The first sensation came with the reassembling of thought. Lucidity and clarity cobbled together, reminding me of the presence of thoughts. For a moment, I regarded this as a hallucination. But then my sight engaged my mind and I felt light once more. Not the intrusive whiteness from before, but subdued and calming. My skin felt the air and my feet touched the ground, and I shuddered at the feeling. I was sensitive and as raw as a fresh wound. An instinctive need came to me and I opened my mouth, inhaling cool forest air with a hint of ash.
“We’re out.” The words stumbled out of my mouth. Then I held a hand to my face and felt it, checking to see if all that it had was what it was supposed to have. A pair of eyes and ears, a nose, lips, and hair, long and tangled as though I’ve had a long shower. Then I felt the water on my skin, the blood in my mouth, and the smell of something delicious. Food. I thought. My stomach responded in kind with a tactful grumble, and to that, I had no protest. I looked around to see the source of that smell and found the others.
They were the same as me, still taking in their sounds and sights, but then I noticed one was missing. The one with no name. He’s not here. The question that came next was something I couldn’t answer, so I let it be. For now, exploration was needed. I started mine by following the scent, which led me to a table with four seats. Three were on my side, with one occupied by a woman. On the table were the foodstuffs I expected, as well as their drinks. I took the middle seat for myself. Zai slumped onto the table to my right and Carer launching himself onto the feast on my left. I pushed them to get more space, or the table expanded to fit us.
I … can’t think right. Something is wrong. I thought as I crushed a fistful of nuts into my waiting mouth. But hungry. Eat first then think. Questions for her, the woman. I eyed the metal-polished orb lined up right before me with distrust, but the other two paid theirs no heed. As my belly filled, that much-needed feeling of consciousness returned. It brought along with it a greater sense of wrongness. What's different? What changed? Me?
“ … What is wrong with us?” I asked the woman, who had no expression until now on her face.
“Many things.” She opened her mouth and spoke, which confirmed to me that she was at least, somewhat human. “For one, you’re newborn and yet have already died. Once.” She took a cup and poured herself some tea from a kettle I didn’t notice before. “That’s the least wrong thing about you. Can you hazard a guess what else is wrong?” She drank from the cup as she waited for a reply.
“We’re … naked?” Carer offered, to which I immediately looked down at my body and gasped. He was right, to an extent. We had no clothes on and our bodies were free for all to see. From a distance, anyone would’ve mistaken us for ordinary folk. But instead of panic, I felt nothing at all with that thought in mind. I could get used to this. I thought as I tried to fish around for memories of shame.
“For now, yes. I’m preparing outfits as we speak for the journey ahead.” The woman put down her cup and reached for a cookie. “It will be a long and difficult road, but I am confident in your success.”
“Wait, hold on a second.” Zai held up his hands at the woman. “I don’t even know who you are. Where are we? Why are we naked?” He looked at us for support, to which I nodded, and judging from Carer’s grunt, he did as well. The woman pursed her lips as she made an offhanded wave. A thunderous rumble came soon after, borne of many things coming closer and closer. When they arrived, the sight made me gulp.
They were trees. They loomed over us, which made sense given their height, but also made me realize that where we were was in fact, a hole. The shallow depth misled me and sloping walls misled me with surprising ease. Something jogged into clarity as I dug into this newfound; a memory of wars told by an anxious man.
Father? I grasped at the loose wisp of remembrance, desperate for it to stick. But still, it slipped, taking care to leave me instead of the impressions of the feelings I felt then. This game of hide-and-seek, of scrabbling after pieces, left me on the verge of resigned sorrow. But then, a new emotion rose inside me. One that burned with the sureness of the sun and lingered like the grimness of death.
The first target I chose was luck, for mine must be rotten if I have to live without a past. The second was me, for doing whatever it was that got me into this mess in the first place. As for the third … I decided to reserve it for a later date. For someone or something that truly and utterly deserves my wrath. I nodded at this arrangement, which earned me looks from Carer Carran. I looked back and he avoided it, which made him scowl a bit and decide to stuff himself with some cupcakes and ham.
“You might not know this, but I have lost many things recently.” The woman began to speak with death-like calmness. “Things that I fought for. Things I cherished. Things that, if they had been preserved, I wouldn’t have resorted to desperate means like this.” She suddenly stood up and destroyed her chair with the movement. “You are ingredients. Incomplete and half-baked ones, but still viable. It is the only reason that you have been given this second chance by me.”
The ground under us began shaking. Feeble at first, then rocking until it became roaring. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t keep my balance and fell on my knees, hoping that the quake would soon end. From my place, I saw Carer try and fail to stand up, while Zai decided to sit instead. The trees around us didn’t seem to notice the quake, even as cracks appeared.
The whole thing lasted for five minutes, I think. The luxury of time-keeping never occurred to me. Not while I dodged the heaving land under me. All the while, the woman and the place she stood on was never affected in any way. The lack of a clear relation between her and what happened unnerved me. The message though was loud and clear for everyone. Even Zai who asked earlier seemed content to keep his mouth shut. Carer seemed more interested in mourning the abrupt end of the feast.
“ … What do you want us to do?” I spoke up.
“For now?” The woman waved some of the trees over and they complied, which alarmed me a fair bit. “It's time to get dressed.