I stared vacantly at the clouds; my head filled with so many thoughts that I couldn’t process any at all. My chest felt heavy and hollow at the same time. I wanted to get back as soon as possible but it would still take us at most 10 hours.
I sighed in frustration just as my gaze landed on my bloody hands and I remembered how I almost died a while ago. They almost succeeded with their plan.
“The daughter of that damned Aiwa is dead.”
Huminga ako nang malalim habang pinipigilang mamuo ang luha sa mga mata ko. I wouldn’t believe any word that they said until I confirmed them with my own eyes. No . . . I just don’t want to believe them.
Napatingin ako sa direksyon niya. He had already removed the hood from his head and the cloth covering his face. It had been five years since I last saw him and he looked healthier. He still had the same cold and wrathful eyes but he seemed . . . less ferocious.
“How did you find me?” I asked, trying to distract myself from my devastating thoughts.
“I was carefully following some Elites’ movements for a while now,” he replied. “Trying to get some information about . . .” he paused and heaved a sigh, “about Rielle’s other Elites.”
There was a hint of sadness in his eyes but I’m sure he wouldn’t acknowledge it. They don’t even like calling each other friends, but I know he deeply cares about them, just how he feels about Rielle. Losing a comrade that’s like a brother or a sister to you is something I can understand. And now . . . that might be the case again.
No, I scolded myself. Hindi mo pa sigurado ang nangyari. Believe in them.
“Then I learned about Rin’s plan three days ago,” he continued and he glanced at my direction. “She wants him to suffer by taking all of your lives.”
Para namang muli akong sinaksak nang marinig ko iyon. I remembered the rage in her eyes when she showed herself in front of me.
“Hideo had suffered enough,” I mumbled. “Why can’t she just stop? Everything was already going well . . .”
“Rielle was her everything,” he said.
I scoffed at his remark. “Everything? Nakita ko kung paano niya muntik patayin si Akemi noong tumakas siya. Nakita ko kung paano niya pinanood lang na mamatay ang kapatid niya.”
“I knew Rin since she was a kid,” he replied. “Her life revolved around Rielle. She admired her but she was also always being compared to her. For that kid, Rielle had become her goal.”
He paused and had a wistful look on his face. He must have remembered the times Akemi was still alive . . . because I just did.
“She wanted to be her and at the same time, hated her. When she came back, she was like another person.” He looked briefly at me, as if hinting it was our fault. “The sister she once admired became a disappointment, both to her and their parents . . . and to her people.”
Naalala ko kung paano itinuring na taksil ng mga Shinigami si Akemi noong makarating siya noon sa gubat. I remembered how lonely she was when she had finally opened her mind to us.
“She must have wanted to kill everyone who ‘stole’ and ‘changed’ her sister,” he added.
“I felt that way before, too,” he suddenly said. “I wanted to kill the people who made her that way.”
There was a suffocating silence that followed. Hindi rin ako nakapagsalita. Ngayon ko lang na-realize na hindi kami ang unang naging pamilya ni Akemi. At napaisip ako na paano kung ako ang nasa kalagayan nila? Would I feel the same way, too? Would I resent the people who spent happy moments with her, too?
“Did Rin . . .” My voice faltered and I had to choke back the lump forming in my throat. “Did she succeed with . . .”
“I don’t know,” he replied, “but it would be easy for her as your other comrades have weaknesses she could use to her advantage—”
“Okay, enough . . . just . . . just stop talking.”
Muli akong napahinga nang malalim at pinilit na kalmahin ang sarili ko kahit na sa loob ko ay alam ko na ang maaabutan ko. However, there was still a little hope, and I would hold on to that. I wouldn’t cry yet. I wouldn’t mourn for them yet. I have to believe that they are still alive . . . or else . . . I can’t bear living anymore.
When we landed at the airport, I immediately instructed our people there. They saw the dead bodies inside the aircraft but they didn’t seem surprised. Halos abala rin sila sa communications control. One of the staff gave me the key to the car but she held my arm before I could walk away.
“The President will arrive in an hour,” she said, her voice trembling. “Please . . . hold on until he arrives.”
Hindi na ako nagtanong pa at dumiretso sa kotse. Kid disappeared from my sight but I had no time to see if he was still around. I stepped on the gas, hoping that I was still not late.
Halos patakbo na akong lumabas sa kotse at agad na dumiretso sa gubat. My body ached so bad but my adrenaline was keeping me from fainting.
Makita ko lang sila, okay lang na hindi ako makagalaw ng ilang araw o buwan. Please . . . just let me see them safe.
Napatigil ako sa pagtakbo nang may maramdaman akong kakaiba. I could feel some sinister presence nearby. I was still outside the boundaries of the Black Dimension detector and that meant there must be Shinigamis around.
Halos sumakit ang dibdib ko sa sobrang lakas ng tibok ng puso ko. I tried following the presence and my blood ran cold when I saw Akira being held by two Shinigamis. Her head was bleeding and there were cuts on her body. She was already on the verge of death, yet a rope was tied around her neck and the two were planning to push her from the bough they were all standing on.
I was about to yell her name and lunged at them when she suddenly used her inner voice.
‘M-Michiko . . .’ she sobbed. ‘No . . . don’t show yourself . . . please . . . Vivien . . . my daughter is coming . . . please . . . save her . . . d-don’t let her . . . see this . . . please . . .’
Gusto kong sabihin na ililigtas ko siya pero nang makita ko si Vivien mula sa hindi kalayuan ay parang lumubog ang puso ko. The Shinigamis would surely target her once they see her here . . . and I could only save one in this state.
I swiftly ran toward her direction and carried her away from where they were but my legs were already giving up on me.
‘Don’t come here . . . Vivien . . . please . . .’ Akira repeatedly mumbled and that broke my heart into pieces. ‘I’m . . . sorry . . . I’m sorry . . . Michiko . . . please t-take care of her . . .’
I looked at their direction stared in horror as one of the Shinigamis pushed her. I wanted to run to her but she looked at us with a smile on her face, chanting that we should run away, and I stifled a sob when her face turned pale.
“Mommy—" Vivien cried and I had to cover her mouth.
Napatakbo ako papunta sa likod ng isang puno habang nakayakap nang mahigpit kay Vivien. I didn’t have the time to cry. I had to save her . . . but my legs felt like lead.
“Shh . . .” alo ko. “Your mommy is alright,” I said as I choked back my tears. “Okay? Don’t worry. Mommy will be alright.”
She looked at me with a heartbreaking expression and that made me feel worse. I was about to hit her pressure point when I felt a presence behind us.
Halos gumulong ako para lang maiwasan ang sandata niya. I groaned in pain as I landed on my back. Pinilit kong tumayo para protektahan si Vivien pero pare-pareho kaming napatigil nang may maramdaman kaming kakaiba.
It was an overwhelming pressure that almost suffocated me. Above us was an aircraft and someone just jumped from it.
It was Hideo.
The Shinigamis didn’t even think twice and immediately opened the Black Dimension to escape before he could attack. My gaze met his and for the first time in a while, I felt vulnerable and weak. Seeing him was such a huge reassurance yet I also felt guilty.
He was covered in wounds, too, and his suit was bloody, but it wasn’t the body that hurt the most. His expression immediately changed. He looked terrified.
Agad siyang tumakbo sa direskyon ni Akira at mabilis niya itong ibinaba. He laid her gently on the ground and he tried resuscitating her by pumping her chest.
“No, no, no. Come one, Akira, please . . .” he mumbled. “This isn’t the time to joke around . . . come on, open your eyes. Please . . . your daughter is here . . . don’t do this . . . please . . .”
Some of his staff ran toward our direction but immediately halted when they saw what was going on. Tumingin ako sa isa sa kanila at maingat kong inabot si Vivien na nawalan na ng malay.
“Please . . . leave us alone first . . .”
They immediately understood and went back. Hanggang dito ay naririnig ko ang commotion sa campus pero parang unti-unti rin iyong nawala habang nakatingin ako sa kanilang dalawa. He continued resuscitating her and it was hard to watch.
‘Hideo,’ I softly called. ‘Stop it.’ ‘No,’ he replied, shaking his head. ‘Just a little more . . . just a little more and she’s—’
I was in denial with Mayu’s death, too, while traveling back here. Gusto kong maniwalang buhay pa siya. Gusto kong maniwala na maaabutan ko pa siya. But seeing Akira’s death in front of my eyes killed all the hope that was left in me.
‘She’s not coming back anymore,’ I said. ‘She will!’ he snapped as silent tears fell from his eyes. ‘She has to . . .’
Despite the excruciating pain, I walked away, blood trickling down my back and legs. The tears that were threatening to come out seemed to have dried up. I just felt . . . hollow. As if someone just carved my heart out of my chest. No. Not hollow. There were just so many emotions that I couldn’t process everything anymore.
I summoned my sword, rage coursing through my blood. Now that I don’t have the people I wanted to protect the most, I wouldn’t run away anymore. I wouldn’t forgive them. I’d make them pay.
Naglakad ako palayo sa gubat pero napahinto ako nang naramdaman ko ang paghawak ni Hideo sa braso ko.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m . . . I’m going to make them pay for what they did,” mahina kong sabi.
He looked at me with painful expression. “Michiko . . .”
“Let me go.”
I pulled my arm from his grasp but he suddenly knelt and clung to my waist. He broke into sobs as his body trembled.
“No,” he whimpered. “Just stay here . . . please . . . don’t go . . .”
“Hideo . . .”
“I . . .” His hug got tighter. “I can’t lose you, too . . .” he sobbed.
For the second time, Hideo crumbled, but this time, he didn’t even try to hide it. Fear. Hopelessness. Despair. This time, we were on the losing end again.