I wasn’t sure when or how I fell asleep, but I woke up feeling dazed. I stared vacantly at the ceiling as I tried to think about what happened yesterday and instantly regretted it.
Akala ko, masamang panaginip lang ang lahat, pero nang makita ko ang mga sugat sa kamay ko ay agad na nanubig ang mga mata ko.
“Mayu . . . Akira . . .”
Everything was slowly sinking in and I was drowning in my own memories with them. Hindi ko pa rin matanggap na wala na sila. Hindi ko kayang tanggapin na sa pagtapak ko sa campus ay hindi ko na sila makikita pa.
I let the good memories with them overwhelmed me as silent tears trailed to my temples. At least, I wanted to think of them when they were happy. Hindi ko kayang isipin o alalahanin pa kung paano sila namatay. I couldn’t bear remembering the hopelessness in their eyes.
Few minutes later, I wiped off the tears on my face and breathed deeply, but I immediately stopped when I felt a sharp pain on my ribs. Just then, I realized my chest and back were wrapped with gauze. Maging ang mga binti at braso ko.
Right. He was here last night. I remembered how I broke down while he was tending my wounds. Sa totoo lang, hindi ko akalaing mangyayari iyon. I didn’t want to cry while somebody was around, and I just felt empty that night that I thought no tears would come out of my eyes. However, that simple gesture of covering my eyes stirred the grief and pain I was trying hard to quell.
Huminga muli ako nang marahan at pinilit na bumangon. I grimaced as I sat, orbs dancing in front of my eyes. Inikot ko ang paningin ko at wala akong naramdaman na presensiya. He must have left already.
I was just spacing out for a couple of minutes until I had to collect my thoughts for the briefing. Kahit na ayaw ko pang harapin ang katotohanan ay kailangan. I carefully got out of my bed and struggled to wear new set of clothes as my wounds were still fresh.
Tumayo ako sa harap ng salamin. I always wore my hair in pigtails because I wanted to look young and I was a kid at heart. This time, I tied it in a low ponytail. This time, I had to grow up and be matured enough to support Hideo.
Upon setting foot on the campus, my chest started to hurt and get heavy again as I saw how everyone was wearing black clothes to attend their wake. Their families were mourning silently while Hideo stood near them. On the other hand, I stood from a distance as I watched them pay their respect.
I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to see their lifeless bodies. Or else, I might break down again.
Naglakad ako patungo sa Council House at naroon ang ilang Elders. We were supposed to wait for Hideo but I wanted to give him more time to mourn and lessen his burden. Fortunately, they listened to me this time and allowed me to lead the briefing as his representative. Sir Arai, Dr. Miwako and Sir Aiwa of the Intelligence, Medical and Technology Departments, respectively, were also present.
We watched the videos captured by Miyu’s system and my stomach clenched as soon as I saw how they ambushed Mayu. She initially had the upper hand against the Elite and the Reaper but she had lost the will to fight when she saw something—probably a live feed of Hiroshi or a threat to his safety.
Hindi ko na kinayang panoorin pa ang mga sumunod na kaganapan kaya napayuko na lamang ako. There was a deafening silence that followed and I could feel the tension inside the room. It was hard to remain levelheaded at that moment but I tried my best to keep my emotions under control.
“It seems like the security of our borders has been compromised,” Sir Arai remarked, breaking the silence.
Sir Aiwa quietly nodded. Parang lumubog ang puso ko nang makita ko ang mukha niya. He had to watch her own daughter’s dead. He was already enjoying the retirement but here he was, back to the game because of Mayu’s demise.
He was never the type to show any emotions. He was the strict professor and leader who was admired by many but this time, he was just a father. His shrewd and forbidding eyes turned sorrowful, and I knew her death had taken a huge toll on his health, too.
“I’ll tell the department to improve our defense lines,” he solemnly answered.
“I’ll help with the scouting,” dagdag ko naman. “Our boundaries within the Latens Forest should have tighter security this time.”
The representatives and council agreed and Sir Arai said he would devise a program that could detect the Black Dimension faster and deploy some advanced traps in case outsiders stepped into our territories.
Napagdesisyunan din na wala munang solo missions na gagawin sa labas. Dr. Miwako suggested that every missions should be done with at least three members, and one of them should know basic medical knowledge. Priority rin na ma-identify kung sinu-sinong Elites at Reapers ang sumugod sa aming apat. Apparently, they didn’t send their top-tier Elites to fight against Hideo because their plan was just to delay his return.
“He took everything away from me. Now, I will do the same.”
Rin’s word echoed in my head and I realized she succeeded. She wanted Hideo to suffer by being alive while everyone he wanted to protect died right in front of his eyes.
Matapos ang meeting ay agad akong lumabas mula sa Council House pero napatigil ako nang marinig ko ang boses ni Dr. Miwako sa isip ko.
‘You sure you don’t need Yuuki to treat those horrible wounds?’
Nanatili akong nakatalikod sa kanya at tumango. ‘Oh, these are nothing,’ I chuckled. ‘My body’s fine.’ ‘But your well-being is not,’ she returned as I heard her footsteps nearing.
I choked back the lump on my throat. ‘Probably, but Hideo needs me to be okay and—’
I was surprised when she gently patted my head and stood beside me. ‘You’ve grown,’ she said in a gentle tone. ‘I can’t believe that the most mischievous kid will be this dependable. Akira and Mayu will be proud.’
Tears started welling up in my eyes upon hearing that from her, but I held them back. She started walking where the wake was being held but she stopped and turned her head to my direction.
“If you need someone to talk to, come to my office. I’ll listen,” she said and I quietly nodded.
I took one last glance to the wake and wished their souls to rest in paradise. Matapos ‘yon ay agad akong bumalik sa cabin.
It had been three days but I still hadn’t slept a wink. I kept myself busy by scouting the forest—determining the places where Shinigamis almost always appear, leading the team that sets up the traps near the boundaries, and placing the devices that would alert us once the pressure and temperature around the vicinity change, even with a miniscule amount.
Bumagsak ako sa kama ko matapos ang ginawa ko ngayong araw. I was scared to sleep but my mind and body were giving up on me. Few minutes later, my consciousness slipped away.
Halos mapasigaw ako nang makita ko si Akira sa tabi ko. A rope was tied around her neck and a trail of blood on the side of her head. She looked at me with anger in her eyes.
“You said you would protect me,” she said. “Bakit mo ako hinayaang mamatay, Michiko?”
Agad na bumigat ang loob ko nang marinig ko iyon. I tried reaching for her but Mayu appeared on my left. Ilang segundo pa ang lumipas ay naroon na rin sina Akemi at Mitsuo.
“You shouldn’t have promised,” Mayu added.
“N-no . . . I . . . it’s not . . .”
“You’ve failed again, didn’t you?” dagdag pa ni Akemi.
“Why don’t you just join us?” sabi naman ni Mitsuo.
They started telling me things I was afraid to hear—how much of a failure I was, how I was the one alive even though I didn’t have any family to protect, and how I didn’t keep my promise. Hanggang sa pinagtulungan na nila akong apat. Akira was on top of me, holding a dagger right in front of my neck.
“I’m sorry,” I sobbed as I tried to keep the dagger from digging through my skin. “I . . . I’m really sorry . . .”
Unti-unti nang nanghihina ang katawan ko. I was about to give in and let them overwhelm me when I heard a faint voice.
“Hey, come on, wake up.”
Hindi ko alam kung saan nanggagaling iyon. I couldn’t see anyone but Akira. The voice was getting louder and it felt like the ground was shaking.
“Wake up,” the voice said, this time, clearer, and I realized it was familiar.
My eyes suddenly fluttered open and I was catching my breath. Kid’s face came into my view instead of Akira’s and I broke into sobs upon realizing that it was just a nightmare.
I didn’t know who pulled who but the next thing I knew, I was already holding onto his arms, trying to convince myself that everything wasn’t real . . . that my friends wouldn’t say those things and wouldn’t try to kill me.
Hindi ko alam kung ilang minuto pa ang lumipas bago ako mahimasmasan. Agad akong humiwalay sa kanya at mabilis na pinunasan ang luha sa mga mata at mukha ko. I drew a shaky breath as I tried to calm myself down.
“Bakit ka nandito?” tanong ko habang nakatingin sa kanya nang masama.
Why does he always show up unannounced? Hindi magpapakita nang ilang buwan o taon tapos biglang susulpot sa ganitong sitwasyon. I wished I could just tell him to get lost but and stay away from me, but I couldn’t.
“Done crying?” he asked and I scowled in return.
“Here,” he interjected as he handed me a note where several names were written.
“Some of the Reapers and Elites who attacked you and your comrades.”
Nagpabalik-balik ang tingin ko sa papel at sa kanya. I couldn’t say anything for a moment and everything that happened these past few days just flashed in my head.
I scoffed. “Are you now following Akemi’s path?”
He didn’t say any retort but I almost flinched when I felt the abrupt change in his presence. I was suddenly reminded that he was still a Shinigami.
He let out a sigh. “Maybe . . .”
His expression softened for a bit and I realized how much he had changed since the first time we had met. I wondered what happened to him these past few years.
‘Why are you curious?’
Halos mapaatras ako nang marinig ko ang boses niya sa isip ko. Damn it. I was careless.
“I’m not,” I muttered and he smirked in return.
“I can tell you,” he taunted.
He just shrugged his shoulders as he put back the hood of his cloak over his head. Tumayo siya at naglakad palayo kaya sinundan ko siya ng tingin.
“Be careful,” I blurted out. He halted but he didn’t look back. “The security within the forest has been enhanced. You just can’t walk carelessly here. You may get caught.”
“Good luck on finding your friends,” I added and his shoulders tensed upon hearing my words. Ah, right. He doesn’t like that word. “And thank you for helping me.”
Tumango lang siya at muling naglakad patungo sa pintuan. I wasn’t sure why I felt emptier as I watched him walk away. Maybe because I missed his presence here. Or maybe because I know how dangerous the path he had chosen.
After losing a lot of people that I loved, watching someone go without any assurance of coming back became a terrifying feeling.
“Hey,” I called, and this time, he turned around. “I saved your life, so please don’t die.”
“I saved yours, too, so you’re not allowed to die, unless I’m the one doing it.”
Hindi ko alam kung bakit pero napangiti ako. I remembered how he threatened me a lot of times when I was taking care of him.
“Alis na,” I said. “You’re an eyesore.”
“Yeah right, crybaby.”
Nang makaalis siya ay agad akong nagpalit ng damit. I stood in front of the mirror and tied my hair in a ponytail. Huminga ako nang malalim at ngumiti.
“No more tears, Michiko,” I told myself. “Be okay even if it’s hard. Be stronger and happier for the sake of everyone.”
And that day was the last time I cried for years . . . until Naomi returned.