The sun was bleak. The walls were of painted hardened dirt. The air smelled of dust, with some pleasant and confusing ones that came from white powder that they puffed into the air.
Wali forced his mouth shut. But not breathing would kill him.
Last week, he saw a man dancing in the middle of combat while hooting like an owl.
It broke his spirit. So much so that he chose to shrink to the ground, wriggle like a worm, and pretend to be dead. He even took his tongue out. It was a good act. They bought it.
Although now he’s chained to a table in front of a blue… fluffy toy… with little roots for legs, which he could’ve sworn was called “Snazzy” by a small girl, and a pot of a baby prickly plant that had a small paper sitting at its base that read “My Wittle Shewwif.”
Was this some sort of cruel torture?
He didn’t know what was supposed to happen. He shivered at the thought. It must be some cruel ploy to have him break down and beg for forgiveness, but he shall not fall. He could only dream.
The mighty Wali, the warrior of their small tribe, gaining fame and popularity amongst their clan that could rival a Mahardika in terms of strength and bravery, was reduced to this. To this shell of a perfect man being attended by a toy and a plant.
He clenched his chained fists under the table.
He narrowed his brows. His hardened scales now seemed like the normal skin of a gutted fish. He felt like a newborn. Bare. Butt-naked. Well, he was. Damn. The chair felt cold. Itchy. His gaze fell on this prickly plant.
The fluffy toy was somehow easier to ignore. He blushed a little. The fluffy toy seemed to give him an image of being strangled, being wrapped with those little roots, and being spread open. His throat felt dry. He licked his lips and shook his head to kill the thought.
Now, onto this little plant.
Wali didn’t know how to begin. This was dumb. He heard himself panting, his vision spiraling, making him ignore everything but this little plant. This feeling of darkness, the unknown, started with a grain of dirt and molded itself into a ball of mud.
It started to beat. His jaws tightened. He tilted his head. It was as though it turned into a heart that grew bigger and bigger until choked his lungs. He parted his mouth.
The tumor grew and swallowed his torso, soon stiffening his neck, making him raise his chin to breathe, only to get swallowed and wake up with his back resting on the chair.
He woke up, gasping.
He wanted to touch it. Yes, it wouldn’t hurt to giggle a little. He giggled. It felt awesome. He imagined the touch of that plant. He forgot the name, but the old man who brought this little plant here stroked it and placed it on the table. What was it for? He felt himself grinning. This was dumb.
This was some kind of joke.
But what if he touched it? It’s just the tip of his finger. He chuckled to himself. There’s no harm in it. Nothing would happen. He was just curious. It’s not like he would die. He widened his grin.
This was just too funny.
His vision spiraled even more. Unknown. It was too fun to imagine what this little plant could do. The way they trusted this plant was nice.
It was as though it was living and capable of thought, somehow being able to communicate despite not having a mouth or even a mind. The people around this plant were somehow able to understand its will.
Then, why was he in this room to begin with? He clenched his fists. It was one of those rare occasions where he wanted to rage but chose not to. There must be a reason for this. Was it for him to finally break down? Was this plant an object of terror? Wali shook his head and laughed.
It’s just a plant. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s just a dumb plant that would never be able to think. It’s not more than that. It’s just a plant that has a green prickly skin that must be good to the touch.
He found solace at the thought. His heart raced as he tried to stretch his fingers and touch them but he pulled himself back, gasping. His heart was racing. It was like giving a kiss that was supposedly wrong. Wali licked his lips again. His body burned, pacing itself like he’s running through the bright swamps under the sun.
There was this same feeling of joy. This sense of fear. This sense of wonder at the thought of doing something wrong. This heart screamed with freedom as he kicked his legs and moved forward to reach farther, greater than his small village.
He dreamed of traveling to find the best thing that would keep him in place.
He found it.
This prickly plant was the most beautiful thing that he had ever seen.
Wali nodded to himself slowly, his grin widening even more. He bared his fangs, but the desire to sink it into someone’s flesh wasn’t there. He finally remembered. This was George. He laughed to himself.
How could he forget?
He had to protect George.
He had to protect this place.
Their assault was just a part, a start of something much bigger. Wali gritted his teeth. As far as he could remember, they went here with nine commanders. They had three places to hit. He wondered what happened to the others.
Rayan was slain. Kayel was killed. Joswa didn’t even come, and he was supposed to lead their assault. They’re coming. Wali laughed. Kayel got blasted through the skies. The Mahardika would move now that his little hatchling had been killed. It was as though he could already hear them marching from the swamps in the south.
He had to protect this cactus.
He widened his grin. He laughed. He had this burst of energy that made him want to turn the table, but he reconsidered. The plant was there. It was something that he had to protect. The toy was there, too, and he didn’t want a blue root shoved up his ass.
That’s why he screamed. His eyes trembled. His throat almost broke. He let out a mighty roar, but someone laughed outside and opened the door.
It was that old man who worshipped Tabu, the one that caused Kayel to die.
“I heard screaming, like a pig getting gutted—or an actual person stubbing his toe on the table…” His voice trailed, but his eyes darkened as they fell on the plant. His look softened upon realizing that it was safe.
Wali scoffed. Of course, it would be safe.
Wali smiled and summoned his sense of urgency, which didn’t work since he spent a few more seconds figuring out how to be cool. “A part of me wondered what would make you… invaders get to me and talk to me.”
The old man crossed his arms and looked outside, pouting. “And you’re going to say…”
The old man raised a brow. “Yeah, I know.”
“You…” Wali laughed. “You’ve killed Rayan the Unbreakable—”
“Not true to his name.” The old man scoffed. “He almost killed us, though. Good times.”
“I don’t know what you did with Joswa, our Strongest Hero. And you’ve killed Kayel.” Wali clicked his tongue. He couldn’t understand why this old man was fine with knowing this. “They’re going to come. You’ve made people run back—Mahardika Yarak, the Invincible, would now move because his little hatchling has been killed. You blew his son—”
“To the fucking stratosphere, yes. What a way to go beyond...” The old man grinned and cupped his chin. “He did what Apolaki wanted him to be. That’s what Uncle said.”
“He said it himself,” Wali screamed, ignoring his bad joke. “He’s going to come and kill everyone for taking their land, the only—”
“Yeah, we know that we ‘invaded’ their land, which sits at the only spot where some beasts of the north could exit freely and fuck up the rest of the world. Of course, they’re going to fuck you guys up, you shoved them up there.” The old man flashed him a pure smile.
“You’re not the only one we interrogated. You got the nicest session since we ran out of people. Someone had a knack for cutting fingers and she made another girl friend who healed and molded their flesh back. They’re nice kids. They said sorry before doing the deed.” The old man shook his head and laughed. “Lucy turned one toe onto a nipple. She also made eyeballs grow on someone else’s legs. That was wild.”
“But are you ready? Can you defend this place?”
The old man walked outside, looked back at him, and scoffed. He showed him a small card that had “HKF” written in black ink, then closed the door. He left Wali with the blue toy that would tear him to shreds and a little plant that he would not dare to touch.