“No, no, no, anong nangyari?” I mumbled, trying to look for my grandparents at their room, but there was no one there except for their things that were scattered on the floor.
I sobbed and crumpled to the floor, worried that something bad might have happened to them.
“We were late,” the guy muttered and cursed under his breath.
Agad akong tumayo at lumapit sa kanya. “You . . . you know what happened here,” I seethed, anger rising in my chest.
“Yes,” he said nonchalantly, “but they were already gone.”
Lalo lang nagpantig ang tenga ko dahil parang wala lang sa kanya ang nangyari.
“How could you—!”
“Don’t worry,” he said, cutting me off, “they got away. Your . . . ah, grandparents are alive. Besides, I would know if a fellow Abkhim got killed.”
Hearing that from him kind of got my hopes up, as if a thorn were pulled out from my chest. Hindi ko alam kung paano niya nasabing buhay pa sila pero iyon din ang nais kong paniwalaan. They should be alive, or else, I don’t know what I would do.
After several minutes of panicking, I finally managed to calm down. I looked around the house once again, hoping to find some clues on what had happened.
“We need to get out of here,” the guy suddenly said. “A Morana’s charm won’t work if she’s far from you.”
“A what?” tanong ko.
My head had been spinning since that incident in the jeepney. Those guys mentioned some confusing words, too. Hindi ko na alam kung nagha-hallucinate lang ba ako dahil wala akong tulog kagabi sa sobrang excitement ko o totoo talaga ang mga nangyayari.
“Seriously, ano ba ang nangyayari?” I snapped. “Bigla na lang may mga lalaking gusto akong patayin. My grandparents are missing. Our house got destroyed. I just wanted a peaceful birthday!”
“Oh, nothing peaceful happens when someone like you turns seventeen,” he said, smirking.
My body suddenly tensed. I felt the temperature drop several degrees. The air felt heavier and sinister, too. Hindi ko alam kung paano pero pakiramdam ko ay may nakatingin sa amin.
The guy muttered something, maybe a different language, but it sounded like a curse. He gripped my wrist and the cold sensation coursed through my arm.
“They followed us,” he muttered. “What did you do?”
Upon hearing that, anger swelled inside me. “What the hell? Wala naman akong ginagaw—!”
He raised my hand and I saw a cut on my thumb. Hindi ko alam kung paano ako nagkasugat. Siguro noong nagpa-panic ako habang hinahanap ang grandparents ko. He grumbled, muttering something in a foreign language I couldn’t understand, and grabbed a cloth from the floor, tying it swiftly around my finger.
“C’mon, it’s just a cut!” I complained as I looked at thick cover around my thumb. “Hindi—”
Napahinto ako nang makita kong muli ang expression niya. His eyes were mad, and I thought it changed from stormy gray to a tinge of red, as if a volcano erupted from his irises.
“You don’t know how your blood affects them,” he said in a controlled voice, trying to suppress his anger.
I choked back the fear creeping through my throat. Na-realize ko na mas nakakatakot ang lalaking ito kaysa sa mga nasa jeepney kanina.
“Let’s go,” he growled as he grabbed my arm.
Before I could complain, the world spun before me and I lost my consciousness.
“Be careful, Victoria,” Nana reminded. “A single drop of blood may cost you your life.”
“Why?” seven-year old me asked.
She smiled. “You will know soon. But promise me you won’t get hurt.”
My eyes fluttered open as I heard a noise somewhere. Orbs danced before my eyes and I had to blink several times to see clearly. My stomach churned and I suddenly remembered how I passed out when he did that travel thing again.
I was inside a rundown shack, I thought, with nothing but the moonlight passing through the opened window.
“You’re finally awake.”
I yelped when I heard a voice beside me and I didn’t even realize he was sitting right there. Ni hindi ko man lang siya napansin pagkagising ko at parang wala namang tao kanina maliban sa akin.
Kinalma kong muli ang sarili ko at lumingon sa direksyon niya. Under the moonlight, his face looked paler than before. He removed his jacket and cap and I almost gasped when I saw his skin. It was the color of ash, just like his eyes.
“Surprised?” he asked, one of his brows raised.
“Heck, no, I’m not surprised,” I replied. “I am freakingout.”
I put some distance between us, making sure I could run the moment he moved, though I doubt I could outrun him after I saw how fast he could go with that freakish travel magic or whatever that was.
He snickered and put his hand on his pockets. Balak ko na sanang tumakbo in case kutsilyo o baril ang bubunutin niya pero napakunot na lang ang noo ko nang makita ko kung ano ang nasa kamay niya.
“G-garlic?” I asked in disbelief.
“Oh, the bloodsuckers hate it,” he simpered.
He threw a clove of garlic through the window and I suddenly heart hissing noise outside. Napayakap na lang ako sa sarili ko habang patuloy na pinakikinggan ang ingay sa labas.
“W-what are those?” tanong ko kahit hindi ko alam kung ano ang naghihintay sa amin mula sa labas ng bahay na ito.
“The bloodsuckers,” he answered. “I just told you that a while ago—”
“Wait, wait, wait!” I raised my hand, gesturing him to stop. “Could you please explain everything without making me more confused?”
He looked at me intently, maybe contemplating whether I was really confused or just making a fool out of him. Natatakot pa rin ako sa kanya pero gusto kong malaman kung ano ba talaga ang nangyayari. Gulung-gulo na ako simula pa kanina.
“So your protectors really didn’t tell you the truth,” he said.
“The ones you call grandparents.”
“Sina Nana at Tata? What do you mean?”
He sighed and scratched his chin. “Where should I start?” he muttered. “Hmm, do you think those people are really your grandparents?”
I scoffed. “Of course! What are you—”
“Then what are their names?”
Napahinto ako sa tanong niya. Of course, I knew their names. How could a granddaughter not know the names of her—wait . . . why couldn’t . . . why couldn’t I remember them all of a sudden?
“Do you know where they came from?” he added, “or why they are so protective of you?”
“T-they . . . they just . . .” my voice faltered. I couldn’t answer his questions. It felt like something was clouding my thoughts and memories of them.
“See?” he mocked.
“B-but how . . .”
“That woman you call as Nana, she’s a Morana.”
“Morana?” I remembered him saying that when we were still in our house.
“In layman’s term, a mage,” he explained. “That thing around your wrist,” he continued, pointing at the bracelet on my left wrist, “is a charm that conceals your presence and smell.”
Naalala ko naman noong binigay ito ni Nana sa akin simula noong pumasok ako sa school. I had been wearing this since I was four and I just realized how it seemed to adjust itself as I grew older.
“She can protect you when she’s around but when you’re quite far, that charmed bracelet does the job, though it’s not as effective as a Morana’s protective magic.”
Memories flashed in my mind: the times she didn’t want me to go to fieldtrips, or when she got angry whenever I tried to sneak out of the house, or how she wouldn’t allow me to go to the museum without Tata.
“T-then . . . even Tata . . .”
He nodded. “He’s an Abkhim like me,” he said, “a tracker.”
Sa totoo lang, ayaw kong maniwala sa mga sinasabi niya, but at the back of my mind, I knew he was, somehow, telling the truth.
Suddenly, I felt like my whole life was a lie.
“Then, what am I?” I asked, my voice trembling.
He didn’t answer and continued throwing garlic cloves outside. My body was shaking so bad I had to hug myself. Strange things that happened during my childhood, occurrences that I had ignored and taken for granted flooded inside my head.
Before I could repeat my question, something appeared on the window. I quickly turned to that direction and I never thought I could see something so hideous that would probably haunt my dreams for the rest of my life.
There were three of them hissing angrily at us, but it seemed like they couldn’t enter the shack. Their bodies were bloated, as if someone injected liters of water inside them, but their limbs were skinny. Their veins could be seen from their thin and discolored skin. But the most unpleasant part were their faces. Their hairs were balding and scraggly, which would probably be a hairstylist’s nightmare. Their eyes were beady and they gleamed with malice. Pointed teeth that looked like small fangs bared at us. I wanted to get close to him but my knees were shaking. I was paralyzed by fear.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be safe,” he said and before I could yell at him, the sound of the hissing already stopped.
I turned to the window as something fell on the floor with a loud thump-thump-thump. Three heads rolled toward my direction and I screamed as I desperately leaned against the wall, hoping there was still some space. However, before the heads could touch my feet, they started to disintegrate into gray powder that looked like ashes.
“Just like them,” the guy said as he approached my direction, “we are one of the undead.”
I was still dazed after seeing those heads rolled and disintegrated in front of me that his words only sunk in when he was already beside me.
“W-what? What do you mean undead? I’m still alive!”
“Are you?” he returned, looking intently at my eyes.
“Y-yes,” I replied but it sounded like a whimper.
He grabbed my hand and placed it on my left chest. I was about to slap his hand when I felt something strange. Why . . . why couldn’t I feel any heartbeat?
“H-how . . .”
“You see, your protectors had to make you believe you were normal. A higher Morana’s magic could create fake memories that even higher blood clans couldn’t differentiate from the real ones. And in your case, you were made to believe you’re normal. That you’re alive,” he responded as if I should have known that fact.
“No!” I protested. “I’m . . . I’m still alive . . .”
Despite believing I was still alive, my heart didn’t agree. A few hours ago, I was sure it was still beating, but this time, it was as if I didn’t even have one.
I should have died, if that was the case, but I was still moving. And I felt very alive.
My hand drifted to his left chest and just like mine, there were no signs of beating from his heart.