The Five Worlds, Part Two
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When she came to, she was laying on her back on a hard wooden slab. For a long agonizing moment she lay there quietly with her eyes closed, remembering how to breath, but then with a terrifying suddenness she felt the dull pain of stiff, cramped muscles from her wooden bed and lingering memories of previous, much more painful agony, and with a load groan she rolled onto her side, curling into an ungainly fetal position on the board, and shivered. She wondered how long she had been lying there, and if it was safe yet to open her eyes to see where she had ended up after her unwanted Warp.
“So you live!”
The voice was harsh, loud, and extremely unexpected. Tomato’s eyes snapped open and she flung herself around to gawk at the intruder, weakened muscles trembling from the sudden effort, and then she felt the first pangs of her Warp; a fiery burst of pain from behind her skull, like a monstrous headache, as time slowly caught up to her. Under the stranger’s dark, intent gaze she unwillingly clapped two hands to her face and tried to force the pain away before it got any worse, like it always did. So you live! Well, the suffering was real, at least. Whether she was remained to be seen.
“Or do you?” said the man to the girl on the wooden table. He padded closer on soft moccasined feet, making no noise across the clean-swept dirt floor. He stared at her down his long crooked nose with something similar to hungry curiosity in his cloudy black eyes. Against another wave of fresh pain, Tomato peeked up through her fingers at him dazedly. She saw that tattered blue feathers were stuck in his matted and twisted hair that curled around his sunken cheeks, and instantly, though she hadn’t been before, as she saw those feathers, a symbol of primitive magic, and noticed his eyes, she was suddenly afraid.
“Where am I?” she murmured, and slowly the throbbing subsided to a dull ache from within her head, the pain only to be replaced by a spasm of terror that bloomed like a blood-red rose within her heart.
“Rusto,” the dark man replied, his long chin wobbling as he spoke. Tomato was unable to tear her eyes away from the blue parrot feathers in his black hair. “The City of Many. You are in the Hut of the Dead.” He smiled at her, relaxed and calm despite of his shocking news. “But, for some reason, you betray the sacred name, for you are not dead.”
She watched as his face suddenly went rigid and fierce and her hopes for escape melted like soft wax. “You…are…not…dead,” he repeated, slowly, and Tomato flinched as though every word he flung at her was a sharp stone, but she did not reply and kept her face tightly closed and her fists pressed into her eyes. “Not many of our people, in fact, none… are able to Warp to and from this cursed place without having…” he searched for the word delicately, rolling it off his tongue like bitter candy once it came to him. “repercussions. More specifically…death. Terrible deaths, with the majority of body parts always ending up on this wooden slab of sacrifice or scattered about the room. Why do you live, stranger? You are not of this world.”
Why did she live? It was not really a question, but it needed an answer. Tomato stared blankly at the insides of her eyelids, fearful he would see the guilt written clearly in her face if she so much as opened her eyes. People of the Blue Parrot, the resident threat of this particular world—the world that she now knew was Bruto—could read such things in your eyes. How ironic, she couldn’t help but marvel, since the Parrot People were blind. Blind, she realized, but dangerous. She kept her eyes closed.
“I have no answers,” she said softly, “only questions.”
The man snarled, a short, guttural sound. With a start, Tomato realized he was laughing. “Questions, she says!” he roared furiously, turning around as though to an invisible audience, “questions! As though the gods in the sixteen skies did not give us enough already!”
Suddenly he whirled around, and his hands were on her neck, squeezing viciously, and despite herself, Tomato’s eyes flew open in surprise and rolled back into her head as the unpredictable Parrot man shook her viciously back and forth as a dog shakes a rabbit, as though to strangle an answer from her throat. “Brutus, Brutus…Why do you live?” He screamed.
Tomato began to remember her mama. Mama, with her large open face and short plump body. She had never spoken a word of hatred, nor of rudeness, in her life. She had always been the one to settle village squabbles with peace instead of violence, her words soothing and her voice full of trust. She had never done so much as to even raise a finger against anyone, even for her own defense. The day the Parrot People had come to their Time, Mama had not run like the others. She had stood there, asking for mercy to their village and its people, not for herself. It was only when they raised their weapons that she saw it was useless to withstand their power, and of course by that time, it was too late.
The armies adorned with blue feathers moved through their village and onto the next one without any further resistance as the shocked villagers could only look in numb horror, and then the Parrot Men were gone. They did not even leave behind a body for Tomato to mourn over.
Mama had always been strong, even against the Parrot, even when she knew it was worthless. She had been strong, brave, even as death was upon her.
Tomato knew she had to be strong too. Though she already felt the life leave her body along with her air, she felt calm, as Mama must have felt before the same enemy.
With an old, familiar crackling, she felt the scar crawl bloodily up her side like some horrifying stretch mark, twisting and curling like ivy against a stone wall. It lashed around her arm, entwining with her fingers as it absorbed the maximum amount of power, and, as though from a distance, Tomato pulled back her fist in slow motion, unable to even feel the Parrot Man’s strong hands anymore, and her fingers opened. Her mind was instantly awake. She had never felt the courage to face the race that had blown her mother’s being to smithereens. A ball of energy swelled from her palm, grew, and she suddenly clenched her fist, feeling it tremble inside her hand. Mama, she thought, this is for you!
Her fingers flashed apart, and the slender beam of light exploded like a nuclear bomb within the tiny room of Death. Tomato winced as the Parrot’s startled face flew apart like a broken clay pot and crashed messily against the wall behind her, and his body slumped lifelessly to the floor. For a minute it seemed he still held her throat in a strangle hold, but then the pressure of his clutching fingers was gone and she gasped for breath, her pulse pounding against her temples. Her now-empty hand dropped slowly into her lap, and the blackened scars melted away.
The earlier headaches she had felt were strangely soothed, and everything was quiet except inside the hut and inside her head.
It was only when she lifted up her shirt and checked her scar, seeing it now reaching permanently nearly half-way up her ribs—it had not completely faded away like it normally did to the ordinary few lines over her hip—that she was suddenly frightened again.