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There's one rule shared between the island's tribes: don't touch the water. When Cressa-la breaks this law, her world, and body, changes. Sure, change is normal... but when has growing scales been normal? *** Every human baby is killed beneath the waves-with one exception: the one hundred thousandth is spared. Among the spared, there are those chosen by the moon or sea, an ancient magic sweeping over them. They are called the One-Hundreds. When one of these gifted children rises, the darkness chases after her and hunts her down, wanting her for his own selfish desires while another light who's given up on love is drawn to her because of his past. Unless Cressa-la can bring the darkness to his knees and fight the war raging inside of her, the world is doomed. WARNING: This story contains depictions of depression and violence that may be upsetting for some readers. Any depictions of mental health issues herein are not meant as a replacement for medical care. If you or someone you know deals with similar issues, they should seek the help of a medical professional. Reader discretion is advised.
WARNING: This story contains depictions of depression and violence that may be upsetting for some readers. Any depictions of mental health issues herein are not meant as a replacement for medical care. If you or someone you know deals with similar issues, they should seek the help of a medical professional. Reader discretion is advised.
The baby takes its first breath as the moon reaches the top of its orbit around the Earth. The shimmering ocean embraces her small body, welcoming her as she opens and closes her mouth for oxygen in her parent's gentle arms. A soft blue glow grows from her skin as her mother's dims, life fading fast.
The Murlan Clan's appointed doctor takes the baby from the woman and reaches out to the exterminator, whose fingers brush the child's unclean body. She has legs. She won't survive a day in this world of water, no matter from whom she is born or whether she glows. Life is not an option for her; there had already been someone saved tonight.
"Kill it." The doctor's voice is harsh as the exterminator lifts the child up, his all-black clothing shrouding him in shadows as his hands sparkle with a magenta-tinted glow.
"No," the mother utters softly, her energy drained. Her eyes glisten with life, with tears, as she looks upon her baby girl. Her human baby girl. "She's supposed to be... a Namala. Spare... spare her."
The doctor studies the tired woman, whose blue tail shimmers below the dark surface of the water. The baby's glow grows brighter and brighter as the exterminator hesitates, new information threading through their minds from the Emperors. There was an exception made for the other human child born tonight. This baby girl really is considered a one hundred, and she shall be saved as one. But this child isn't just the one hundred thousandth human born, but something more dangerous than that. Something that came close to destroying everything they knew many, many years ago. She was a part of theOne-Hundred. A Nasan: saved and gifted.
"She's a One-Hundred," the woman whispers again before closing her eyes and sinking into the chest of her strong husband.
Do you know how humans survived the Flood, child?
We've long forgotten the year it came crashing through. Humans were almost wiped out, and the merpeople population flourished because of the Flood. But of course, merpeople weren't a natural occurrence in nature. In fact, humans had a heavy, heavy hand in their creation.
Now, what is this One-Hundred? The Namala? The Nasan? You see, not all mermaids have mermaid offspring. There are around 92,793,600 births per year beneath the waves, which equals to about 254,229 children born each day. One in every one hundred thousand of those is a human, which equals to about two to three human births a day.
Usually, there's no magic involved with births. It could endanger the pregnancy. However, there is magic in some of the children themselves—the gifted, who are also called Nasan.
Not all the clans are as merciful as the one who spared the little girl, the one hundred thousandth human child born beneath the waves, and most of them kill humans on sight. The babies that are spared, also called the Namala, are taken to the nearest islands.
Humans have learned to survive on these islands, and they take care of the Namala. Of course, there is only a slim chance of the child making it past the one-year mark, and even slimmer chance of making it to two. But this is a story of a girl who has made it to sixteen, her seventeenth birthday coming up fast. Her body is rapidly changing with the growth of age, but not in any natural, human way.
In a mermaid way.
By the time the full moon returns, we've received three babies. Most of the time, we don't receive a single child. When we do... they tend to just add to our high mortality rate.
Most of my tribe has grown numb when it comes to losing the children we gain, which, I guess isn't surprising. Personally, I don't want to lose that human characteristic. It's too sad not to mourn over all those potentially great lives gone forever.
Forever. Such a heavy word.
This morning before daybreak, I walk along the tree line at the bottom of the island, water as far as the eye can see. Staring out at the dark horizon, my mind begins to wander to places I try to stay away from, but sometimes the curiosity is too strong to overcome. I've always wanted to know if we were really the only people left on Earth. If this was the only island left untouched by the water we're warned to keep away from, or if there was something else out there, another place to explore.
The water laps at the shore, its foamy whispers trying to lure me into its depths and learn about all that lives inside it. My eyes watch as it pushes and pulls the sand. We aren't allowed to touch it, even if the forest was on fire. I've tried asking why, but the Tribe Leaders would reprimand me and tell me I'd have to wait until I was eighteen to learn. Until I was a Tribe Leader.
Few children are fortunate to live as long as I have. In fact, lately, no one has survived past year two since Lily-flor, but that's because I'm here to protect her. It's my job.
She turns five in a few days and she is the toughest little girl I've ever seen, but that doesn't mean she can fend for herself, just yet. That's why I'm here. The Tribe Leaders assigned me to her to teach me something about the importance of family and of the tribe and to learn about "responsibility". I don't have to provide for her, necessarily; that's my tribe-assigned job—hunting, but instead I'm more of a role-model or a big sister. Don't think I'm old enough to be like a mother to her yet. Tani-mah is the one who cooks for her and gives her a place to live, and until I'm eighteen, Nan-ah has taken up that role for me. Or, at least she did, until I decided I could fend for myself.
When I was a baby, just received, Nan-ah claimed me as hers and she raised me. I know she was really young when that happened, younger than I was when I received Lily-flor five years ago. Our relationship with each other was much like how I am with Lily-flor. Protective. Loving. Caring. Then I started learning how to do things on my own and I drifted away from her. I hardly ever talked to her; I was always busy hunting or trying to study the Tribe Leaders so I could become one of them someday. Tani-mah was the one person I couldn't seem to impress. I'd catch something so terribly hard to hunt and all she'd do is nod. I was the best hunter in this tribe and yet I couldn't get the one person I wanted to accept me to say, "Good job".
In two days, it'll be my seventeenth year on this planet. It will also be a full moon. Which means I had exactly a year from that day before I could try to become a Tribe Leader.
I hold my spear in my right hand while my bow is strung across my torso. Arrows are placed in a hollow wooden quiver shaped like a wolf against my back, held there by twine. Wolves are one of the highest respected animals between the three tribes. I wish they weren't—they're the ones who take out most of our people.
I step into the woods, turning my back on the beautiful view of the beach. It's feeding time.
It's crazy how small this island seems when you think about the wildlife that had migrated or somehow ended up here. They adapted to their environment, just as I had to do when I began learning to hunt. I've overheard conversations of older hunters over the years talking about how some animals don't belong in this climate, while others belong on the other side of the world. But if they did, what kind of environments would they have belonged in, and how did they end up in this one? Are there more landmasses out there that we don't know about?
A squirrel darts overhead, wide awake in the darkness before the dawn. There's an abundance of them; we eat squirrels as if we were obsessed with them. I've just got to keep my eyes peeled for the bigger animals so I'm not forced to eat the wretched things.
My bare feet are silent as I weave between the trees like a basket, the rustling leaves ever-present as animals shift in the darkness. It's so quiet and peaceful. Between the trees has always been my favorite place to be.
I'm startled as a graceful four-legged animal steps out into a clearing. The disappearing moonlight gives it a shine, the spots on its back almost seeming to glow as it bends down to eat the grass below its hooves. It's small, but it'll have to do.
I crouch down and quietly place my spear on the ground beside me. My bow makes almost no noise as I shift it to the front of me and nock an arrow in it. I line up my shot, closing one eye despite what Rai-si has told me.
Suddenly, a larger version of the animal steps out in front of the smaller one, unaware of my presence.
For a moment, I switch my aim to the older animal, excited I'd bring back more than squirrels to the Feasting Table. But just then, they look at each other. My eyes fall upon the little one once more. It's a baby.
A baby shouldn't have to be without a mother.
I lower my arrow and watch them, the dawn nearly upon us. My stomach growls once, reminding me of why it is I'm out here. I can't take away the baby's mother, even if they are just animals. Babies need their mothers, just like mothers need their babies.
Then where is mine?
Nan-ah isn't my biological mother, but she could be. I consider her to be. Even if I didn't, she'd still act like she was. However, that doesn't change the fact that she technically isn't, and that bugs me worse than I can explain.
Itching my calves angrily, I make my way to the part of the eroding rock that has turned to sand, the water seeming to greet me happily. The sting from my nails against my skin slowly ebbs away, and I remind myself to go get it checked out—it's always been itchy, but never this bad.
Little crabs weave their way through dried-up seaweed along the shore as I dance around them, nearing the wetter parts of the beach. It takes up all my senses: the smell of fish, the salt in the cool breeze, the sand in my toes... I could stay down here forever.
Something silvery captures my attention as it moves through the water. I immediately pinpoint the location that had pulled me from my thoughts, the water proving something was really there as it ripples. I stare at it for the longest time, unsure if I should be scared or curious. What could be out there, and is it why we aren't allowed to touch the water?
"Hi," I hear. The voice had come from a rock about thirty feet away, the sudden eruption making me leap toward the trees and grip my spear tightly. My instincts tell me it came from the water... but that can't be possible. Nothing comes from the sea, nothing. Ever.
"Don't be afraid," the voice says again, and I lift my spear a little higher, ready to defend myself if attacked.
Then there's movement.
A boy's head pops up from behind the rock, his drenched hair black in the moonlight, and his skin appearing almost translucent as water creates ravines down it. I stare at him for a moment, partly confused, partly transfixed. I haven't seen him on the island—I would have remembered him. He isn't dressed like the other tribes either... who is this boy? And why is he in the water?
"You're a boy," I blurt, tingles building inside me and readying themselves to thrust into self-preservation and defend myself. He doesn't look like a threat, but neither do half the plants that kill curious children on this island.
"I guess you could say that," he smiles, my heart skipping a beat. His skin almost glows, making him seem magical and otherworldly. He holds himself up with his arms locked out, his bare chest fully visible from behind the rock. I can't help the intrigue growing inside me; I feel drawn to him, and, in some way, I feel like I know him... somehow. But I know that I don't.
My brow furrows. "Well, why are you in the water? We aren't allowed in the water."
"I, uh," he chuckles, staring me down. His gaze makes my face flush; I'd never had anyone look at me like that before. Then again, I don't think I've looked at anyone like this, either... "I live in the water."
I shake my head, shoving down my emotions. "You can't live in the water," I say as I take a daring step forward, the trees suddenly feeling too far from my reach. They're my protection.
"Well I do," he laughs, that curiosity and glint of familiarity settling back into his stare. It captivates me. Something inside me unfailingly trusts him, and suddenly, for some unknown reason, I feel indebted to him, like I owe him my life. But how could that be?
I stagger backward a step, lowering my weapon.
Who is this person?
"What's your name?" he asks, folding his arms onto the rocks and placing his head atop them. There's a boyish glint in them now, a playful sparkle that feels like it belongs to me.
"Cressa-la," I tell him, taking another step forward and drawing dangerously close to the beginning of the sea. "Who are you?"
"Tamir," he says simply, as if none of this was strange to any degree. "You don't remember me, do you?"
My chest collapses. Remember?
"What? What do you mean?" The words come out strangled and frightened, crumbling in on themselves. I don't know this boy. He doesn't look like he belongs here—what if he's just trying to manipulate me and lure me into his trap? Cannibalism isn't new; it's part of the island's history... but do people still practice it? I haven't heard anything about it on the island...
I definitely don't know him.
Hurt enters his irises and he shakes his head, hiding it with a smile. "Never mind... how old are you?"
"If you know who I am, shouldn't you know?"
He purses his lips for a moment and then chuckles to himself. "You never told me back then. We kind of... didn't have time to get to know each other."
I rack my brain for his face and turn up empty with a side of headache. My instincts and everything inside me, except for that little voice in my head, tell me to trust him, and I have no clue as to why... So I test the waters.
"Sixteen," I say. What if he's from a distant island? What if when he says he lives in the water, he means he and his tribe have been traveling to find another island to live on? How could we have history when I haven't even seen him, myself? A chill runs down my spine. Could it be deception I'm feeling?
One side of his mouth turns up slightly. "Me too."
"You're not from Wurn or Revli. They don't allow their people to touch the water, either. Unless you don't care about the rules." I hesitate as curiosity gets the better of me. "Do you live on another island? How did you get here? And why? Are you searching for a new home or something?"
He laughs. "No, I told you, Cressa-la, I live in the water."
"But... you can't."
He shrugs, a mischievous, boyish grin tugging at both corners of his mouth. My brain swarms with thousands of questions that won't form. Who is this boy?
After a short pause, he breaks his stare, looking up at the disappearing moon. "Well, goodbye, then."
"Wait!" I blurt, my mouth moving quicker than I can stop the words. Why don't I want him to leave? "Can I see you again? I... have so many questions."
He lifts his torso off the rocks again and smiles, its gleam melting my insides.
"Of course." His eyes sweep over me, a mischievous glint flickering through them. "Maybe on the next full moon."
With that, he disappears behind the rock and I'm left to stand alone on the shore, staring at the mysterious black waters of the sea.