match.’ What does it mean?
“Damian,” I say quietly as more people part the way for us. He doesn’t hear me. “Damian.”
“Hush. We’re almost there.”
Tingles rush through me. “Did you just tell me to—”
“Shut up,” he growls, yanking me forward. Gritting my teeth, I obey. Anger and fear each take half of my body, confusion occupying my brain.
It feels like we climb forever. My wrist exudes sweat beneath Damian’s hand, although I’m not sure it’s all mine. Could he be nervous and sweating too? I can’t be positive. He seems so sure of himself, of me…
We stop. Black double doors stand before us, a bright murky green glow drifting around them. Thousands of black modes float in its glowing, making it feel as if the door hides thousands of secrets. It reminds me of Dametria and her glowing.
But as Damian opens them, still attached to my wrist, I see it only holds two spot lit chairs, leaving the rest of the elephantine room in infinite shadows. A single light falls upon the seats, their gold surfaces shimmering like the sun’s rays reflecting off the water.
Damian finally lets me go. He takes a step back and swings his arms around to the front of him, motioning for me to go inside.
My heart pounds in my chest as I follow his silent instructions. It’s like I’m an ant in the darkness-edged, giant room as I step into the light, just before the chairs. They aren’t really alike at all. One has twisted metal in a feminine way, swirling around each other and creating something that looks like a crown at the top. The second one is one solid piece of gold shaped like a chair with a pillow thrown on top of it.
The doors slam shut behind me. I turn around.
Damian stares at me with a fire in his eyes, his body still.
“You don’t know how long I’ve waited for this moment with you, Cressa-la,” he coos softly, his voice resonating all around me.
Damian strides slowly to me and I try to hold my ground. But that little voice inside of me tells me to turn and run in the other direction.
His face darkens and his blue eyes begin to grow green as I stare at them. I resist. I have to resist him.
Easier said than done.
Damian’s face is right before mine, his breath heavy on my face. His hand reaches up and his fingers gently touch my cheek. I flinch.
“Don’t be scared,” he whispers. “Once we’re locked in, the moon’s power will be ours.”
“What?” I ask, taking a step back.
He takes one forward.
“The moon chose us. The sea chose us. We are one in a million. The eclipse is a sign to us, Cressa-la.” His face moves a fraction of an inch closer. “And it’s telling us that we must rule. Together.”
I stumble backwards, Damian catching me around my waist. His touch makes my back tingle—in a bad way. I don’t want him near me anymore.
“We just have to sit and be patient for a while.”
He lets go.
I land with a thud in the chair behind me, my head hitting the hard, cold metal. I’m disoriented for a second as I try and focus on seeing only one Damian. He shakes his head as I adjust myself, ready to stand again.
And then I feel warmth around my wrists, waist, and ankles.
Lines of light hold me to the metal, the green utterly bright and head splitting. I try to free myself by thrashing, but all I end up doing is tightening them.
“Don’t worry, Cressa-la,” he says, sitting down beside me in the other one. “It’ll be over soon.”
The last thing I see is the frozen eclipse above me, a hole in the top of the mountain. Trees and other things fly by, the wind still raging out there. The Earth is still.
And then pain. Like I’ve never known. It hits me like a tree falling. It hits me like a wolf gnawing at my limbs. It hits me like a tiger ripping my head from my body. I never asked for this. I never asked for this. I never wanted any of this.
My veins are on fire. They glow with the color blue. I scream. I can’t hear it. I can barely feel it.
Breathing. I can’t breathe. The world has disappeared and my eyes water. Got to stay strong. Got to stay strong for Lily-flor. For my tribe. For Tamir.
My lips form his name. Where was he? He’s supposed to find me. He’s supposed to take this pain away from me. This pain… This torture.
My vision fades. My muscles itch. Hot, thick, dripping agony melts through my chest, creating a burning hole beneath my fiery flesh. My heart bursts with torment and anguish. I’m going to die. I’m going to die. My tribe won’t survive. Damian made a promise to me that I can’t make sure…
The world is warped when I open my eyes. The black room I had been in has turned to light. Or less dark than it had been. I can see walls now, patterns forming strange pictures before my eyes as they dance. They blur together in my mind as I try to grasp what my eyes are seeing.
The eclipse is still frozen up above, I realize when I come to terms with my liveliness. It looks like a white, glowing halo. I glance over to where Damian was sitting, and there he is, looking at me.
“Don’t worry, it’s only been five minutes.” His eyes are giddy. Hatred warms mine. “Can you feel the power coursing through your veins?”
I grimace in response, but, the truth is, I can. The moon’s pull has completely turned to push, and it’s as if its power would bend to my every will. I feel unbeatable, invincible, uncontainable…
My hand flies to my head as it throbs, and I notice I’m not strapped down any longer.
I gape down at them, my veins pressing up against my thin skin and glowing the slightest bit. It makes me look inhuman, almost alien. And then my eyes focus on something else.
My clothes have changed. One glance at Damian says he didn’t do it, and he even mutters so.
The softest material I have ever felt is draped over me, its color as light as the day sky. The fabric is thin and it hangs off of my shoulders like a shirt, synchs at the waist as if it has and invisible belt, and trails down to my feet like an incredibly long skirt. It’s like no material I’ve seen before, but somewhat similar to the clothes Damian and Dametria wear. Not skin.
My feet are bare, the scales showing beneath the slightly higher front, almost matching the material. I reach up to touch my face, feeling its smoothness and gasping at it from all I’ve been through. My dark hair falls in loose ringlets, and, on my head, a crown too heavy for me to bear sits, matching the chairs delicacy.
Even Damian has mysteriously changed clothes, his shirt and pants a soft green material, the shirt hanging down farther in the back. His crown twists magnificently atop his head, its green jewels shining in the light. What had the eclipse done to us?
“Come,” he says, standing up and holding out a hand. “Just one kiss and it will be sealed.”
“What will?” I ask, rejecting his offer and standing on my own.
“You said you’d be my Queen.” His voice drops to a threatening tone. “You need to marry me to become it.”
I sneak a glance at the door, the green glow still surrounding it. I want so badly for Tamir to burst through, saving me from Damian. Every fiber of my being screams that I shouldn’t be doing this. Even the magic inside of me seems to pull away from him.
“Tell me something,” I snap. “What is the real reason you’re doing this?”
“What? Stopping the world from spinning?” He chuckles. “Because the One-Hundreds need a voice—”
“They won’t have a voice if you kill off everyone else, Damian.”
“Well everyone else is just in the way.”
“But why are you doing this?”
“It’s time for us to rise up. Have eternal life. Eternity to rule the world.”
“Lonely world if you don’t have anyone to rule over,” I grimace. Before he can argue, I speak again. “Why me?”
“You’re the daughter of the Murlan Clan’s King and Queen, the most powerful clan beneath the waves. Your mother died giving birth to you, transferring more power than any normal One-Hundred, and then you became a One, your original power doubling. If I can’t have that power for myself, I’d rather it sit beside me.”
“Until you don’t want me anymore,” I hiss, venom dripping in every letter. “I’m done.”
“Uh-uh,” Damian waves a finger at me, tsking. “I’m saving your village, remember?”
I stop cold, clenching and unclenching my fists. I’ve got to save them, if not myself; I have to put them first. Lily-flor…
“Fine,” I spit, turning back around and marching to the chair. I plop down in it like a five-year-old throwing a tantrum and cross my arms. “But tell me one more thing. What is this ‘match’ that everyone talks about?”
Damian stares at me for the longest time, dangerous emotions flickering across his crystal eyes. He smiles brightly and shakes his head, leaning over the edge of his chair.
“I’ll tell you, Cressa-la.” His smile is wicked, taunting. I don’t notice the green flash of his eyes. “But only if you kiss me.”