Iyon ang nararamdaman ko nang makmakalagpas kami sa gate. The ambience was distinctly overwhelming compared to the rest of the cities.
Two giant watchtowers stood few meters away from the gate. Sa magkabilang watchtower ay mayroong lumabas na dalawang lalaki at huminto sa harap nila ang carriage. Both were wearing black military uniforms like Irus with two swords latched on their backs. One look and I could tell that they were assassins, and I was pretty sure they were sterner and more brutal than Irus.
Marahang bumaba si Roesia at hinarap ang dalawang lalaki. I couldn’t hear what they were talking but the two nodded after several seconds and let us pass. Pagkabalik niya sa quarter namin ay agad ko siyang tinanong.
“They are the capital’s sentries,” explained Roesia. “They are strict when it comes to . . . outsiders.” My shoulders tensed upon hearing that. “I-is it okay now?”
There was an amused look on her face. “Of course. Besides, I am your verification.”
Nakahinga naman ako nang maluwag matapos kong marinig iyon.
Nagpatuloy ang byahe namin at napansin kong wala masyadong bahay o kahit anong shelter dito compared kanina. There were just a lot of rough boulders and weird-looking trees. Ravens and crows were also present along with bats and vultures. Mas lalo ring dumilim ang paligid kaya bumalik ang takot ko.
Makalipas ang halos isang oras ay huminto kami at isa-isa silang nagsibabaan kaya naman sumunod na rin ako. Pagtingin ko sa harapan namin ay agad na napakunot ang noo ko. An uphill and uneven road greeted me.
“Apologies, Lady, but we need to walk from here up to the castle.”
I wanted to complain but doing that in front of Roesia would not be good. Nauna siyang maglakad at sumunod kami sa kanya. Tumabi naman sa akin si Moria, which was quite comforting after being with Roesia for a few hours.
“Are you okay, Lady?” she whispered.
I heaved a sigh. “Yeah.”
Kei walked right beside me, and he glared at Roesia. He looked like he wanted to attack her, and I was not sure if that was because of me.
“Kei, calm down,” I ordered and surprisingly, he stopped grumbling.
Muling bumigat ang pakiramdam ko nang maalala ko ang nangyari sa kanya. It was hard to look at someone who could not even follow his own will.
Lumapit ako kay Moria at bumulong. “You said arcane mages can heal anything, right?”
She gave me a quizzical look. “Is this about Khmer, Lady?”
My face stiffened. “I-is it impossible?”
“I am not sure, Lady,” she answered. “Most high clans do not really care about those that became their hounds.”
Hindi ko alam kung dapat ba akong malungkot o magalit sa narinig ko. Still, I would not lose hope. I would not want Kei to be like that forever. I would not want him to be a mindless servant. Besides, he would be more effective if he has his own will, especially when it comes to situations that would require some wits.
I was in deep thoughts that I did not notice Irus approaching me. Halos matumba ako sa gulat nang bigla na lang lumitaw ang mukha niya sa harapan ko.
“Shall I carry you, Lady?” he asked in a muffled voice. “You seem tired.”
Kahit gusto kong um-oo dahil nanghihina na ang mga tuhod ko ay umiling ako. For some reasons, I wanted to reach that place with my own strength. Isa pa, may bakas pa ng dugo sa iba’t ibang parte ng katawan niya. He had some regeneration abilities, but he had too many wounds and getting healed completely would take several days.
The rough terrain was a challenge, but I preferred it than facing enemies. My arms and legs were already full of scratches due to some sharp boulders and tree branches that were in the way. There were times that I would stumble because I suddenly felt disoriented. It was either because of a strong scent that had the power to overwhelm my senses, or a sudden prickling sensation all over my body.
Mabuti na lang at nakaalalay ang tatlo sa akin kaya kahit papaano ay hindi ako nahuhulog sa matarik na bangin sa gilid. Roesia, on the other hand, was already several meters ahead of us. Despite the grueling pathway, she was walking gracefully, and her white outfit remained pristine.
I was not sure how long we were walking already. Pakiramdam ko ay patarik lang nang patarik ang daanan at parang wala pa rin kami sa kalahati.
My head drooped in exhaustion. I was walking through sheer will and it felt like I would collapse any minute now. Halos gumapang na ako sa lupa sa sobrang pagod nang bigla akong may naramdamang kakaiba. There were several presence around us.
Despite the fatigue building in, I tried looking around. That was when I noticed we had reached the alpine tree line. Beyond was just barren land with piles of snow. One- to two-story buildings with strange structures were also scattered around, while the castle stood in quintessential grandeur from a hundred meter away.
The air felt menacing. Dozens of undead were hiding behind trees and houses, giving off eerie aura directed at me. The hair on my body stood as several emerged from the shadow.
Nagpatuloy lang maglakad si Roesia at hindi pinansin ang mga ito kaya wala kaming nagawa kung hindi ang sumunod sa kanya. I received curious stares and few dirty looks as I passed by, which was uncomfortable. Suddenly, Kei jumped at one of them, growling in fury.
His body stiffened and retreated behind me. Mabuti na lang at napigilan ko siya. Somehow, he could discern my feelings even without words. I wondered if it was because of the blood curse, too.
Roesia glanced at Kei who was trying his best to calm down despite the threatening looks of some of the undead. Bumalik ang tingin niya sa akin at bakas ang awa sa kanyang mukha.
“Poor guy,” she murmured, and I was not sure how to react.
Ilang minuto kaming nagpatuloy maglakad hanggang sa makarating kami sa isa na namang gate. It was a smaller version of the gate we passed through earlier, but the metals were thicker and darker, like they were forged from darkness itself.
“Roesia, from Morana clan, archmage of Vrivarya,” she announced, and four guards opened the heavy gates.
I stared in awe as the castle’s splendor came into view. It stood there as if it was conjured from eternal night and darkness. The quarter moon shone upon the ebony walls, revealing their lustrous appearance. Grand windows were interspersed between thick cobblestone balconies. Keeps and towers rose in different heights across the castle, where several of the country’s flag flew high, their white and red emblem contrasting the dark setting.
Carefully, we stepped into the sovereign’s territory. The onlookers we just passed by a while ago started crowding around the gate. Suddenly, hundreds of people dressed in armors and combat uniforms marched in front, weapons ready in their hands.
Agad akong napaatras at pumwesto naman si Kei sa harapan ko. Irus and Moria stood beside me with impassive expressions. Maging si Roesia ay walang reaksyon.
And then everyone suddenly fell silent. It was as if the place had held its breath.
Amid the stillness, imperious footsteps echoed from the center balcony of the castle. Three people emerged and stood with glaring authority. The two women looked sophisticated in their fancy dresses. They had that regal allure that made them look unearthly. Between them was a man who could surpass the beauty of every Katteri, but his eyes were glacial and distant. With an imposing aura that could intimidate anyone, there stood the king.
He had such dominance that I quivered the moment his gaze landed on mine. Still, I had never felt such strong resonance toward someone until today.
“King Zemus,” Roesia called, giving her respect.
Everyone knelt and bowed their heads in their presence. Even Roesia and my retainers, so I did the same, but in an awkward manner. That was when something strange happened. My body suddenly twitched, and I could feel the blood rapidly coursing through my veins. It was as if meeting them awakened something inside me.
Napayakap ako sa katawan ko dahil magkahalong init at lamig ang nararamdaman ko. My insides were burning yet my skin felt colder than usual.
I let out a cry as both dread and vigor surged through me, and this time, I could feel the blazing heat around my eyes.
“You have awakened,” the king remarked amid the silence.
A chorus of gasps echoed on the castle’s front as they all stared at me. My body was trembling, but I managed to still be on my feet. King Zemus held out his hand, calling everyone’s attention.
“Pay your respect,” he announced while looking at me. “My second daughter, the heir of Stryzyga, Princess of Vrivarya, has come home.”
Everyone except Roesia and my retainers looked at me in shock. Maging ako ay napanganga rin. At the back of my mind, I already knew there was a high probability that I, indeed, was from the line of sovereign families, but the revelation still hit me like a thunderbolt.
“Vyrka Stryzyga,” he called, and my blood responded to the name he mentioned, as if it had been longing to hear it for a long time. “I welcome you to Vrivarya.”
Kahit nakapasok na kami sa Vrivarya ay parang nasa gubat pa rin kami. The uneven ground was making it harder for me but the four sauntered with ease, as if it was a paved road. Coniferous trees dotted the landscape. There were also trees that looked strange—several had silver leaves, while others had their trunks and stems contorted in unusual shapes.
There was an eerie silence around us, as if the forest was also holding its breath. Roesia, my former grandmother, picked up her pace and we had no choice but to follow closely. Ang dami kong gustong itanong sa kanya pero hindi ko alam kung paano ko sisimulan. Besides, she seemed hard to approach now.
We kept on walking for almost an hour and my legs were seconds away from collapsing when Roesia suddenly halted. Two guys dressed in black uniforms stood in front of us and gave their salute to Roesia. Behind them was an obsidian black carriage with gold embellishments on the door. Perhaps it was because of its sinister vibe that I wasn’t sure if I could board that. It felt like the carriage of death.
But what made me more frightened was when I saw the two horses in front. They were literally just made of their skeletons, their bones black. Where their eyes should be, crimson lights that flickered like flames ensconced. Some sharp bones protruded from their back and their heads were covered with armored helmets.
Those were undead horses.
“Lady, please,” gestured Roesia toward the carriage.
Kahit na ayaw ko ay wala akong nagawa kundi sundin siya. Besides, gusto ko na ring maupo dahil ilang araw na kaming naglalakad nang walang tigil.
Pagpasok ko ro’n ay napaawang ang bibig ko dahil hindi ko inasahan na gano’n kalaki ang loob. From the outside, it looked like a normal carriage, but a spacious interior came into my view. There was also a thin wall dividing the inside into two quarters. Roesia motioned the three to take the smaller compartment while the two of us settled in the larger one in front.
Despite being with her all my life, I felt awkward to be alone with her this time. First, because her appearance and demeanor were way too different from what I could remember, and second, I wasn’t sure if the motherly love she felt for me was also a façade.
Mas gusto ko pang makasama ang tatlo sa likuran. Even though our time together was short and most were near-death experiences, at least I knew everything that happened was real.
“You must have been, exhausted, Lady,” she said.
At the back of my mind, I was hoping she would call me by my name. Kahit kasi sina Moria ay Lady ang tawag sa akin. Nobody called me Victoria anymore after leaving Hallim. I started wondering if she was the one who gave me my name . . . or my real parents, whoever they were.
I forced a smile. “Kind of,” sagot ko. “We’ve been running away for weeks.”
She bowed her head slightly. “I deeply apologize for not being there for you, Lady. Baldric and I had our hands full that day.”
An amused smile escaped her lips. “Ah, your grandfather, if you prefer that, Lady.”
My cheeks grew hot. I should have known that already, given the fact that it was only the two of them who knew each other’s cover.
Naalala ko naman ang araw na iyon. A day before my birthday, my normal life turned upside down. Suddenly, strange guys wanted me dead and Kei saved me from them. Pagbalik namin sa bahay ay wala na roon sina Nana at Tata. Someone ransacked our home, too.
Sumama ako kay Kei dahil mukhang kilala niya ang may gawa noon. He also mentioned my grandparents being a mage and a tracker. After that, I was thrown into this whole undead world.
I cleared my throat and glanced at her again. “Could you tell me what happened that day?”
Gusto kong malinawan sa lahat ng nangyari. Ngayong nandito na ako at ang mga makakasagot sa mga tanong ko, I wouldn’t waste the chance to ask everything that had been bothering me since that day.
“Of course, Lady,” sagot niya.
Inilahad niya ang kanyang kanang kamay at nagliwanag ito. Little orbs of light gathered into one and a familiar scene appeared from it. It was the day when I was about to go home but Macars, a species of Siphons, if I remembered it correctly, stopped me inside the vehicle.
“I’m sure your assigned tracker had already explained to you the gist of the world you are now living.” I nodded in response. “Like humans, the undead has also a hierarchy. Atop the ladder, the vampiric clans reign. And among the clans, three bloodlines became the sovereigns of each vampiric country. However, each of them also wanted to be the supreme bloodline. The supreme ruler of all undeads. And that desire led to great wars among them that threatened the very existence of vampires. To prevent that, the overlord of each bloodline entered a blood treaty thousands of years ago. No sovereign is allowed to kill another sovereign or their family within the vampiric territories.”
Bigla kong naalala ang sinabi ni Moria kay Leone kanina nang marinig ko iyon. She said it would be considered as a treason if Leone killed me when I set foot in Vrivarya’s soil.
“But they are allowed to kill them in neutral ground,” I murmured.
“Correct,” she confirmed. “And due to some, ah, circumstances, you were hunted.”
Kinilabutan ako nang marinig ko iyon. Whatever circumstances she was talking about sounded like bad news for me.
“We were supposed to bring you here in Vrivarya on your birthday, but we were ambushed,” she continued. “They knew they couldn’t kill you if you were with Baldric and me, so they tried hard to separate you from us. In the end, they succeeded.”
“So that was why you weren’t there when I went home?”
She nodded. “We were engaged in a fight against powerful enemies so we couldn’t get you, but Vrivarya was prepared. They sent a team that would retrieve and protect you if we failed to, though I wasn’t sure if they did their jobs right.”
Kinabahan naman ako dahil baka magkaroon sila ng punishments dahil sa akin.
“Y-yes,” I hastily said. “They have protected me well.”
She still looked unconvinced, but she let it go. Although ilang beses na akong muntik mamatay ay alam ko namang karamihan doon ay dahil din sa akin at sa mga patuloy na humahabol sa akin.
Roesia looked straight into my eyes. It felt like she could see through my words and might think I was lying. I had to avert her gaze but that looked like I was guilty.
Napatingin ako sa labas at doon ko lang na-realize na hindi na gubat ang dinadaanan namin. The road was paved and there were houses nearby. I was gaping as I saw a city on our right side.
Small buildings and eateries stood close to each other. People walked busily on the roads and alleys, some engaging in conversations. It had been a while since I last saw a city that I missed the noise and mess.
“That is the city of Yura,” Roesia remarked. “The only settlement of humans in Vrivarya.”
Agad akong napalingon pabalik sa kanya. “Humans? You mean, like normal humans? Living humans?”
“Yes, Lady,” she responded.
I knitted my eyebrows, confused. “Do they know that . . . they live with the undead?”
“They do. And they do jobs for us that we cannot do ourselves. We also get blood from them. In exchange, we offer protection from different creatures and other undead, and let them live here in peace.”
I wasn’t sure how to react to that. Mutualism between vampires and humans was something I did not expect to see here.
I was trying to recall my life as a normal human, but upon stepping here, those memories seemed to get murkier. Agad akong napatingin sa kanya.
“So, my life before this . . .” My voice trailed off, unsure of what to say next.
“Some were fabricated and manipulated, yes, but most were real experiences, especially when you were in that school.”
Her words lingered in my head. “Then why can’t I remember them vividly now?”
“The only memories I altered were those of your childhood and some accidental encounters with some undead and creatures. You say your memories with humans were also fading . . . perhaps because you weren’t really attached to that world. Wouldn’t that be the reason?”
My shoulders tensed upon hearing that and somehow, at the back of my mind, I knew there were some truths to that. Dahil na rin strict sila sa akin noon sa pakikihalubilo sa mga tao ay hindi na rin naman ako nagkaroon ng pagkakataon para mapalapit sa mga kaklase ko. Besides, I liked being alone when I was in school.
“And since I was the one who altered those memories, being away from me also weakened its effect,” added Roesia. “Sooner or later, your real memories will return, and perhaps you can remember the real occurrences that I tried to bury deep in your brain.”
Her words made my skin tingle. Pakiramdam ko ay hindi ko magugustuhan ang mga alaalang sinasabi niya. She even said I had some run-ins with creatures before.
My hand unconsciously reached for my rouska. It returned to its bracelet form after we entered the country. Ever since I learned that it could hide my scent and protect me from other beings, touching it helped me calm down even for a little. Besides, this was the only thing that Roesia had left for me.
Her gaze followed my hand and looked at me curiously. “I see that you have already learned about that,” she remarked.
I responded with a smile. “Moria taught me how to use it.”
“And? How long can you use it?”
“Uhm, t-two hours?”
Despite her impassive face, I could feel that she was a bit disappointed. “Barely a pass, Lady,” she commented. “You should be able to use it for days if you really want to—”
She stopped before she could even finish her sentence, visibly troubled that she might have said something that she shouldn’t. Hindi ko naman na siya muling tinanong kung ano ang ibig niyang sabihin pero na-bother pa rin ako. If at my current level, I could only use my rouska for two hours, just how strong should I be to be able to use it for days?
Muling namagitan ang katahimikan sa pagitan namin kaya napatingin na lang ako sa labas. We passed by several cities and some people looked at our carriage with interest, some even looked frightened. Despite looking like humans, I knew most of them were like me, an undead.
I also noticed that my body was slowly acclimatizing to the country’s conditions. Sa katunayan ay parang mas naiinitan na ako ngayon kaysa kaninang nanginginig pa ang katawan ko. I was not sure if I was burning up or just getting excited.
Hindi ko na alam kung ilang oras na kaming nasa daan. Roesia stayed quiet after our last conversation. Sometimes, I would glance at her to check if she was still there. She could erase her presence well and she stayed still, not even moving an inch from where she was seated.
The sky turned dark few minutes later. Sumilip ako mula sa bintana at halos kilabutan ako sa nakita ko. A colony of bats loomed over the carriage. Meanwhile, a committee of vultures were calmly perched on the trees beside the road, their eyes meticulously watching us. Agad akong napabalik sa pagkakaupo ko dahil ngayon lang ako nakakita nang ganoon karaming bats at vultures.
I could see Roesia’s lips slightly curving and somehow, I felt embarrassed. “That means we are near the castle.”
Pagkasabi niya no’n ay muli akong napatingin sa labas. True enough, I could see the the castle on the mountains from here much clearer, but miles before that was an expansive gateway.
High metal fences lined across the road, completely blocking everything from entering the place beyond it. At the middle was a huge arched gate with two black pillars. Sitting atop them were gargoyles sculptures that looked like hybrids of grotesque undeads. Intricate golden embellishments and coils of tree branches adorned the four-meter black gate.
Napanganga na lang ako nang bigla iyong bumukas pero agad din akong napayakap sa sarili ko nang may maramdaman akong kakaiba. My insides started churning. The blood coursing through me felt hotter . . . as if something in that castle was rousing it.
No, it was not just my blood. The hunger and thirst I tried hard to quell these past few days were starting to stir once again. Something, or someone, out there was awakening my feral and bloodthirsty senses again.
There was a cumbrous silence after Kei regained his consciousness and Irus’ words lingered in my head.
Starting today, you have his absolute loyalty.
For anyone, be it humans or supernatural creatures, their free will is as important as their lives. Taking that away from someone meant disregarding their own principles and rights to decide for themselves. And looking at Kei now, even if I wanted to deny it, at the back of my mind, I knew everything that Irus had said were true.
Kei just felt different.
Bigla naman siyang tumayo at naglakad papunta sa akin. His gaze landed on my wrist and he knelt in front of me.
“My deepest apologies, Lady,” he said while slowly pulling his djall out of its holster. “If you’ll allow it, I will behead myself for this insolence—”
“No!” I interjected. “Please, no.”
He immediately stopped moving and put back his weapon back to its place. Agad akong napatingin kina Moria at Irus.
It was the truth. For Kei, my words were absolute.
Napabuntong-hininga na lang ako habang nakatingin sa kanya. Somehow, I felt guilty. Out of the three, he was the most doubtful when it comes to my decisions. At times, he would be more levelheaded than Moria, probably because as a tracker, he could sense the danger around us easier. Looking at how he sat right in front of me as if waiting for my orders instead of the other way around, I knew he must absolutely detest it if he still had the free will to talk against me.
Maging sina Moria at Irus ay hindi pa rin makapaniwala. They seemed to be lost in thought. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were visualizing themselves in Kei’s position. If they did not have enough will power to restrain themselves from drinking my blood after it gushed out upon Kei’s actions, they would have suffered the same fate.
“Can’t we do something about it?” tanong ko sa kanila.
Her head drooped. “Sorry, Lady. For now, there is nothing we can do, but once we reach Vrivarya, maybe they . . .”
Even hope was dwindling down from her voice. Kahit na gusto kong bumalik si Kei sa dati ay wala naman kaming alam sa kung ano ang dapat gawin. She was right. We needed to accept his situation right now and look for treatment later. What we needed to do this time was to get into Vrivarya safely.
Because Kei’s consciousness had returned, we would be able to cross the border. The problem was the mages waiting in ambush.
The three made me walk inside their defensive zones. Kei positioned himself in front of me. Tamihik lang akong nakatingin sa likuran niya at umaasang babalik siya sa dati. Moria said there might be someone who knows more about this kind of situation so I was holding on to that tiny hope.
Moria started picking up the pace and I almost gasped when I saw the border they were talking about. It was literally a range of snow-capped mountains, dotted with white pine trees. Winter clouds hung low overhead. As we got closer, the fog also got thicker, reducing the visibility by at least half. But what convinced me that we were nearing the border was the dense amount of defensive barrier surrounding the mountain ranges. I knew the pressure of being enclosed in one as Moria always uses it to protect me. Walking toward the border now felt like I was pushing the weight of the mountain itself, thereby proving that the barrier was encapsulating the whole country.
Halos si Moria na ang gumagalaw para sa akin. She was pushing me from behind so I could move forward despite the crushing pressure. She said it was because my body was still not used to this kind of powerful barrier, but over time, I wouldn’t feel it at all.
The fog was making it harder to move, too. Halos silhouettes na lang nila ang nakikita ko. If it weren’t for their voices, I would think I was all alone.
Bigla namang huminto si Kei kaya tumama ako sa likuran niya. It turned out we were already in front of the mountain. Irus and Moria stood beside me while Kei settled his hand on the huge boulder as tall as a two-story building. Seconds later, his djall glowed bright red and I flinched when the boulder split in two.
Mouth hanging open, I watched as the boulder revealed the hollow inside of the mountain. The arched cave mouth welcomed me in a rather menacing sense. The harsh wind whistled around the uneven walls. Deadly stalactites and stalagmites protruded on both ceiling and ground. The eerie darkness was enough to send shivers down my spine.
“Let’s go, Lady—”
Moria’s words were cut off and before I could realize what was going on, she was thrown against the cave wall. It was when both Irus and Kei went protecting my back that I grasped what was happening.
Halos makalimutan kong nasa paligid pa namin ang tatlong mages. I thought it was the unyielding darkness of the cave that made my skin crawl, but it was their presence.
Kei let out a guttural growl and engaged in a fight against two of them, while Irus handled Leone. Agad naman akong tumakbo papunta kay Moria pero napatigil ako nang makita ko ang expression sa mukha niya.
She looked like she was about to murder someone, and I didn’t want that to be me.
“Tïch,” she muttered with much resentment that I instantly knew she just cursed. She gracefully stood and started chanting. “Pull back.”
Agad na sumunod si Irus pero patuloy pa ring umaatake si Kei. It surely felt strange. He said trackers would never fight in front of a battle because they were mostly strategists, but here he was, going all out against two mages.
“Lady, please,” Moria said. With a heavy sigh, I called him. “Khmer.”
Immediately, he retreated and went back to me. Kasabay no’n ay itinaas ni Moria ang kanyang magkabilang kamay. The fog surrounding the vicinity started having a form, as if it has solidified. Leone noticed it a bit too late. The solid fog coiled around their body like a snake, rendering them immobile.
Leone seethed in annoyance as she glared at me. “You should have let me kill you in—”
“Silence, Sithanna,” Moria interrupted, and I almost stepped back because she still looked pissed. “We’re already in Vrivarya. Any ill attempt directed to our Lady will be treated as a breach of the peace treaty.” The glint in her eyes turned colder. “I’m sure the kingdom that you serve, the country of Remis, won’t like that, will they?”
Hindi na muling nakapagsalita pa si Leon at ang dalawa pa niyang kasama. I had a vague idea of what she was talking about but it was still confusing. Kaya siguro gusto nila akong dalhin dito sa Vrivarya ay dahil ito lang ang lugar kung saan magiging ligtas ako, bukod sa nandito rin ang sagot sa mga katanungan ko.
All of a sudden, a huge root emerged from the ground, breaking the fog’s hold on them. Leone grinned menacingly as she healed the scratches on her arms.
“You’re still not Vrivarya’s soil,” she retorted. “Where you are standing is still a neutral ground. And I will do anything to complete my mistress’ order.”
She was ready to lunge at us but everyone halted when an powerful presence heralded itself. Halos manlamig ang katawan ko nang maramdaman ko iyon. The three mages broke out in cold sweat, scampering to get as far away from us as possible.
Footsteps echoed inside the hollowed mountain. My body felt like it was being crushed by both the barrier and that presence but the closer it gets, the lighter it feels. And moments later, that presence felt somewhat . . . familiar.
“What is she doing here?” Leone gritted. I thought she would still insist on attacking but they went running away as soon as the footsteps stopped.
Moria suddenly knelt, even Irus and Kei, did. Dahan-dahan akong lumingon para makita kung sino man ang nagligtas sa amin . . . and I almost tripped upon seeing the person.
Her face was flawless. Her red eyes and lips were too mesmerizing that it felt like I was under a spell. Streaked with several white strands, her black hair was pulled back in a tight and clean high bun. She was wearing a long white tunic dress that covered her shoes, as well as her arms. Draped over her shoulders was a white robe, embellished with crimson and golden runes. A quick look would tell that she was someone high up in the ranks.
She stared at me as if she could see right through me. Despite having an air of authority, I still pointed at her, dumbfounded. Those glacial and perceptive eyes were something I had known for years.
“Nana . . .” I blurted out.
My memory about my normal life was all fuzzy now but I could still make out some moments. She looked way younger than I remembered that it felt wrong calling her my grandmother.
She gave a tight smile and bowed lightly. “I am glad you are safe, my lady.”
Even her voice sounded younger. Hindi ko tuloy alam ang dapat kong maramdaman.
“Rani Roesia,” Moria called, her voice shaking. “We apologize for the delay.”
I remembered Kei calling Moria with a title. That was Rana, I think? Then, a Rani rank must be higher.
But Roesia, huh? So that was her real name? Hindi ko tuloy alam kung paano siya i-a-address. She was supposed to be my grandmother, my Nana, but everything was just a fabricated memory. She also seemed distant, as if she was trying to draw the line.
“You made them wait,” she coldly responded and Moria flinched.
Her robe and tunic billowed as she turned around. Marahan namang tumayo ang tatlo at sumunod sa kanya kaya gano’n din ang ginawa ko. Bigla naman siyang huminto kaya napahinto rin kami.
“Lady, you should walk with her,” whispered Moria.
Dahil mukhang iyon lang ang paraan para magpatuloy kami ay nagsimula akong maglakad sa tabi niya. But it felt awkward, especially since she was the one who created those memories inside my head.
The walk was unbearably silent, but when she pointed at our destination, my legs almost wobbled. At the far end, dark mountains spread across the terrain, and atop the highest was a ginormous castle. But what stirred my insides was the fact that a place I had only seen now . . . felt too familiar.