Napahiga na lang si Rainie habang hinahabol ang hininga. I wanted to plop on the ground, too, but as her teacher, I wanted to appear as invincible as possible.
“Ma’am Michiko,” tawag niya habang hinihingal. “One more time.”
Halos mapangiwi ako nang marinig ko iyon. Damn, this kid’s too spirited. I knew I told her that I’d train her so she could keep up with her friends’ combat skills and to prepare her for the future, but she was too passionate for her own good. Still, she had improved a lot, especially with her short-range attacks, just after three years. She might be the best fighter next to Nathan in their batch, but Reiji’s still the best one when it comes to control.
“No,” I returned. “Reflect on your techniques and sequences for today. And Akane,” sabay tingin ko sa kanya. Her shoulder tensed. “If you want to be a dual wielder, improve your left side coordination. Reina would be a good model for you as she’s one of the better dual wielder in the tribe.”
“Yes, Ma’am!” sabay salute niya pa.
Nagpaalam sila sa akin matapos ang ilang minuto. Few moments later, Naomi emerged from the southern part of the forest.
“Hey,” she greeted.
She was covered in soot and some scratches. On her left hand was a black duffel back. As expected, her mission was successful.
Sabay kaming pumunta sa campus pero dumaan muna kami sa Intelligence division. She brought the relics and documents she recovered from a fallen village. From what I remember, that was the hometown of the Hansen clan who got annihilated by Shinigamis.
Naabutan namin doon sina Hayate at Hiroshi na mukhang may bago na namang dinedevelop na device. It turned out Hiroshi was asking for advice regarding teleportation devices. I think they were trying to replicate that Custos technology they had seen before to see the possibility of “human teleportation.”
“No, no, that’s not how it worked,” Hiroshi grunted before Hayate noticed us.
Sumandal na lang ako sa pader habang nag-uusap silang tatlo at nagbibigay ng ilang advice si Naomi.
“By the way, nasaan si Reina?” tanong ko. “Hindi n’yo ba siya kasama?”
Hayate sighed. “Weaponry,” he muttered. “Akane asked for some advice and she got excited.”
Napailing na lang ako nang marinig ko ‘yon. Hindi ko naman sinabing agad-agad siyang mag-training pero isa rin itong si Reina na hindi alam ang salitang moderation.
Pagkatapos namin doon ay dumiretso kami sa bahay niya. The house was empty when we arrived and I told him Nathan went to Shima, according to Rainie.
“I can’t wait to see his progress,” I muttered while making two cups of tea for the two of us. Meanwhile, Naomi went to the bathroom.
‘I just hope Sir Kyo’s not too harsh on him,’ she commented.
I snickered in return. ‘Oh, I’m sure he is. I wonder how he would use the different combat techniques he learned from me and from Sir Kyo. He must be much stronger now.’
‘Now, I’m not sure if I should be proud or scared.’
Natawa naman ako sa comment niya. ‘Ano ka ba, be proud! That’s like having my fighting style and Mitsuo’s in a single person.’
‘That’s definitely scary.’
Habang hinihintay ko siyang matapos ay chineck ko rin ang schedule ko para sa ilang missions na nakapila para sa akin. Like Naomi, I had chosen to prioritize doing class S missions than being a permanent professor in the campus. It had been a year since I had this scheme. Besides, Hideo assigned me to observe the new Shinigami base closely. Dumadalaw naman ako rito once a month at pangatlong araw ko na ngayon.
“So,” Naomi started while drying her hair, “how’s the domestic life?” Sinamaan ko siya ng tingin at tinawanan niya lang ako. “What? Isn’t it similar to that?”
Pakiramdam ko talaga ay ginagantihan lang ako nito sa lahat ng pang-aasar ko sa kanya noong mga bata pa kami. She would always open that topic and ask questions with a teasing smile on her face.
“I heard that,” she commented.
“Totoo naman,” I returned.
She chuckled. “But you aren’t even denying it. Besides, you look happier now.”
Naalala ko tuloy noong unang beses akong pumunta sa cabin niya. Even without telling to, we visited each other and would talk about things. I didn’t realize his presence had become a huge part of my life that I would go to his place whenever I feel alone.
A year ago, Hideo accepted my proposal to do missions outside and sometimes, Naomi and I would team up for the most dangerous ones. Three months later, Hideo said I should monitor the Shinigamis’ movements in case something odd happens.
And that led me to live in that place.
“Kailan ka uuwi?” tanong niya.
“Baka after a week pa,” sagot ko naman. “May missions ka pa ba?”
“Hmm, wala na for this week.”
I smirked. “Then that means we can drink.”
It felt like someone was drilling a hole in my head. Nahihilo pa rin ako kahit buong magdamag na akong tulog. Paano ba naman ay halos two straight days kaming uminom ni Naomi.
I told her she only had a low tolerance in alcohol and to prove me wrong, she said she wouldn’t pass out before me. Hanggang sa pag-inom, competitive pa rin.
Ang naaalala ko lang kagabi ay ang pagpunta ni Nathan sa cabin ko kung saan naming pinlanong mag-inuman. We invited Hideo, too, but he was too busy. Nathan fetched his drunk mother and carried her on his back.
Sakto namang pagbangon ko ay nakita kong pumasok si Hideo. He just stared at the empty bottles strewn all over the floor. I could tell that he was already judging us.
“You’re here for a week and you spent half of it drinking,” he remarked while sitting in front of the low table. I groaned as I massaged my temple. “Bakit may pag-judge?”
Hindi naman na siya sumagot. Instead, he opened another bottle and drank by himself. Gusto ko sana siyang samahan pero hindi na talaga kaya ng sikmura kong uminom.
I was about to sleep again when I felt a familiar presence . . . but Hideo was already summoning his sword. It happened so fast that I could only watch their weapons clanging against each other.
There was a noticeable tension between them. They were both aware of each other since before but they hadn’t had the chance to fight or face each other again after their first encounter, which was during a case when we were still students.
They slowly pulled back their weapons and stood here awkwardly. Pareho silang napatingin sa akin at napahiga na lang ulit ako.
“Just entertain yourselves,” I said while pulling the comforter. “Ang sakit ng ulo ko.”
Little by little, my consciousness slipped away, and the last thing I saw was them slowly sitting and then drinking in silence.
My eyes fluttered open and the first thing I saw was the clear sky from the windows and the sound of the waves hitting the cliff. Napabangon ako bigla nang ma-realize kong wala na ako sa cabin ko.
I tried recalling what happened and it took me a few minutes to remember everything. Oh, god, did they really drink together?! I couldn’t even imagine what transpired when I fell asleep.
Agad akong bumaba at ang naabutan ko na lang ay ang pagkaing nakahanda sa lamesa. Without second thoughts, I ate the food he prepared and took a bath afterward. Medyo um-okay na rin ang pakiramdam ko matapos makatulog at makakain.
Nasaan kaya siya?
As if on cue, he appeared beside me and collapsed on the couch. There were scratches on his arms and one deep wound on his shoulder. I was about to ask about what happened when he muttered something.
Ah. He must be with Darwin.
“He finally landed an attack on you,” I commented as he removed his cloak.
He had been training him after years of avoiding the kid. He might not acknowledge it but Darwin had become his apprentice. Sometimes, he would show up at the front door and stubbornly asks Kid to train him again. He would shyly bow whenever he sees me and sometimes, would also ask me about weapons.
Kinuha ko ang first aid kit at agad na nilinis ang sugat niya. Based on the depth and shape, that child must be using a tanto, a Japanese short sword.
Shinigamis’ way of training was also different. They would attack as if they were in a real fight, hence, they would always get injuries, sometimes critical, if they weren’t focused.
“How is he?” tanong ko.
“I broke his arm,” he muttered, earning a frown from me. “Accidentally.”
He lay on my lap and let me dress his wound. Bigla ko namang naalala ang mga nangyari bago ako nagising kanina. I cleared my throat and started asking questions.
“So . . . what happened between you and Hideo?”
“We just drank . . .”
I stared at him in disbelief. “For real?”
“ . . . and threatened each other.”
“Said he’d hunt me down if I make you cry.”
Halos maubo ako nang sabihin niya ‘yon. Damn it, did Hideo really say that?
“What a nonsense threat,” he muttered.
“At ano namang pagbabanta ang sinabi mo sa kanya?”
He shrugged. “That’s a secret.”
Magtatanong pa sana ako pero pumikit na siya. Few seconds later, he was already asleep.
I stared at his face and gently traced the faded scars on it. I remembered how I thought he looked much nicer when sleeping the first time we met. It had been eighteen years since that happened.
We may not say it out loud, but we’ve been each other’s support system. I honestly didn’t expect to be as close as this with a Shinigami other than Rielle. I tried to not get attached to his presence when I was still sheltering him because of the strife between our tribes, but I failed.
I was also scared of the consequences. If the council finds out about it, there would surely be another bloodbath. And I didn’t want to see another tragedy.
I thought the attachment I felt would naturally fade away when he left but he made it hard for me as he kept sending notes and weapons as gifts. He also said the next time we see each other, we’d be enemies and I’d be his first casualty, but ironically, he was the one who saved my life when I thought I was going to die.
It was also astonishing how his attitude had changed over the years. Maybe it was the effect of living with humdrums and being away with his fellow Shinigamis. But I still get surprised whenever he becomes gentle and carefree.
My shoulders and fingers flinched when he suddenly reached for my hand that was on his face.
‘What are you doing?’ he groggily asked, his eyes still closed. ‘You have a lot of scars on your face,’ I commented. ‘Does it bother you?’ ‘Hindi naman,’ sagot ko. ‘I just realized you’ve been into many fights.’
He left out a tender chuckle. ‘Honestly surprised how I’m still alive right now.’
Mukhang nakatulog na naman siya dahil hindi na siya muling nagsalita. He was still holding my right hand and a quick smile escaped my lips. He could get really clingy when sleeping, something I didn’t expect from someone like him.
We stayed like that for three hours. I fell asleep for a while, too, but woke up when he bolted upright.
“Ah, shit, I forgot that I’m meeting Keith,” he cursed under his breath.
Agad niyang sinuot ang cloak niya habang sinundan ko naman siya palabas sa cabin. I’d just train outside since I had been relaxed for a week.
He had already opened the Black Dimension but he turned to my direction and ruffled my hair. He gave me a teasing smile. “I’ll be back. Don’t miss me too much.”
I snorted at his remark. “Hah. I won’t.”
Tumalikod na siya pero saglit na umiling. ‘Such a liar.’ ‘Just go,’ I said while pushing him inside. ‘See you later, Erika.’
I watched as he disappeared from my sight. Nanatili akong nakatayo roon habang nakangiti. Really. That guy was unbelievable.
When he said I could live with him, I thought he was just joking. But just like what he had said, we were already living together when I saved him that time and we were already used to each other’s presence. And growing old alone would be a bit lonely.
“We want you to be happy,” Naomi and Hideo would always say whenever we talk about our lives.
I remembered when Hideo wouldn’t even want me to go out of the campus. He was so scared to lose me, too, after we lost our friends and his family. He was still having second thoughts when I requested her my current setup but I assured him that I would be careful.
Since then, he was actively trying to persuade the council to end the bad blood between the Senshin and Shinigami tribes and start to build the bridges again.
That would surely take years or even several decades, but I’m glad he’s taking the initiative. For a better future for his daughter, and for the future of next generations of Senshins and Shinigamis, he’s willing to bury the hatchet.
But for now, despite the clandestine life we are living, I am happy.
And maybe, when that time comes, we could tell the future children a story of how a Senshin and Shinigami could love and defy everything just like what happened to Hideo and Rielle; and a story of how a Senshin and Shinigami could live and grow old together . . .
I let out a gasp when I entered his two-storey log cabin. It had almost the same layout as mine, but his was bigger and better. The only significant difference was that the bedroom was on the second floor. Pakiramdam ko tuloy ay nasa cabin ko lang ako.
He led the way toward the strangely spacious living room. Besides the polished mahogany table in the middle, there were also ornamental wood carvings and peculiar weapons hanging on the wall. The kitchen, on the other hand, was quite empty.
“This looks similar to mine,” I remarked.
“Really? I didn’t notice.”
I raised my eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you unconsciously copied it?”
He shrugged in return. “Maybe. But this setup makes me comfortable.”
I sat on his pitch-black couch and realized that everything inside the cabin was either black or mahogany in color. There were also no lights and the only source of illumination was from the sunlight. He sat right across me as he removed his cloak. He gave me an intense stare and I had to avert it because it was making me restless.
“Uhh . . . so what were they doing here?” tanong ko habang nakatingin sa bandang bintana.
“They’re asking me to return to the base,” he said.
Bumalik ang tingin ko sa kanya. His face turned serious and it looked like he was contemplating about that. They had already reclaimed the headquarters from the previous heads and they were planning to rebuild everything from scratch. Haruka wanted him back since they had already controlled the situation.
“So, you’ll return there?” tanong ko.
He leaned against the couch and stayed silent for a few seconds. “I turned it down.”
I knew he had been wayfarer ever since he left my cabin and he didn’t want to be in the front line again but his answer still surprised me. We were talking about his longtime comrades and friends here.
“I can help them without any position,” he said. “Besides, I am already contented here.”
Muli akong napatitig sa kanya. I had not seen him for several years and he had changed so much that it was hard to believe he was the same guy from fifteen years ago. He still had that unwelcoming demeanor but he looked less reserved now. I wondered what happened to him?
“Curious, aren’t you?” he smirked. “You’re getting careless with your thoughts now.”
Halos mapanganga ako nang ma-realize kong nababasa niya ang isip ko. I had to close my mind tighter and wished he couldn’t read it anymore. Nakakainis. Kahit dito ay hindi safe mag-isip ng kung anu-ano.
He chuckled in return. Parang gusto ko na lang umuwi sa cabin ko. I wouldn’t last here.
“Do you want to know the answer?” dagdag niya.
I furrowed my brows. “Bakit, sasabihin mo ba?”
“Sure,” he replied.
Apparently, he lived among the humdrums after a year after he left my cabin. Because he couldn’t use the Black Dimension as Shinigamis were guardian them, he had to travel in the humdrums’ world. He had to “endure” their existence.
“But don’t you, Shinigamis, dislike them?”
“Yeah,” he responded. “But over the years, I kind of envied their normal lives.”
There was a hint of yearning and sadness in his eyes. I didn’t expect that someone like him would envy something from the humdrums. He said witnessing how they lived their lives made him realize the stark difference of the ideals and principles between the Erityians and humdrums. That being ignorant about and away from the world of constant bloodshed and hostility was a life he would want to live.
“So that’s why you won’t return there . . .”
He let out a sigh. “Another thing is that place reminds me of my failure.”
Parang lumubog ang puso ko nang maalala ko si Akemi. All of us had already accepted her death, but sometimes, thinking about her brings back the pain of the past. It would always be a reminder of our failure to save a friend from her demise.
Agad kong binago ang topic at nagtanong muli tungkol sa cabin dahil ayaw kong maging mabigat ang atmosphere.
“I got it from a humdrum geezer and modified it to my liking,” he explained.
“Nasaan na siya?”
“Dead,” he flatly said.
I gave him a confused look. Wait, don’t tell me--
“Don’t worry, I didn’t kill him,” he added as his lips curved upward. “He died of natural causes.”
Nagtanong ako tungkol sa second floor at puro kwarto pala ang nandoon. One was his room, the other one empty and the largest was his man cave. It turned out it was his workspace for Shinigami matters.
Pagpasok ko sa room ay bumungad ang isang malaking map na nakasabit sa pader. It was a layout of a huge building-like infrastructure.
“That’s the plan for the new base,” he said while following me from behind.
“Ikaw ang nagplano?”
“For the Black Dimension pathway,” he replied. “The Dungeon is an intricate passageway and that girl’s abilities have changed it so much that it requires the abilities of someone like me.”
Hindi ko akalaing may kakayahan din pala siya sa ganitong aspeto. I gave him a curious look and he raised his eyebrow in return. I thought he was all brawn.
“I smell some judgment,” he muttered.
Besides the huge map, there were also more collection of unique and antique weapons on the other side. There were several that caught my attention and I secretly wanted to have them.
Tumingin ako sa kanya. “Mukhang nahilig ka na rin sa pag-collect ng weapons.”
He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. “And whose fault do you think is it?”
I scoffed in return. “Sinisi mo pa ako. Manggagaya ka lang talaga.”
Pagkatapos no’n ay pumunta kami sa kabilang room—his room. It was as simple as it could get. Kama lang ang nandoon at isang closet. But it got the nicest view. Beyond the windows was the view of the vast ocean from the hilltop.
“Whoa, ang ganda rito,” I blurted out as I stood by the window.
Since Tantei High is in the middle of the forest and the city was inland, I had only gotten a chance to see the ocean whenever there were missions outside. I kind of envied the location of his cabin. This was the best place to live.
“Pwede bang palit tayo ng cabin?” biro ko. Bigla namang naging seryoso ang mukha niya kaya natawa ako nang bahagya. “Joke lang—”
“I don’t mind you living here,” he suddenly said.
Natahimik ako ng ilang segundo at saka lang nag-sink in sa akin ang sinabi niya. Halos maubo ako matapos iyon at agad na iniwas ang tingin sa kanya.
What the heck?! How could he say those words with a nonchalant expression?! At seryoso ba siya?! Anong pinagsasabi niya?!
I tried to remain calm as possible. “Ha-ha. Pinagsasabi mo?”
“What? We were practically living together when you took care of me—”
“Okay, stop!” I yelled, completely flustered.
I wasn’t the type to get rattled easily but he was making it hard for me to be composed! He was just saying anything he wanted without even getting embarrassed.
Huminga ako nang malalim at muling tumingin sa kanya. “I-I h-have work . . .”
Hindi ko alam kung bakit iyon ang idinahilan ko. My mind wasn’t working right now. My insides were churning. Gusto ko na lang tumakbo palayo dahil hindi ko na kinakaya ang mga naririnig ko.
“That’s a shame,” he said as he steered me out of his room. “I do enjoy your company.”
Fortunately, he was behind me, holding my shoulders, as we got out of the room. My face was burning red and my heart was throbbing real fast, not because of excitement from a fight.
His words echoed in my head as we walked toward the last room. Having a companion while growing old isn’t bad, I thought.
If it’s him, then maybe . . .
Gabi na nang ma-realize kong kailangan ko na palang umalis. I cursed myself for not paying attention. I was so engrossed with trying out the weapons he had that I didn’t notice the time. Wala nang available transportation mula rito papunta sa airport kaya mukhang kailangan kong maglakad. I wonder how long it would take for me to reach my destination.
“You can sleep here tonight,” sabi niya nang mapansin niyang nag-aalangan akong umalis.
I was tempted to accept his offer. Pwedeng madaling-araw na lang ako umalis. My body was exhausted after fighting with the Shinigamis and finding this place for almost a day without having any sleep.
I turned my head to his direction. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll leave tomorrow morning.”
“Then I’ll prepare the room.”
Pinanood ko lang siyang umakyat sa hagdan. It took me several seconds before deciding to tell him what I wanted to say earlier.
‘I enjoy your company, too,’ I said using my inner voice.
He stopped walking halfway and I heard him chuckling inside my head. ‘I know.’
That night, I stayed in his cabin, and strangely, it felt like sleeping in my own home.
I instinctively summoned my dagger upon opening my eyes.
Halos mapasigaw ako nang may makita akong mukha sa harapan ko. If it weren't for his exceptional reflexes, he would have received a fatal blow. Paano ba naman kasi ay nakaupo lang siya sa gilid at seryosong nakatingin sa akin.
"What the heck are you doing?"
"Ang tagal mong gumising," he complained.
Pagtingin ko, he was already putting his cloak. Napaupo naman ako.
"You're leaving?" tanong ko.
He turned his head to my direction. "Why? Want me to stay?" he taunted.
"No," I muttered as I rolled my eyes.
He chuckled as he readied his dagger. "That brat's persistent," he said. "I can feel his intent even from afar. I need to get away."
"Why don't you just tell him directly that you don't want to be part of the rebellion?"
"His parents are stubborn,” he added. “Do you think that brat won't be? And I didn’t say I don’t want to be a part of it." His face darkened and for a second, I could feel his killing intent. “I’d help them in the shadows. I just don’t want to become a pawn anymore.”
Bigla ko namang naalala si Akemi nang sabihin niya ‘yon. She lived her last years as a pawn of both tribes and only became free from everything when she died. And just a few months ago, her daughter almost suffered the same fate.
My train of thought dissipated when he started walking toward the door.
"I see,” I muttered. “Then, goodbye, I guess?"
"But there's a problem."
Iyon pala ay hindi siya makaalis sa cabin dahil activated na ulit ang detectors sa gubat. It seemed like last night, somehow, most of the markers and detectors around this area were turned off and that was how he got in easily.
Pagtingin ko ay madilim pa sa labas at pasikat pa lang ang araw. Still, I had to deactivate the markers so he could go away without causing any disturbance. I'm sure the staffs don't want any, too, especially during the holiday.
It took me a few minutes to finish everything. I had to double check just in case I skipped some detectors that might trigger an alarm. Nang matapos iyon ay agad siyang lumabas.
“May I visit her?” tanong niya.
Tumango naman ako. The only place without any detectors was that part of the grassland. Hideo wanted her grave to be a safe place for everyone to visit, especially to his daughter.
His cloak fluttered as he walked silently toward that direction. Tahimik lang din akong nakasunod sa kanya. Nang makarating kami roon ay hinayaan ko siyang lumapit kay Akemi. I stayed behind a nearby tree and watched him as he stood quietly in front of her grave.
It took me a moment to realize someone else was around. Nagulat na lang ako nang lumabas si Rainie mula sa gubat. Our gazes met and we were surprised to see each other.
There was a hint of fear on her face. “M-Ma’am Michiko?”
“Rainie . . . what are you doing here?”
Her shoulders tensed. “Uhm, g-gusto ko lang po sanang dalawin si Mama.”
“At this hour?”
She must be anxious because she let her guard down. Now, her mind was just open for me to read her thoughts. It seemed like this was the first Christmas that she felt truly happy. Naomi would always get sad whenever the year is ending because of what had happened years ago and Rainie didn’t want to force her to celebrate the holiday and her birthday with at least a happy mindset.
She wanted to get closer to her mother, even after her death, and tell her stories. She wanted to spend more time with her through visiting her grave.
Bigla namang kumunot ang noo niya at napatingin sa direksyon kung nasaan si Kid. I panicked when he turned his head to our direction, but I knew this would happen sooner or later.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “He’s not an enemy.”
There was a confused look on her face but she didn’t ask any questions anymore. Naglakad naman siya patungo sa amin habang nakatitig pa rin si Rainie sa kanya. There were a few seconds of silence between them. I couldn’t read his thoughts nor his expression but it seemed like he was recalling memories from years ago as he stared at her.
He gave him a gentle smile and a pat on her head. “Live well, kid,” he said. “Even if it’s hard, live for a long time.” She was silent for several seconds until she asked him a question. “Are you . . . are you my mother’s friend?” Ilang sandal rin siyang natahimik pero muli siyang ngumiti. “I am.”
Rainie remained silent as she tried to process what was going on. Tumalikod naman si Kid at nagsimulang maglakad palayo. A smile escaped my lips as I recalled how he didn’t want to use that term before. Nagulat naman ako nang bigla kong narinig ang boses niya sa isip ko.
‘I’ll be going,’ he said. ‘If you miss me, you know where to find me.’
I scoffed at his remark. ‘Ha. Don’t worry, I won’t.’
He chuckled. ‘Liar.’ ‘But take better care of yourself. You’re not young anymore.’ ‘You, too.’ He opened the Black Dimension from a distance. ‘And see you soon.’
As soon as he stepped inside the Black Dimension, Rainie started asking questions but I just smiled at her and told her to keep everything that happened a secret. In exchange, I would train her in combat fighting. In the end, she agreed because she thought she was still behind when it comes to fighting techniques and she wanted to learn everything so she could protect her friends and her father.
The thought of her protecting Hideo was kind of funny because he was literally one of the strongest fighters here, but it was also cute. Sinundan ko na lang siya ng tingin habang naglalakad papunta kay Akemi.
Don’t worry, I thought while looking at her grave from a distance. Your daughter is living her life well. I hope you are at peace now . . . Rielle.
“Wow,” Naomi blurted out. “You’ve got a lot of weapons.”
Nandito kami ngayon sa sarili kong storage room sa armory. Naomi said she wanted to get back her senses in fighting. Of course, she wouldn’t give up her fan but I thought it would be better to have additional weapons.
I recommended emeici, a sharp metal rod used for stabbing, mounted on rings that could be worn on the fingers. Naomi always had the grace even when fighting so I thought this weapon would be the best option for her when it comes to short-range distance.
“Saan tayo?” tanong niya.
“Forest, of course.”
It had been almost a year since the war happened. She had a part-time job as a lecturer this semester and when I asked why she didn’t want to be a permanent professor, she said she still wanted time for missions.
“Maybe it’s because I have been inactive for more than a decade that my body is craving for some fights and thrills,” she snickered.
“Oh, I know what you mean.”
Simula noong naging professor ay mas dumalang ang missions para sa akin. Naiintindihan ko naman kung bakit pero madalas ay nami-miss ko pa ring lumabas at makipaglaban.
“And I kinda wanna live up to their expectations,” she mumbled.
She must be talking about the Jikko clan. She said they visited them few months ago because Nathan wanted to know more about Mitsuo. From what I had heard, the Jikko were one of the physically strongest clans among the Senshin tribe. Knowing Nathan’s capabilities, I’m sure he would be having a hard time since their combat techniques were inherently different than what he was taught of.
I chuckled upon imagining him lose. “He must be frustrated.”
“Yes,” she snickered. “Now that he’s slowly learning to express his emotions, mas nakikita ko na si Vince sa kanya.”
“Lalo na kapag galit, ano?”
She laughed. “Right.”
Napag-usapan din namin si Sir Kyo at Kiyoko. He had been the de-facto leader since Sir Ise died while Kiyoko became his adviser. Sometimes, she would visit Dr. Miwako and spend some time here, but away from the eyes of everyone.
“Kiyoko said Darwin visited the island last time.”
“Huh? That kid? Bakit?” tanong ko. “And they allowed him to enter the island?”
“Not sure about the details but she said he’s looking for someone.”
I almost flinched when I heard that. Don’t tell me he was still looking for him? Whoa. Kid was right. That guy was persistent.
“Thinking about him again?”
I knitted my eyebrows. “You should stop reading my mind, Naomi.”
She laughed heartily. “Can’t help it. Besides, it’s kind of fun and cute to see you flustered occasionally.”
Pagkatapos naming mag-training ay bumalik na rin kami sa kani-kaniya naming trabaho. Speaking of the devil, I wonder how he’s doing.
Everything was going well and Tantei High was at peace for a while until we received a bad news. It turned out those kids were in trouble. Rainie and Nathan met with young representatives from the other tribes and they secretly planned to find the current Shinigami stronghold.
Naomi sighed in distress. “Those two are as impulsive as Rielle and Vince.”
“Let’s go,” Hideo said while removing his suit and loosening his tie.
We boarded the jet plane developed by Hiroshi. It could take us faster to our destination.
Naomi and Hideo were both restless during the flight. They must be worried about their children. But I’m sure those two would survive. They learned to fight from me, after all.
When we arrived at Sapporo, Hokkaido, everything was already a mess. Cloaked figures littered below us. Halos kilabutan ako nang ma-realize ko ang nangyayari. Shinigamis fighting Shinigamis. They must have made their move.
Hideo opened the door as he swiftly made a cut on his finger. He summoned his broadsword and jumped off the plane.
Napailing na lang si Naomi. “Another reckless person.”
His presence was enough to momentarily stop every fight that was happening. But I’m sure he had more than enough reason to radiate such strong pressure and killing intent. This was the place where Rielle suffered after all.
“Michiko,” he called in an authorative tone.
I jumped off the plane, too, while summoning four swords at once. And just as I landed, I slashed all of them at the same direction—toward that majestic, palace-like building towering everyone.
The building was cleanly cut in halves and countless bodies inside different kinds of chambers were immediately revealed. I winced upon hearing Hideo’s thoughts and rage.
“Hideo,” Naomi called in a controlled manner. “Calm down.”
He drew a shaky breath as he stared at the ruins. “I should have done this years ago.”
There was a suffocating silence between them. Naomi sighed and a faint smile escaped her lips.
“Go all out,” she said. “Erase this place where she had suffered a lot.”
And in that instant, I saw the same Hideo from the first war—someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. A monster.
The battle ended up with a lot of casualties. Elites and Reapers alike weren’t spared. There where several who managed to escape but Haruka and Daiki subdued those who were currently in charge.
I instinctively looked for him, even though I knew he would show up. After all, he said he didn’t want to associate himself with matters like this anymore.
Rainie and Nathan also received an earful from both Hideo and Naomi. Pinauna na rin nila ang mga ito pabalik sa Tantei High. Hideo wanted to talk to both Haruka and Daiki and Naomi chose to stay with him as she was the only one who had already talked to them before.
Nagpaalam naman ako sa kanila at sinabing may pupuntahan ako. Despite not saying anything, they already had a gist about what I wanted to do.
“Just be careful,” he reminded. “And return home.”
“Good luck,” she teased.
I recalled the coordinates he had given me before. 43.3301° N, 145.5828° E. That was the coordinates of Nemuro in Hokkaido. It’s the easternmost region in Hokkaido and it faces the Pacific Ocean. Since I wasn’t familiar with this region, I got lost for hours. Hanggang sa inabot na ako ng kinabukasan.
It took me a while to find where he could be. In one of the hilltops of the peninsula stood a lone cabin, which was a lot bigger than mine. I carefully walked toward that direction but I instinctively summoned my dagger when I felt a dangerous presence.
The next thing I knew, my dagger was already clashing against a sword held by a woman. Everything happened so fast that I was moving through reflex until we finally saw each other’s faces because someone appeared between us.
“Haruka, stop,” he ordered and I couldn’t believe she was here. Sa huling pagkakaalala ko ay nandoon pa siya sa Shinigami base kahapon.
She scowled at me as Daiki, her husband, appeared beside her. Meanwhile, Kid put her hand on my head.
“This one’s my visitor,” he announced, earning a confused look from the two.
Daiki lowered Haruka’s weapon and tried to calm her down. I wondered what they were doing here. Mukhang seryoso ang naging usapan nila.
“Let it go, Dana,” he calmly said. Tumingin siya kay Kid at tumango. “We’ll go ahead.” A second later, his gaze landed on me. He let out a polite smile. “Take care of this one heck of a headache for us.”
“Piss off, Keith,” he retorted.
Hinatak nito si Haruka palayo. “Why do they keep on associating themselves to their kind?” she muttered. “I can’t believe he’s following her footsteps. What if—”
He chuckled at her grumbling. “Calm down.”
Hindi ko na narinig ang sumunod nilang usapan dahil pareho silang nagbukas ng Black Dimension. They disappeared before everything that happened sink in.
His hand was still on my head and I was about to knock it off when he suddenly grinned.
“So . . . you’re here,” he said.
I got flustered as I didn’t know what to respond. “I-I shouldn’t have—”
“Liar,” he retorted. “Come on.”
Before I could protest, he was already pulling me toward his own cabin.
My eyes fluttered open and I just stared at the ceiling for a few seconds. That was the best sleep I had for a long time.
Bigla ko namang naalala ang mga nangyari at napabalikwas ako ng bangon. I scanned the cabin but he was nowhere to be found. Napahawak ako bigla sa ulo ko. Was everything just a dream?
I sighed in dismay but immediately winced when I felt a sharp pain in my chest. Napanganga ako sa nakita ko. The wounds I received from the war were wrapped in bandages by someone who seemed to be so bad at doing it.
Narinig ko ang boses ni Naomi mula sa labas kaya agad akong tumayo. Moving my limbs were painful but it was bearable. Pinagbuksan ko siya ng pinto at bumungad ang mukha niya sa akin.
“So you really live here,” she remarked as she stepped inside.
“Yeah,” I said. “I feel more comfortable here.”
Inilibot niya ang tingin sa cabin hanggang sa nagtapos ito sa akin. The effect of losing her husband and being away from her son for fifteen years was visible on her face. But her eyes looked more alive than the first time I saw her after a long time.
“You need to have your injuries checked,” she said as she sat on the chair beside my bed.
“Hindi naman malala ang mga nakuha ko,” I replied.
“But you fought with Sarah, right?” She looked at me with a stern expression. “There are a few who got motor problems after exchanging blows with her. The needles she used not only have toxins but also cause problems to the nervous system.”
“Ang dami nang tao sa Medical—”
“Erika,” she called, cutting me off. There was a hint of worry and fear on her face. “Please.”
We had never called each other by our real names since we had been given our alternative names. But these past few days, both Hideo and Naomi seemed to get more comfortable using them. Maybe because we hadn’t seen each other for a very long time. And we were scared to lose everyone again. Pakiramdam ko tuloy ay bumalik kami sa pagkabata.
I sighed in defeat. “Alright. Pupunta ako mamaya kay Yuuki.”
A smile escaped her lips. “Good.” Napatingin naman siya sa katawan ko at agad na kumunot ang noo niya. “Did you dress your own wounds?” she asked. “That’s kinda sloppy.”
I forced a laugh and immediately closed my mind. “Well, I was already exhausted last night so . . .”
Bigla naman siyang tumitig sa akin. It was the kind of stare that you wouldn’t want to see from her. The kind that could make you feel naked, because you knew she could read your mind despite desperately hiding your thoughts from her.
She drew a breath. “I know what’s going on,” she muttered.
“Ever since Hideo gave me that mission, I kept on seeing that guy in your thoughts.”
Wow. Hindi ko na-miss ang pagiging straightforward ni Naomi. I was so flustered that it felt like the wall around my thoughts were slowly crumbling.
She let out a teasing smile. “So the mighty Michiko finally likes someone now, huh?”
“Huh?! Anong sinasabi—”
“Tell me about him.”
Hindi ko alam kung paano nangyari pero nakumbinsi niya akong ikwento sa kanya ang mga nangyari. Damn it, sometimes, I really hate how persuasive she can get.
I left out some details and just told her how I saved him when he showed up in the forest after Akemi died. Ikinuwento ko rin kung paano ako nakaligtas noong binalak nilang patayin ang natitirang members ng Atama family.
Her expression darkened after hearing that. She felt bad for not knowing the death of Akira and Mayu. I’m sure she knew how hard it was because she’s also a mother. Imagining how we could have also lost her if the Shinigamis knew she was alive sent shivers all over my body.
“Then he must be the one who handed them the copy of the keys to Haruka,” she muttered.
“Hmm?” Was she talking about her mission?
“I told you that I only knocked out the guards, right?” Tumango naman ako. “But they already have the keys ready when I was about to steal them from the guards. Though I didn’t see him there.”
Pagkatapos no’n ay nagpaalam na siya para pumunta kay Hideo. They had a lot of things to do and talk about. Habang nagbibihis para pumunta sa Medical department ay sumagi siya sa isip ko.
I wonder where he is right now.
Right then, my gaze shifted to the bed and noticed something beside my dagger. It was a new weapon and a small note.
“The heck is this?” bulong ko sa sarili ko.
Agad ko iyong inilagay sa bulsa ko at tuluyang lumabas mula sa cabin. I just hope I would have some time for myself after this. I wanted to rest for a while.
It turned out we would be very busy for the next few weeks.
There were a lot going on in the campus that we hardly slept for more than three hours. After the burial and memorial for those who died during the war, the damages in the campus had to be repaired immediately. The Technolody Department also enhanced the defense of our borders. Ngayon ay mas malabo nang hindi ma-detect ang sinumang Shinigami na mapadpad sa Latens forest. In addition, we had to prepare for the trials of the Shinigamis that survived during the war.
“Dr. Miwako,” I greeted.
She had aged a lot after retiring as head of the Medical department. Naging adviser na lang siya ng ilang doctors at instructors. She had been working behind the scenes five years after the first war.
“She’s going to escort the prisoners, right?”
Her face lit up. “Yes. She’ll be here in a minute.”
When she learned that her daughter was still alive, I realized how mothers would still see their children as kids despite how they had already grown old. Well, in Kiyoko’s case, she still looked like a teenager despite being in her 30s already.
I heard she’s living in Shima now with Sir Kyo. Nagulat ako nang malaman kong kasama pala sa Jikko clan si Sir Kyo. Now I know why Mitsuo gave off the same vibe as him when I first saw him.
Pagkatapos kong ibigay sa kanya ang details ng Shinigamis ay umalis na rin ako dahil ayaw kong makaistorbo sa kanila. I wanted to talk to Hideo and Naomi but they seemed busy with their respective family so I just went back to my cabin.
Times like this, I suddenly realize that we’re already getting old. My friends and classmates were already building their families and our teachers had already stopped working. I admit, sometimes I envy them, but I had already accepted my fate. Besides, I don’t think I am capable of being a parent.
I am okay with this. As long as the people I want to protect are okay, I am happy.
Hindi ko na namalayan ang panahon sa sobrang daming ginagawa lalo na sa administrative stuff. I just realized it was already Christmas Eve when Naomi visited me and told me that we would be having a campfire in the campus.
Muli siyang naupo sa kama at napatitig sa pader. I gasped when I realized his last note was stuck on the wall.
“Hmm, is that from him?” tanong niya matapos kong tanggalin iyon.
“Uhh . . . uhmm . . . huh . . .”
She chuckled. “So that’s where he is.”
I gave her a confused look. “Huh?”
“You didn’t know?” she raised an eyebrow. “That’s a coordinate.”
Muli akong napatingin sa papel na hawak ko. I thought it was an encoded message.
“Anyway,” sabay tayo niya, “see you later. And please, dress nicely.”
A smile escaped her lips. “Because it’s Christmas.”
*** The campus was already crowded because of the gigantic bonfire in the middle. The holographic snow and modified temperature made everyone enjoy their winter clothes.
Everyone was in a festive mood. Students were singing and dancing. Adults were already drinking. Some were exchanging and giving gifts to each other. Nakakatuwang makita ang mga ngiti sa mukha nila matapos malagpasan ang mga nangyari noong nakaraan.
Natawa naman ako nang nagsimulang magkwento si Naomi kay Rainie tungkol kay Mitsuo nang makita nilang napapalibutan na ng mga babae si Hiro. She asked about her mother, too, and just when we were about to tell her how Hideo would follow her in the forest, the devil showed up.
“What lies are you telling her, Nathalie?” bungad niya.
“Just truths,” Naomi retorted. “I’m sure Rielle would agree.”
It had been a while since we talked about our childhood and teenage years. Ang gaan sa pakiramdam na kaya na namin silang pag-usapan nang hindi nagb-breakdown. We wanted them to be remembered by their happy memories with us.
Nagpaalam ako na babalik na sa cabin bandang hatinggabi dahil medyo inaantok na ako. I hadn’t had a decent sleep for the past three days.
“Merry Christmas,” bati ni Naomi habang nakangiti.
“Merry Christmas din,” I returned to both Naomi and Hideo.
I was about to open the door to my cabin when I felt a faint presence around. Don’t tell me . . . Pagbukas ko ng pinto ay naabutan ko siyang paupo sa kama ko. He turned his head to my direction and had the nerve to raise his eyebrow at me.
“Bakit ka nandito?” tanong ko habang palapit sa kanya. “You do know that it’s more dangerous now that they have raised the defense sys—"
“Let me just sleep here tonight,” he said while removing the hood of his cloak from his head.
Wow. Akala niya ba ay hotel ‘to na pwede niyang puntahan kung kalian niya lang gusto?! And why would he even sleep here?!
I was ready to tell him off but I noticed the scratches on his face as well as his arms. Napatigil ako sa harapan niya. What the heck did he do this time?
“What?” he asked while looking at me and a smirk suddenly appeared. “Don’t tell me you miss me, Senshin?”
I scoffed at him in disbelief. “Asa ka.”
“Then why are you staring at me like that?”
I ignored his question. “What happened?”
I thought he wouldn’t tell me anything but he started narrating his story. Naomi was right. He was the one who helped his comrades. However, he had to move quietly because he might get caught. He couldn’t also use the Black Dimension as guards had been coming in and out of it.
Apparently, Haruka and Daiki didn’t show themselves during the war because they were preparing for something bigger—they wanted to usurp the throne from the current Shinigami leaders. According to him, Subaro and Riko had to take over the leadership again after Rin died. With the death of Rielle and Rin, they do not have any remaining heir, which meant it would either be someone from the branch family or someone from the next ruling class—the Elites.
“They are already old so the struggle for power is already inevitable,” he added.
“And? Why aren’t you with them? You’re an Elite, too, right?”
He was silent for a minute. I tried reading his expression and mind but I didn’t get anything. He rested his head on the headboard and stared vacantly at the ceiling.
“I can’t face them,” he muttered.
“I failed them when I said I would protect her,” he continued and I realized he was talking about Akemi. “Do you know what happens to Shinigamis who failed their missions?” I shook my head. “They get imprisoned and tortured. Sometimes, killed.”
The scars on his body when I was taking care of me flashed in my mind. Did he fail some missions, too? Now, I kind of understand why most Shinigamis would rather die than return unsuccessful with their missions.
“And living without any orders to follow was something I didn’t know I would enjoy,” he added. “Besides . . .”
“So, you’re going to give up your status?”
He let out a bitter smile. “They have already stripped me off my status that day. Now, they wanted me to return.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
Doon ko nalaman kung bakit siya nandito. Someone named Izumi saw him and tried persuading him to lend them his strength. It seemed like among the Elites, he was still being considered as one of the most powerful. His own comrades, Haruka and Daiki, also wanted him to join their faction but just like what he said, he couldn’t face them anymore.
“That brat keep on following my movements and it’s already getting annoying,” bulong niya.
“Their son,” he explained. “I heard he was here when the war happened.”
“Ah. That Darwin?”
“Tsk. Hope he gives up now.”
Hindi ko alam kung bakit ako natawa nang makita ko ang expression niya. Apparently, Darwin had been tracking his movements after learning about him from his parents. However, he couldn’t even get close because this guy was too ahead of him. Imagining him getting followed by a teenager was such a funny thing to think about.
“Pero hindi ba siya—”
Paglingon ko ay nakapikit na siya. Napabuntong-hininga na lang ako habang nakatingin sa kanya. He looked a lot calmer and nicer when he’s asleep. Ang layo sa totoong ugali niya. Still, it was nice to see him again. I thought I would have to look for him to see him.
“Merry Christmas,” I mumbled. “Sleep well.”
And for the first time, I wasn’t alone during Christmas.
Sa tuwing makikita ko si Rainie ay hindi ko maiwasang hindi maalala si Akemi. Now, she uses the same alternative name, too.
It was hard because we weren’t allowed to tell her the truth. The Council said that she should prove herself first. Besides, she needed to get acclimatized to this new environment, too. Lalo lang siyang mahihirapan kung malalaman niya agad ang nangyari sa parents niya at kung sino talaga siya.
Hideo could only watch from afar, but he was contented. At least, his nightmares finally stopped. Tuwing makikita niya si Rainie ay parang nabubuhayan siya ng loob. Sapat na sa kanya na matanaw siya mula sa malayo. He said he might get overwhelmed if he started talking to her.
But that kind of comfort was short-lived. The Shinigamis started moving again after learning her existence. She had her mother’s blood running in her veins and they would surely use her against us.
At iyon na nga ang nangyari.
Hideo and Rin had been monitoring each other’s movements for years. The tension between both tribes reached the point where another war was already inevitable. Rainie’s disappearance was the trigger.
We were in the middle of a meeting when Hayate dashed in his office with a look of horror on his face.
“Anong nangyari?” tanong ko.
“Rainie . . .” The mention of her name made Hideo’s presence stronger. “S-she was taken by some Reapers.”
Nang ikinuwento niya ang nangyari ay parang bumalik ulit lahat ng masasakit na alaalang gusto ko nang kalimutan. He said the Shinigamis who killed Akira baited her daughter to run to the forest and Akemi followed her. I remembered how Akane saw her Mom getting killed and hearing their voices must have triggered those traumatic memories.
Kaido and Ichiro, I thought. Those were two of the names he had given to me the last time I saw him.
When Hideo heard that, Hayate almost lost his consciousness because of his suffocating aura. Maging ako ay napahawak sa dagger ko. He was giving off an immense killing intent that made me want to protect myself from.
“Michiko,” he called in a controlled tone. “Gather everyone.”
His eyes were burning with rage. “A council of war,” he replied.
“Hideo . . .”
“We have already lost everyone, Michiko,” he said and my heart sank upon hearing that. “I can’t bear losing her, too.”
Pagkasabi niya no’n ay agad akong napatayo. He was right. This time, it would be different. We had to protect the people who they sacrificed their lives for. That way, their deaths wouldn’t be for nothing.
Nang makabalik si Rainie sa hallway ay nakahinga rin nang maluwag si Hideo. He was ready to risk everything to save her but thank goodness Demi was with her. Kinailangan pa naming pigilan si Hideo para lang hindi siya sumugod mag-isa pero naiintindihan ko siya. He just got reunited with his daughter and the Shinigamis were already using her as a pawn.
It took us days to reach the Huntres and Custos tribes’ leaders. Fortunately, Reina and her team had already made contact with the allies of the current leader of the Huntres tribe before. They agreed to help us since Hideo had been trying to get the three tribes into an alliance for years. Maybe because he knew this time would come and we needed their help.
I contacted Naomi, too, and asked about the situation of the Shinigami rebels. She said she just needed the keys to free them but the jailers seemed to change every now and then.
“So . . . only Haruka and Daiki were there?” tanong ko.
“Yeah. Hindi ba may isa pang Elite si Akemi? Did he die that night?”
I was silent for a few seconds. “I don’t know . . . maybe . . .”
If he was also looking for them, then he might be there, too. But Naomi didn’t even encounter him. I was hoping they would cross paths, and maybe help each other but that wouldn’t happen because those two were too prideful.
Napabuntong-hininga na lang ako. “Okay. Just tell me if you’re ready,” I added. “We need you here.”
“Yeah.” There was a hint of pain in her voice. “This time, I won’t run away.”
Naomi returned two days after but we didn’t have the time to go into details because an explosion signaled the start of the war. She just said they already had copies of the keys before she could hand the real ones after subduing the guards on duty.
Parang bumalik naman ako sa panahong iyon. The chaos, the cries of the students, the sound of weapons clashing and more explosions in the place we call home. The terror that I felt after losing Akemi and Mitsuo crept into my heart but seeing Hideo and Naomi around gave me the willpower to fight again.
Years of anguish and pent-up fury got unleashed in the battlefield. Green eyes resenting each other. All driven by revenge and hatred.
I let Naomi and Hideo face Rin because of their personal reasons while I fought against Sarah, the little girl who was once an apprentice of Akemi. But all she wanted to do was hurt Rainie and take her away from here.
‘Don’t worry about them,’ I said as I exchanged blows with Shinigamis along the way. ‘I’ll protect them, so finish the fight you couldn’t fifteen years ago.’
Hideo and Naomi were both distracted by Rainie and Nathan. Sa tagal nilang hindi nakasama at nakita ang mga anak nila ay alam kong mas gusto nilang makita silang ligtas kaysa lumaban.
But Rin had improved so much. Idagdag pa na nakuha niya rin ang sixth sense ni Akemi. I didn’t know how that worked but I remembered Akemi having only one eye when she returned to us. It was hard to land an attack on her because she could attract and repel anything that she sees . . .
. . . not until Rainie and Hideo combined their attacks. Arrows flew toward Rin’s chest and impaled her. Hideo gave him the fatal blow using Akemi’s cards. But that came with a cost.
“Demi!” sigaw ni Rainie habang hawak ang duguang katawan ni Demi.
Hideo’s memories of how they first found Demi flashed in my head. She was their cat. She was there when Akemi needed help. She was there when Rainie needed to return here. Now, she would be there on the other side together with her owner.
The war ended with Rin’s death.
Halos manubig naman ang mga mata ko nang makita ko sina Hideo at Naomi habang kausap sina Rainie at Nathan. Their bodies were covered with cuts and blood but those were the happiest expressions I had seen on them for the past fifteen years.
Yuuki and I led the retrieval of both Senshins and Shinigamis’ bodies in the forest. It took us hours to gather everyone and my heart sank upon seeing some familiar faces. I know that not everyone would survive in a war but it still hurts.
“You need to go to the Medical department, too,” Yuuki noted while glancing at my wounds.
I gave her a faint smile. “I’m okay. Itutulog ko na lang ‘to.”
She glared at me. “Michiko—”
“Mas maraming may kailangan ng rooms ngayon,” I reasoned. “Besides, you know that I can dress my wounds like an expert now.”
Hindi na siya nakipagtalo pa at agad na tumakbo nang tinawag siya ni Dr. Miwako. The day was already breaking when we finished our tasks. I was so tired that I was already half-dragging my body back to my cabin.
Kahit nanalo kami ay mabigat pa rin ang loob ko. Marami ang namatay at ilan ay mga estudyante at co-teachers ko. Ang hirap tanggapin na hindi ko na sila makikita kinabukasan. In addition, I was expecting to see the Shinigamis that Naomi freed, hoping that there would be a little chance he’d be with them. But they didn’t show up.
I unlocked the door and had to stop for a while because my vision was already starting to get blurry. Damn it. Dapat ba ay tumuloy na lang talaga ako sa Medical department?
“No,” I muttered. “I’m not dying anyway.”
I froze upon hearing his voice. Agad kong nilibot ang paningin ko at kahit madilim sa loob ay nakita ko siyang nakaupo sa kama ko. I had to rub my eyes to see if I was just seeing things but I suddenly got dizzy. Pagdilat ko ay wala na siya roon.
“Wow,” I scoffed. “Now I’m hallucinating.”
Maglalakad na sana ako papunta sa kama ko nang biglang may humawak sa balikat ko. I instinctively drew my dagger as I turned around but I halted when his face came into my view.
“You haven’t changed,” he remarked as blood trickled down his palm after intercepting the momentum of the dagger with his bare hand.
“You . . .” My voice faltered, still in disbelief that he was here and that this wasn’t a hallucination. “W-why are you . . . you’re not dead . . .”
“Why would I?” he returned. “You said I shouldn’t.”
Before I could throw a retort, everything around me spun and the last thing I saw was him catching me before my body hit the floor.