The world around me throbs and pulses with the beat of my heart. There’s a searing pain as the blade is pulled from my bone, and a metallic sound as it hits the rocks below and scratches across it. I fall facedown on the ground, the water seeming to press harder and harder against my skin. Above me, Tamir and the woman speak a language I don’t understand, their voices rushed.
The bright blue light I had begun to illuminate dims more than fades as my heart rate slows and it becomes difficult to breathe. Black materializes around my vision, my brain whirring and slurring hundreds of thoughts together.
I will my eyes to stay open as hands touch me gently. My head lolls as I am sat up, and it stops its movement as my chin touches my chest. Tamir’s voice is so loud. He’s, like, screaming right next to my ear.
I feel myself physically try to push him away, but I’m not so successful grasping victory. I can still feel him, hear him there. His words are mumbled and jumbled, and it sounds as if he’s talking through a wall to me. What could he possibly be saying in this moment? Don’t die?
My body begins to lose feeling and the black spots begin to grow and swell once again. Words surround me that I don’t understand. Mumbling. Warped, distorted sounds.
White light floods over me so suddenly. I can’t tell if it’s coming from my mind or if it’s happening outside of myself. Everything—nothing seems right. Nothing seems… nothing seems right…
Suddenly, I can breathe.
My body tingles as I suck in the air—water—as if there isn’t much left and I want it all for myself. It comes out of the gills on the back of my neck in whooshes, much like the wind during a storm. My hand flies to my chest, pressing on my sternum. Sight returns to me, as well as my glowing. I look around, everything blurry at first, but quickly becoming clear as day.
The woman stands over me, her hands to her temples and her eyes staring intensely into me. An aching explodes from where she had stabbed me, and I look down immediately, my hands drifting to the spot. Blood surrounds me slightly as the wound slowly closes itself. I watch as scales in that area replace skin.
‘What did you do to me?’ I ask quietly, unsure of how to react exactly in this moment. This woman had sliced through my hip with a long, heavy blade—I should be dead, but I’m not. I’m alive because of whatever she did to me. ‘What just happened?’
I look up at the woman, her hands falling to her sides in exhaustion. She drifts back over to her rock-seat and sits down, looking me up and down with wide eyes.
‘Tamir explained to me what is going on,’ she nods, looking down at her wrinkled hands. ‘He didn’t warn me he was bringing another One-Hundred into my home.’
She glares at him, her gray eyes glinting in the artificial light around us. Her long hair seems almost silver now, shining like the moon when it’s full.
I look up at Tamir, who watches me closely, switching his gaze to and from the woman and me.
‘I was going to explain, Merana, but you stabbed her with a sword before I could.’ He shakes his head and sits on the rocky floor with me. ‘Are you okay?’ He asks.
I nod, moving my focus over to the woman. ‘Yeah.’
There’s a pause in our conversation as I watch her. Something about her tells me she used to be important before she was cast from the castle.
She turns to me, straightening her back and lifting her chin a bit higher. ‘It’s hard to let something from your past come back to you unexpectedly. You, of all people, Tamir, should know that.’
I see Tamir shift uncomfortably beside me.
’Yes, my name is Mariana. I used to be a servant inside of the castle down here for the Sivoli Clan, but they’ve long banished me from ever laying my eyes on the castle walls again. All because of a simple spell. But if I hadn’t have casted it…
‘I healed you,’ she says, changing subjects and waving away the past that had been brought to the surface. ‘I used to be a One-Hundred myself, you see. But the water chose me to be down here, to become a mermaid.’
‘What do you mean, the water chose you?’ I blurt, her eyes darting down to me as I try to stand up. ‘How do you know it chose you?’
‘Because I felt it.’ Her eyes are steady now, studying me for something.
‘What’d you feel?’ I ask stupidly, wanting to know more, eager to understand what’s going on. ’How did you know it—it… chose you? How does it—’
‘Shh,’ she sounds quietly, smiling a tiny bit at my uncertainty. ‘You’ll know in time, dear. Just be patient.’
‘Tamir, why did you bring her here?’ She asks, turning her attention to him.
‘For answers. For a spell.’
‘What answers? And what spell? You know I don’t like it when you’re shady about these things.’
Tamir sighs. ‘She wants to know everything.’
‘Everything?’ She asks, a hint of humor glinting in her eyes. ‘Is that right, dear?’
I nod slowly as she looks at me. But do I really want to know everything?
Yes, I tell myself, setting my jaw. I do.
She smiles a mysterious smile.
’Do you know how humans survived The Flood, child? It came many years ago, when the world had counted each passing year. We’ve long forgotten the dreaded number that was the last, and we started back over at zero. The year is now SEA-122362, as I’m sure you’re aware, and humans and mermaids have lived in peace for each and every one of those years, with only a few hiccups.
’Humans were almost wiped out and the mermaid population flourished greatly, due to the entire Earth being submerged for several hundred years. Now, how does this One-Hundred you keep hearing come into play?
’Here it is, Cressa-la: not all mermaids have mermaid babies. Sometimes a human is thrown in the mix.
’One in every one-hundred thousand mermaid births end in the result of a human baby, due to the fact that mermaids have so many human characteristics and body parts.
’There are about 3.4 births every second and 86,400 seconds in a day, resulting in 296,760 births per day over the entire mermaid population. That means there are about two humans born each day. Not all of the mermaid clans are merciful and spare the One-Hundred, the one hundred thousandth baby born to that specific clan. Most of them kill the human babies on sight, knowing they could potentially be dangerous if they put them on land, as well as knowing that the human babies could not survive underwater. We understand there is no such thing as evolution, and knows the humans would not be able to ever permanently swim with us as surely as the sun beats down on the surface of the water.
‘I’d also like to let you know that there’s no magic involved with the accidental births of humans. However, there is magic in some of the children themselves, the chosen leaders. Leaders of what? Leaders of either the Tribes above or the Clans underneath. It’s the moon and the water that chooses you for whichever one you are made for, with a hint of the Kings and Queens of the clans or the Leaders of the Tribes. They only prepare you.’
Stunned into silence, my brain attempts to process the information handed to it. I’m meant for something. That’s why this is happening to me. But the question is what?
I look down at my hands, my head throbbing.
‘And now what is this about a spell, Tamir?’ She asks, her voice pulling me from my thoughts slowly, as if I were trudging through snow up to my thighs.
‘I need you to give her a tail for the time being. I’m going to take her somewhere safe.’
‘Is my home not safe enough for you?’ Merana asks. I can’t tell if she’s offended or joking, and, frankly, I don’t care at the moment.
‘What makes me so special?’ I blurt, my eyes snapping up to her face. ‘Was it something I did, or something I touched? Or was it my parents…?’ Parents. Who were they?
‘There’s no telling, exactly,’ Merana says, something flashing in her eyes. Could she be lying? ‘I got my powers when I turned eighteen. My tribe saw me glow for the first time. I cried because of the harsh things they were putting me through and I started to glow. Bright yellow. They threw me out into the sea on a raft and, once the makeshift thing fell apart, I was so far out in the sea that I gave up. I couldn’t swim, so I sank. The water was cold and it crushed me until I touched the sand below, way, way below. A fish passed over me and I wished I had its tail, had its gills. I blacked out, and then, there I was being dragged into a castle with a gray tail and gills on the back of my neck.’ She shrugs slightly. ‘I was a part of the Wurn Tribe. War…’ Merana chuckles to herself sadly. ‘They sure lived up to their name.’
‘The spell then?’ Tamir interrupts, bringing her back into the present. ‘Will you do it?’
She looks me over once. Shakes her head. ‘No.’
‘I know what will happen, Tamir. Just give it time. Everything will work itself out.’ She turns to me, reaches her hands out for me to take. I drift forward and hold them in mine loosely, stealing a glance back at Tamir to make sure it’s safe. ‘You’ll know what you’re chosen for soon, I can see it, child. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid. Someone is watching over you and will make sure you will get to where you need to be.’
‘What if… what if I—I die before then?’ I ask, my voice catching. ’Someone tried to—someone I know captured me and—’
She smiles a small smile. ‘Sometimes we’re only born to die, my dear. But if that is what you’re destined for—to die—then embrace it and don’t be afraid when it comes. Now go. Learn all you can and listen to what your heart tells you. It knows where you need to be.’
Tamir lets out a frustrated sigh as she releases me.
‘Come on, Cress. Let’s go.’
I nod and begin to follow him out.
‘Good luck, Cressa-la,’ the old woman says softly as I exit, and I realize that I’d never told her my actual name. Maybe Tamir had when the sword had sliced me. Or maybe she already knew. But how would she? She’s never seen me before.
I push the thought aside as we exit through where we had come in, leaving the woman in gray behind.