Once the ground is still, I dart ahead, the Tribe Leaders shouting for me to come back. But I can’t. I have to warn the village before it’s too late.
I burst out into the clearing just as my people are walking out of their houses, dithered from the grounds temblor. I bound through them, instructing them to get to higher ground, to go into the woods and up as far as they can.
“Cressa-la!” I hear Lily-flor shout as she runs up to me. I take her in my arms. “What’s happening?”
“We’re about to be attacked by a wave bigger than you’ve ever seen. Follow everybody up the island!”
She nods furiously and begins to head to the trees. She stops suddenly and looks at me with scared eyes. “What about you?”
“I’ll be there in a bit. Just go, Lily-flor!”
She nods slightly and turns to go just as the Tribe Leaders come through. Rai-si begins to bark out commands and people start heading through the trees. He glances at me. “Come on, Cressa-la.”
“Is anyone out hunting?” I ask suddenly.
Rai-si begins to speak, but he’s interrupted by another earthquake. There are screams and shouts as bodies hit the ground and houses collapse in on themselves. The young Tribe Leader from the Revli Tribe runs out, closer to me than Rai-si.
“There’s no time,” says my bold Tribe Leader.
“There’s always time,” I say and look out at the water.
“Cressa-la, do not go down there.”
“I have to, Rai-si,” I say, giving him an apologetic glance. “I would want someone to come get me if it were me. I’m sorry.”
With that, I take off down the steep side of the island, glancing out at the water every now and then, watching for the wave. There are sounds of someone behind me and I turn around to look. The boy from the other tribe had followed me.
“What are you doing?” I shout over the branches breaking and the animals panicking as the rush by to get to higher ground.
“Your Tribe Leader didn’t want you to go alone.”
“I’m fine on my own.”
I leave it at that and continue running.
I spot three hunters, their expressions worried and confused about what’s going on. Rushing over to them, I tell them to head inland and that there is a tsunami about to hit, explaining what it is. They nod.
“There are two more of us,” one of the men says. “Keep heading toward the beach.”
I nod. “Thank you. Stay safe. Hurry.”
I sprint toward the beach, looking for anyone else. They stand on the beach, picking up wood to make spears.
“Go up,” I tell them, and they look at me strangely.
“Why?” The woman asks. “What’s going on?”
“A tsunami is coming. Go inland.”
“Why should we trust you?”
“Your Tribe Leader’s orders,” the boy beside me says. I had forgotten about his presence. “If you stay down here, you will have no chance of survival. Don’t you wonder why all of the animals have left this area?”
The woman looks at the two men standing next to her and shrugs. “Let’s go then.” They head into the trees. I turn to follow them, but something shiny catches my eye. It’s coming from the water.
“Hey,” I hear the boy from the other tribe call to me. “Where are you going? We don’t have much time until… Holy…”
There’s a sudden shadow on the shore that makes me look up. Water like a wall is coming full speed towards us. I freeze at the sheer awestruck wonder that hits me like a brick. It’s magnificent.
“Come on!” I hear the boy shout over the rushing water, and the panicked sounds of feet smashing through the tulgey woods, eventually crushed out by the sound of the raging liquid. By the time the water has almost crashed down on top of me, I realize that I’m going to die. My heart slams against my ribs and fear bubbles into my throat, an aching scream hiding behind my sternum. I can feel the spray of the water as it reaches down towards me. I fling my arms up, as if they would protect me. This is it.
But nothing happens. Literally nothing. The sound of rushing water stops, and all I hear is a few crackles, as if glass were cracking; I can picture the spider webs dancing across the crystal-like surface. I open my eyes to see a white-colored cylinder of ice around me as if I’d repelled it somehow, in some way. My body shivers as my chest explodes with awe and, yet, is contained by terror as the sun beautifully glints off of the sharp icicles daring to fall onto me and penetrate my thin skin.
I take a step back, my breath heavy, and fall to the ground, the ice scraping my flesh and making me cry out. I look down at my calves and see something unnatural, inhuman.
Scales, poking out from my ripped skin.
I reach out to touch the ice below me, closing my eyes and attempting to control my breathing. This all must be a dream, I must still be asleep; or maybe I fell asleep at one point… Perhaps that’s it.
My fingers find the tender part of my arm in the darkness of my eyelids and squeeze, making me bite my cheek. I open my eyes, my heart crescendoing. The scales are still there, the ice is still all around me, the coldness still nips at my flesh… I’m awake.
What’s happened to me?
Suddenly, the water unfreezes and falls onto me, drenching me and dragging me towards the sea. I try to grab onto the sand, try to pull myself back. The water somehow flips me onto my back. My lungs cry out for air, bubbles escaping from my lips.
Suddenly, I stop. The water leaves me and returns to the sea, my feet submerged in the water on the shore. My chest heaves as I try to process what happened.
“I knew it.”
I jump, scrambling to be out of the water, and I stand awkwardly, ready to attack whoever it was that said that. I’ll be dead if it was anyone from my tribe. Maybe from any tribe.
“Who’s there?” I call, my voice shaking.
“Tamir,” The voice says, and he pokes his head out from behind the rock he had hidden behind the first night I met him. His skin is slightly tanned and his hair is so black it’s almost blue in the sunlight. “I told you!”
“Told me what?”
“Not you, Cress,” he says, and I’m taken aback by the name he calls me.
“My name is Cressa-la,” I call as he looks down behind the rock again. “Not Cress.”
“I know,” he says, turning back to me. “Call it your—um—do you know?”
“Know what?” I ask, my heart making my ribs hurt. “What just happened to me? Do you know?”
“A tsunami happened,” he says simply, sliding over behind the rock a little. “This is Rave.”
A girl pokes her head up, her hair long and deep red. Her eyes open wide at the sight of me. “Wow, I’ve never seen one so up close. Besides, you know, the babies.”
I stand, confused. What’s going on?
“Oh, how rude of me,” Rave says, sending a slight glare over in Tamir’s direction. “You’re probably wondering why we’re in the water when you grew up with the law of not coming in here, am I right?”
I swallow the saliva that has built up in my mouth and nod once, stiffly.
Rave looks at Tamir, a small smile playing on her lips. “Should we show her?”
“We could be executed,” Tamir smiles back at her.
“But where would the fun be without any danger?” Rave says quietly over the still water. They both snap their attention towards me suddenly, Rave’s smile dangerous, while Tamir’s is curious, and—could it possibly be?—worry.
“Show me what?” I finally manage to croak out.
They share one last glance before disappearing into the water. I tuck my sopping wet hair behind my ears and try to suck in as much air as I can. Suddenly, I start to cough. Violently. I fall to the ground, the sand scraping against my knees. There’s a terrible pain in the back of my neck, and I reach back to rub it.
But my skin isn’t flat and smooth.
There are three bumps on it, feeling like really big welts. But how did they get there?
They’re burning hot, as if they have a fever.
And then there’s a wave.
The water crashes down on me, less than what was in the tsunami, but more than a natural wave. It carries me out to the sea and I have nothing to grab onto. The water is all around me, the sand way below my feet. I try to move, to go up to breathe air, but a voice stops me.
‘We haven’t shown you anything yet,’ it says, the words drifting through the water and not reverberating inside my head like when I saved the animal—dolphin is what the Tribe Leaders had called it. It’s not the same voice, but it’s a different girl’s—Rave, I believe, was her name.
‘Please, Cress. Give us a chance.’
I spin around, two blurry figures floating a good distance away. Trying to focus on them makes my eyes sting worse, and I close them to keep them from hurting any more. What could the water do to me if I stay in it any longer? When we bathe, the liquid is free of all salts and whatever else is found in here. Could it be filled with something dangerous? Is that why we keeps from going near it?
‘Breathe,’ I hear Tamir. It seems as if he’s right by my ear.
I turn again, and this time, his face is just before mine. His hair dances in the water above him like a lion’s, framing his face so wonderfully in the refracted light, and it makes my heart beat heavily and become even more aware of my inability to inhale. ‘You can breathe now, Cress.’
I shake my head and shut my eyes, the throbbing in my head growing in crescendo.
‘Just try it,’ he says again, and I feel his hand on my cheek. This makes my eyes fly open and my heartbeat take over my body. A slight glowing grows from my skin and black starts to form around my vision as my brain begins to shut down. ‘Cress, you have to breathe. It’s okay to now. You’ll live.’
I shake my head, his hand falling away as my vision pulses in and out and the dark begins to close in on me. My chest feels tight and my lungs cry out for oxygen. I’m going to die down here. They’re going to let me die.
I let a few bubbles slip past my lips and my chest loosens a little. I let out a little more and my lungs begin to hurt. My heart begins to beat slower and my body becomes cold.
And then the blackness surrounds me and I lose all grip of reality.