“How was it?” tanong ko matapos muling maglakad papasok sa hallway.
I followed Mayu to her lab as she continued checking the data she had gathered. She had been studying it for months and she would ask for me when they needed to see or monitor something inside.
“Hmm . . . looks like we are right,” she muttered. She sat behind her desk and a holographic video of me appeared in front of her.
Lumapit ako sa kanya. “What did you find out?”
“The effects of that dimension aren’t as detrimental as it should be,” she continued. “Maybe because there was an external force or power that changed the matter interactions which then altered the spacetime continuum and its properties.”
She explained something about quantum fluctuations but I didn’t bother listening. Paniguradong hindi ko rin naman maiintindihan ‘yon kahit anong explain niya.
I went back to my cabin to rest and instinctively sidestepped as I opened the door. The silent and vacant space came into my view. Napabuntong-hininga na lang ako. It had been a month since that guy left yet I still couldn’t get used to his absence.
Ganito rin ang pakiramdam ko noong bumukod na sina Mayu at Hiroshi at naiwan akong mag-isa sa dorm. It was hard to adjust especially since Mayu and I had been together for years. Kaya nga minabuti ko na rin na sa cabin na lang tumira. It turned out this place would also have a lingering presence.
Bumagsak ako sa kama ko at tumingin na lang sa kisame. I summoned the dagger that was originally his because he stole mine.
“I shouldn’t have given away my dagger,” I muttered. “That was my favorite. Damn it.”
Nagulat naman ako nang bigla akong may narinig na ingay mula sa labas. I gripped the dagger and carefully went to the door.
Ah. That voice.
Agad kong binuksan ang pinto at sumalubong ang mukha ni Akira. She flashed a grin and I knitted my brows when I realized she was in her training gears.
“Kohaku’s gonna take care of Vivien today,” she said. “Wanna train?”
I smirked in return. “Guess we’re back to being training partners, huh?”
Akira almost got me after I taunted her. She was clearly not as agile as before but her power improved.
Napahiga na lang kami sa lupa matapos ang dalawang oras na paghaharap. We were covered in scratches and dirt but I still managed a smile while catching my breath.
I missed this.
Bumangon naman siya at humarap sa akin. “So, kailan ka pala magsisimula sa pagtuturo, Ma’am?”
Sinamaan ko siya ng tingin pero tinawanan lang niya ako. Nakakainis, pinaalala niya pa. Sir Eichii said I passed the preliminary training and seminars and I could start next academic year, which would be five months from now.
“Bwisit talaga ‘yang si Hideo, pinahirapan pa lalo ang buhay ko,” reklamo ko at muli siyang natawa.
“Mukha namang bagay sa’yong magturo,” she remarked.
“Hindi talaga,” I retorted. “Siya, si Mayu at si Naomi lang ang bagay magturo sa ating pito—”
Napahinto ako sa pagsasalita nang mabanggit ko si Naomi at ang bilang namin. The words hang heavily in the air and Akira gave a melancholic smile while looking at the clear sky.
“Yeah,” she said. “Naomi would be a good professor.”
“Mm,” I added. “Her students would probably be scared of her imposing aura.”
She chuckled. “Right? Kahit ako, matatakot kapag nag-sit in sa class niya.”
There were a few seconds of silence after that and we both sighed. Kumusta na kaya si Naomi? Kumusta na si Rainie? I hope they are doing fine.
Matapos ‘yon ay inaya niya ako sa bahay nila dahil magluluto raw siya for dinner. I teased her about her cooking but she said she was already improving.
“Talaga ba? Mas magaling pa yata ako sa’yo magluto,” sabi ko.
She scoffed. “Excuse me? Araw-araw na kaya akong nagpa-practice.”
“Wait, don’t tell me, iyon ang pinapakain mo kay Kohaku?”
“Oo,” she shyly replied. “Mukha namang nasasarapan siya.”
“More like napipilitan,” I retorted. “Siya ang nag-a-adjust ng timpla. ‘no?”
Hindi naman siya nakasagot kaya lalo ko lang siyang inasar. Buti na lang talaga at marunong magluto si Kohaku dahil kung hindi ay magugutom silang pamilya o ‘di kaya ay lagi sila sa plaza.
We continued talking and teasing each other for the whole night and it felt nice. It felt like we were back to the times when everything was still nice and simple. I hope this kind of peace would last a lifetime.
That went on for a few months. Nagt-training kami ni Akira. Pumupunta ako kay Mayu para sa monitoring ng Black Dimension sa hallway at sa development ng weapon summoning. Dadalaw kay Hideo para asarin siya at manghingi ng mission pero ayaw niya pa ring ibigay.
Hanggang sa magsimula na ulit ang klase.
It was a nerve-wracking day. I thought I would pass out but the three of them were surprisingly encouraging me.
“Just act natural,” Mayu advised. “You’re going to be a great instructor.”
“Isipin mo na lang weapons ang mga estudyante mo,” dagdag pa ni Akira.
“Don’t swear,” Hideo said. “Don’t lose your temper.”
Hindi ko na lang pinansin ang mga pinagsasabi nila at tuluyan nang lumabas ng office ni Hideo papunta sa una kong class.
There weren’t a lot of transferees this time. Maybe because of what had happened before. Some might be hesitant to send their children here, knowing that a war just broke out several months ago.
I was assigned to the Basic Psychomotor Learning class. Basically, I would be teaching them motor skills—coordination, speed and dexterity—which would be the foundation of handling weapons and fighting.
Dahil orientation pa lang naman ay isa-isa lang silang nagpakilala. They also showed their sixth sense and some would probably complement their fighting styles.
It was a stressful morning but I gradually calmed down when the students seemed to be interested in the subject since this would be the only class in their semester where they could move around and get physical.
Pagkatapos ng una kong class ay halos pagod na ang utak ko. I’d rather be physically tired than mentally exhausted.
Lumabas ako mula sa room at naglakad palabas ng building. Mamayang hapon pa naman ang next class ko kaya may time ako para magpahinga.
‘You were good.’
Napahinto naman ako nang marinig ko ang boses ni Hideo. I looked at my right and saw him leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. Ni hindi ko man lang naramdaman ang presence niya. He strode toward my direction and walked with me.
“Were you nervous?” tanong niya.
“Malamang,” sagot ko naman. “Mukha siguro akong ewan kanina.”
“A bit,” he commented.
I kicked his calf in return but he didn’t even budge. Inirapan ko na lang siya at tahimik kaming naglakad hanggang sa makarating kami sa graveyard.
Akira and Mayu’s figures came into our view as we walked toward Mitsuo’s grave. Two years ago, we met him and Akemi. Hindi ako makapaniwala na sa maikling panahon ay naging malaking bahagi sila ng buhay namin.
Akira let out a dejected sigh. “Sana nandito rin si Naomi.”
The mention of her name immediately made the atmosphere heavier. Just like Hideo, she had sacrificed a lot, and what was more saddening was that she’s alone right now. She had to stay strong for the sake of Akemi and Hideo’s daughter. She had to carry the pain and burden alone.
Thinking about how hard it must be for her made me tear up. I wish I could help her even just a little. I wish I could support her even from afar.
Nanatili kami roon ng isang oras at inalala ang mga panahong kasama pa namin si Mitsuo. Akira burst into tears and Mayu got teary-eyed as we reminisced those happy memories. It was hard to hold back the threatening tears but I managed to stay composed for their sake. I comforted them as much as I could and tried to lighten the mood.
Matapos ‘yon ay si Akemi naman ang pinuntahan namin. Hideo placed a bouquet of green flowers on her grave and silent tears streamed down his face. We stayed by his side and quietly consoled him.
“You’re still having nightmares?” tanong ni Mayu.
He nodded and a faint smile escaped his lips. “It’s okay.”
“Hideo . . .”
“That’s the only time I could see them again,” he murmured.
Occasionally, I would also dream about them. Sometimes, it got so bad that I ended up crying and catching for my breath for two hours, or I had to hurt myself to wake up . . . to remind myself that it was just a dream. Meanwhile, Hideo had been having nightmares since the day Akemi died. Technically, three days after, because he hadn’t slept at all when that happened. It had been nine months, yet those nightmares didn’t stop.
After an hour, Mayu and Akira returned to the campus while Hideo stayed at her grave. Bumalik naman ako sa cabin ko para makapagpahinga at mag-prepare para sa afternoon class.
I was about to open the door when I felt something strange. I summoned my dagger and carefully opened the door.
Nobody was there but there was something on my bed. I hastily walked toward it and saw a strange weapon, as well as a note.
You suck at long-range combat. Maybe you can improve with this chakram.
I scoffed upon reading the message on the paper. The tone already gave away who the sender was. Ang kapal talaga ng mukha.
I held the split chakram and inspected it. To be honest, I wasn’t well versed in long-range weapons because I don’t like fighting in that style. Still, him pointing it out was irritating.
But I didn’t expect him to do something like this. I guess he really didn’t want to be indebted to me, so he had to return the favor.
The next few months and years passed by quietly. Everything was peaceful except for the kids that I had to babysit whenever their parents weren’t around. That guy also sent a couple of new weapons with his ever annoying and conceited notes every year.
I thought the peace would last for a long time, but I was wrong. The pleasant time was short-lived.
Five years after the tragedy, another wave of devastation plowed through us, but this time, I crumbled and wished death was the better option.
“We’ll continue this tomorrow,” Sir Eichii announced after an hour of lecture and demonstration. “And please, child, control your temper.”
Halos umikot ang mga mata ko nang marinig ko iyon mula kay Sir. Paano ba naman kasi ay siya ang naka-assign para mag-train at monitor sa akin bilang teacher. Hideo was serious about that and I wanted to smack his head for suggesting this absurd idea.
Ilang modules at reading materials ang ibinigay sa akin ni Sir Eichii. I just shoved it in my bag and marched to the village. The familiar bungalow came into my view. Maliit lang ito dahil mag-isa lang naman akong nakatira rito.
I realized it had been more than two months since I last went home. Pagpasok ko ay makapal na alikabok ang sumalubong sa akin. Akira was right. I should have had this cleaned before I came back.
Inilapag ko sa mesa sa sala ang mga papel at naubo ako nang kumalat ang alikabok. Man, this place looked like it had been abandoned for more than a year already.
Napahinto naman ako nang makita ko ang picture sa taas ng desk. A wistful smile escaped my lips. It was the only group photo we had taken.
Agad ko iyong kinuha at tinitigan. Despite their stoic expressions, I could tell that they were happy. Binitiwan ko rin agad iyon at huminga nang malalim. It had been more than two months but everything that happened was still vivid.
Sa katunayan, lagi ko pa rin silang napapanaginipan. Maybe it was a punishment for not being able to save them from their demise.
Matapos kong kunin ang mga kailangan ko ay dumiretso ako sa Technology department. I volunteered to enter that portion of the Black Dimension in the hallway and today would be the first trial of navigating it.
“Michiko,” bati ni Mayu nang makarating ako sa isa sa mga lab niya.
I smiled at her. “So, anong kailangan kong gawin?”
She explained to me the process and somehow, I find it thrilling. I wasn’t given any missions outside the campus (Hideo’s fault) so this would be the first after the war.
May pinasuot siya sa aking protective gear, though I doubt it could protect a Senshin from the detrimental effects of the Black Dimension.
“Wait, I’ll tie this to you,” dagdag niya.
She tied a rope around my waist so that they could pull me out when something bad happen.
Nang makarating kami sa pinto na nagko-connect sa hallway na iyon ay tumahimik ang lahat. I could feel the tension rising in the air. Mayu stood beside me and checked everything for the last time.
“Michiko, I’m gonna tell you again, if you feel something, just pull the rope and I’ll—”
“Alright, alright,” I said, cutting her off. Nakailang ulit na siya ro’n kanina. Pakiramdam ko tuloy, kasintanda ko lang si Hiroshi.
She breathed deeply and signaled the staffs and researchers with us. Some of the devices started displaying numbers and figures I couldn’t understand while the other showed holographic images of me, the hallway and the building.
I stepped forward and turned the doorknob. Bago ako pumasok ay binuksan ko ang isip ko.
‘I hope I won’t come back dead,’ I chuckled. ‘You won’t,’ she replied. ‘I’m here.’
Upon hearing that, I stepped into the darkness.
I thought I would die.
Pagkapasok ko pa lang ay nag-iba na agad ang pakiramdam ko. A chill went down my spine and this place felt too cold. The echo of my footsteps made my skin crawl. My senses felt numb.
Mayu was right. This portion of the Black Dimension had turned dormant. If this were the normal one, I’d be kissing the ground by now. It still felt eerie but the effects seemed to be decreased by tenfold. Dahan-dahan akong naglakad pero pakiramdam ko ay may nakatingin sa akin. It felt like someone would attack me every time I stepped forward.
It was getting harder to breathe but I kept on walking. Dahan-dahan akong naglakad pero pakiramdam ko ay hindi naman ako umuusad. This place seemed to have no concept of distance. Kahit ang lubid na nakatali sa akin ay parang hindi naman gumagalaw. Wala akong idea kung nasaan na ako.
My hands were getting numb, too, so I decided to pull the rope. Ilang sandal pa ay naramdaman ko ang paghatak sa akin. I let it pull me along. Natanaw ko lang ang pinto noong mismong nasa harapan na ako nito. Pagbukas ko ay bumungad agad ang mukha ni Mayu.
“Oh, thank the gods,” she muttered as she sighed in relief. “Akala ko kung ano na ang nangyari sa’yo.”
My brows knitted. “Bakit?”
“You were gone for three hours.”
In-explain niya sa akin na nawala ako sa radar nila pagkapasok ko pa lang sa hallway. I didn’t know that the suit was equipped with a tracker. They tried tugging the rope, too, but I wasn’t responding. Hindi ko naman iyon naramdaman noong nandoon ako. I also thought I was there for just a few minutes. Hindi ko akalaing tatlong oras pala nagtagal ‘yon.
It looked like both distance and time had been warped for some reason.
Matapos iyon ay dumiretso ako sa cabin. I deflected the dagger he just threw when I opened the door. Simula noong nagagalaw na niya ang kamay niya ay lagi na niya ‘tong ginagawa. This freaking bastard.
“I can—” he paused and his expression hardened. “How are you alive?”
Maging ako ay napatigil nang sabihin niya ‘yon. “What do you mean?”
“You . . . I could sense the Black Dimension’s essence in you.”
“Ah, that . . .”
I tried explaining it to him without giving away any crucial information. Hindi ko naman mabasa ang mukha niya. He seemed lost in thoughts.
Nagulat naman ako nang bigla siyang tumayo at naglakad papunta sa direksyon ko. He could walk already? Damn, this guy’s toughness shouldn’t be underestimated. Pero mukhang hindi pa rin fully healed ang katawan niya dahil medyo mabagal pa rin siyang maglakad.
He halted right in front of me. “You can now bring me to her.”
For the first time, he looked earnest. There were a few seconds of silence between us but he held his gaze. Napabuntong-hininga na lang ako dahil mukhang hindi na siya makapaghihintay pa.
“Fine,” I muttered. “Pero ipangako mo na wala kang gagawing kahit ano. You just need to follow me quietly.”
His expression immediately returned to its usual smug appearance. I thought he’d complain but he managed to restrain himself.
Nag-prepare naman ako para ro’n. I told him we’d go there at midnight para less ang risk. Medyo kabado rin ako dahil tinaasan nila ang security sa Latens forest matapos ang nangyari. Once his presence got detected, I’m sure this place would turn into chaos again.
I fiddled with my knife as I planned our route. Mas makakabuti kung sa Green’s Bane kami dadaan dahil less concentrated ang barrier doon. Besides, no one in their sane minds would walk through that area at midnight.
Well, I guess we’re crazy enough to do exactly that.
I opted for an all-black attire while he wore his cloak. Kailangan ko pang i-adjust ang pace ko dahil ang bagal niya maglakad. Kapag talaga may sumugod sa amin dito, bahala siya sa buhay niya.
It was hard to navigate at night. We couldn’t even use a flashlight because it might alert the beasts. Napapalingon din ako every few minutes dahil hindi ko nararamdaman ang presence niya. He was good at concealing it.
‘Could you just look straight ahead?’ reklamo niya at pinigilan ko ang sarili kong lumingon.
I scoffed. ‘I’m worried. Baka bigla mo na lang akong saksakin.’
He snickered in return. ‘Don’t worry, I won’t do that yet.’
Several minutes had already passed when we encountered the first beast. It was the sabretooth tigers. The wound on my leg stung as if it remembered the beast that gave it to me.
Hinatak ko siya papunta sa likod ng isang puno. He groaned as he forced himself to move faster. I told him not to use the Black Dimension because that would mean trouble so he had no choice but to tread through the forest.
‘What the hell are those?’ tanong niya. ‘Genetically modified animals,’ I replied. ‘We simply call them beasts.’
Our history professors said the earlier Councils made an order to create predators that could protect our place and sanctuary. The scientists and researches conducted experiments on these apex predators that once dominated these vast forest. However, they didn’t expect the progression of their strength and power.
According to the written records, more than 200 Senshins died, most of them from the research and development division, after dealing with those predators. The Council wanted to annihilate them but most of the departments disagreed.
Kaya ang ginawa nila ay inisolate na lang ang mga ito sa Green’s Bane. They seemed to have a progress in intellect, too, kaya naman kung hindi sila gagalawin ay hindi rin sila susugod. The transgenes had been passed on to their children and now that part of the forest is inhabited by those beasts.
The sabretooths started growling and they might have detected our presence. We carefully climbed onto the trees and positioned ourselves on their blind spots.
‘Don’t get scared, weakling,’ I taunted. ‘They can sense fear.’ ‘Weakling?’ he snapped. ‘You—’ ‘Shh,’ pagputol ko sa kung anumang sasabihin niya dahil nagsimula na silang gumalaw.
Muntik pa kaming malaglag dahil gusto niyang i-observe ang sabretooths. They were circling the tree right next to us.
‘You sure you’re not the one who’s scared?’ he retorted while looking at the beasts below us. ‘Ha! Ako, takot? As if,’ balik ko sa kanya.
We managed to jumped from one tree to another without the sabretooths following our movement. However, I slipped when I jumped onto another one because he was in the way. Mabuti na lang at nagawa kong humawak sa malaking sanga kaya hindi ako nalaglag.
He knelt on the bough I was holding onto and smirked at me.
‘Who’s the weakling now?’
I glared at him as I tried to pull myself up. ‘Ikaw pa rin.’
Nakaakyat naman ako sa kung nasaan siya. I suddenly had the urge to push him so the beasts could teach him a lesson or two. Kung pwede lang talagang gawin ‘yon ay kanina ko pa siya itinulak.
‘Malapit na ba tayo?’ tanong niya.
Tumayo naman ako at nagpatuloy kami sa kabilang puno. ‘Yeah.’
Ilang minuto pa ay natanaw ko na ang open space. We halted at the last huge tree and I pointed at the vast grassland in front of us.
Tumalon kami pababa at naglakad patungo sa dulo nito. The wind was cold and harsh but it didn’t stop him from walking hurriedly. Huminto lang siya nang nasa harapan na siya ni Akemi.
“Rielle . . .”
I distanced myself to give him the space he needed. Alam ko namang mahirap din sa kanya ang nangyari. I don’t know what happened to them before she escaped but it looked like he was feeling the guilt, too.
Ah . . . those injuries . . . maybe he got those while trying to protect her. He said that was his job as her Elite. But just like Hideo, I knew his feelings for her might be more than that.
Napatingin na lang ako sa langit. It was clear and the sky was covered with thousands of stars. I remembered how Akemi and Mitsuo died facing the sky. Until the end, they held their heads high. They were warriors.
“Hey,” tawag niya habang nakatingin pa rin sa puntod ni Akemi. “This place does not have a barrier, right?”
Humarap siya sa akin at nakaramdam ako ng kakaiba. Then there it was, a crack appeared on the air. The next thing I knew, he had already opened the Black Dimension.
“Your wish would finally come true,” he said while stepping inside. “I’ll be leaving.”
Somehow, it felt weird. Siguro dahil nasanay akong nandoon lang siya sa cabin. Siguro dahil hindi ko akalaing ito na pala ang panahon para umalis siya.
I sighed and smiled. “Finally.”
The Black Dimension gradually closed and the last thing I saw was him glaring at me. I just stood there for a few seconds but my body tensed when my instinct told me I was in danger.
I drew the dagger on my waist and quickly turned around while slashing it in a full arc. However, I didn’t expect to see him there . . . and his hand was bleeding because he used it to stop my dagger’s momentum.
“What the he—why did you use your hand?!”
He just casually snatched the dagger from my hand and threw his on my direction. Nasalo ko naman agad ‘yon kahit medyo shocked pa rin ako sa nangyari.
“This one’s sharper,” he muttered while inspecting my dagger with his bloody hand. “I forgot to tell you that I’m going to return the favor.”
“Ayaw kong magkaroon ng utang na loob sa’yo,” dagdag niya.
“Oh, is that so?” I teased. “I don’t think you can. Hindi ko kailangan ng tulong mula sa’yo.”
Tiningnan niya ulit ako nang masama at humigpit ang hawak niya sa dagger. I thought he’d attack me but he just heaved a sigh. He was about to leave for real but I called his attention before the Black Dimension closes.
“What’s your name?” tanong ko. Ngayon ko lang na-realize na hindi ko man lang siya natanong.
He stared at me for several seconds before answering. “Kid.”
Kid? Hah. What a weird and funny name. Hindi bagay sa kanya.
“You?” he returned.
“Michiko,” sagot ko naman.
He grimaced. “Awful name.”
Before I could react, the Black Dimension had already closed and I was left dumbfounded. Bastos talaga ang bibig ng isang ‘yon. I hope I won’t see that freaking Shinigami again!
And as if the heavens heard my words, that was the last time I saw him in years.