I groaned after putting him on my bed. Pagtingin ko sa mga kamay ko ay halos kulay pula na ang mga ‘yon dahil sa dugo niya. He was bleeding too much. I was physically and emotionally drained but I had to help him. Upon checking his condition, I could even fathom how this guy could still be alive. The gash across his chest and abdomen almost punctured his lungs and liver. Some of his organs were also damaged. A lot of broken bones, too. Hindi man ako part ng medical department ay kaya kong mag-diagnose kahit papaano. I had been obsessed with physical and weapons training and I received a lot of injuries in the past because of that. Yuuki would always help me treat my wounds but she would also complain how reckless I was. Kapag hindi ko raw binawas-bawasan ang pagte-training ko ay ire-report niya ako kay Dr. Miwako at Sir Hideyoshi. For quite some time, I had to dress and stitch my wounds myself in this cabin because she had enough of me. Fortunately, I learned a lot from observing her. Napabuntong-hininga naman ako nang makita ko ang ilan niya pang injuries sa katawan at ulo. For a second, I was impressed by his toughness and unyielding spirit. If he was a normal Shinigami, he should be dead by now. Hinanda ko ang mga gamit at agad na tinanggal ang cloak na suot niya. I had to cut his shirt dahil dumikit na iyon sa sugat niya. I winced when I saw how deep his wounds were. There were also scars, some faded, throughout his body, and I wondered how he got those nasty cuts. Nilinis ko ang mga sugat niya at marahang tinahi. I would also check his expression from time to time to see if he was getting conscious but he was sleeping like a dead person and I had to feel his pulse to see if he was still alive. It took me hours cleaning and stitching his wounds. Napaupo na lang ako sa lapag matapos ‘yon pero agad din akong napatayo nang mapansin ko ang mukha niya. I gently touched his forehead and realized he was burning up with fever. Naghanap ako ng gamot sa medicine kit pero wala na palang laman ‘yon. I only had things for physical injuries since I rarely get sick. Aalis na sana ako sa cabin para pumunta sa medical department pero napahinto ako nang makita ko ang device na nakakabit sa dingding. “This would conceal her presence even to trackers,” Mayu said after I suggested to let Akemi live in my cabin, “though hers is too strong to be masked completely.” I drew a shaky breath after remembering our conversation last week. We were looking forward to seeing her again but we were too full of ourselves. We thought we could save her. We thought we were strong enough to protect her from the Senshins and Shinigamis. Pero sa huli, wala kaming nagawa kundi ang panoorin siyang mawalan ng buhay. I choked back my tears and turned to the Shinigami who was with her when she chose to return to their base. Nang makita ko ang expression niya kanina nang malaman niya ang nangyari kay Akemi ay parang nadurog ulit ang puso ko. I realized she also had comrades who would risk their lives for her safety—Shinigamis who see her more than just a leader. Her friends. In-activate ko ang device na ginawa ni Mayu. I wasn’t sure how it works but I wouldn’t doubt her skills. Lumabas ako ng cabin at halos ambon na lang ang malakas na ulan kanina. I could hear fireworks beyond the forest. The humdrums must be celebrating the New Year. “Lucky you,” I muttered as I looked at the sky covered with fireworks. I walked through the Latens forest and saw the pools of blood on the ground. The medical teams and trackers must be done recovering the bodies and weapons in the forest. Halos isa’t kalahating oras akong naglakad hanggang sa makalabas ako ng gubat. The school ground was a pandemonium. There wasn’t enough space for the injured in the medical department kaya ang iba ay sa labas na ginagamot. There were also a lot of dead bodies. The Senshins were being taken care of by Yuuki’s team while the Intelligence department collected the fallen Shinigamis. Agad ko namang hinanap si Akira. She must be distressed from all the voices she was hearing. “Michiko!” Napalingon ako at nakita ko si Mayu. Tumakbo ako papunta sa kanya. “Nasaan si Akira?” tanong ko. She sighed. “Nasa supply house.” “Is she okay?” Umiling naman siya. “We had to knock her out,” she continued, “or else she’d be overwhelmed. Doon din muna namin siya dinala dahil puno na ang medical department at para malayo rito.” The supply house was the farthest building from the forest. It was beyond the central plaza and just a few kilometers from the agency in the humdrums’ world. “Si Hideo?” “He’s in the Council House,” she replied and I could see the worry in her eyes. “He wants them to honor their death but I don’t think they will.” Gustuhin ko mang mangyari ‘yon ay alam na rin namin kung ano ang kahihinatnan no’n. The Council would never make an exemption, especially since Akemi was the daughter of the Shinigami’s current leaders. Mitsuo, on the other hand, was an Executioner. Kahit na Senshins sila, they were viewed as savages. Isa pa, hindi namin alam ang magiging epekto ng pagkamatay niya sa clan niya. Naomi said the Jikko clan was as brutal as Shinigamis and once they knew about his demise, I doubt they would sit still. The thought of Executioners getting into this place sent shiver down my spine. We couldn’t afford another war. “Someone’s there!” Sabay naman kaming napatingin sa grupo ng Shinigami trackers na bigla na lang tumakbo papunta sa gubat. Bigla akong kinabahan dahil iniwan ko siyang mag-isa ro’n. Agad akong sumunod sa kanila. “Michiko—!” “I’ll be back!” sigaw ko pabalik. The part near the library and medical department was the safest yet the longest route to enter the Latens forest. I went to the other direction—the Green’s Bane, the most dangerous part of the forest, where a lot of unidentified beasts roam freely. I summoned my dual swords and ran through the treetops while trying to see where the trackers were. Muntik na akong malaglag nang may tumalon mula sa kabilang puno papunta sa direksyon ko. I quickly slashed through the air and I heard a high-pitched shriek. Hindi ko na inalam kung anong klaseng hayop iyon at agad na nagpatuloy. Halos ilang minuto ang inabot bago ko natanaw ang cabin ko. Since it was situated at the boundary of Green’s Bane, I arrived first before the trackers. Pagpasok ko sa cabin ay nandoon pa rin siya at wala pa ring malay. I turned off the lights and stood by the window. Dahan-dahan akong sumilip pero mukhang hindi rito ang target ng trackers. I sighed in relief. Maybe there was a stray Shinigami in the Latens forest or something. I’d be in serious trouble if they found out I was hiding an enemy. “Don’t move.” Halos kilabutan ako nang may marinig akong boses sa likuran ko. The next thing I knew, a hand was already clasped over my mouth and a syringe was pointed at my neck. I could feel his fever through his hot and ragged breath. Even just standing must have taken a lot of strength and willpower. I quietly summoned a dagger on my left hand. ‘You’ll be dead in a few hours if you don’t stop,’ I said. His grasp got tighter and I felt the tip of the syringe touching my skin. I heard him suppressing a groan. Some of his wounds must have opened up. ‘Stop ma—’ Bago pa siya makapagsalita ay agad akong umikot paharap sa kanya. He was caught off-guard but he managed to stop my dagger . . . with his bare hand. Dapat ay itututok ko lang din ‘yon sa leeg niya gaya ng ginawa niya pero hindi ko akalaing mapipigilan niya ‘yon. I winced when I saw blood trickling down his palm. “I didn’t mean to . . .” My voice trailed off when I saw his intense green eyes in this dimly-lit space. He stared at me with a stone-cold expression on his face. It felt like I was looking at someone who would kill a person without any remorse. “Why did you save me?” he asked. His question was followed with a few seconds of silence. He loosened the grip on my dagger and I immediately withdrew it. I stared back and didn’t dare avert his gaze. “Because you’re her friend,” I answered. “Friend . . .” Naalala ko naman bigla ang sinabi dati ni Akemi. She didn’t know the concept of friendship. She said she didn’t have any. Maybe Shinigamis really don’t acknowledge that kind of relationship but subconsciously, people like her do treat some of her comrades as friends. He must have dismissed that thought because he suddenly glared at me. ‘Why can’t I leave?’ His fever must be worsening since I could read some of his thoughts easily. Kahit madilim ay kita ko ang pamumutla ng mukha niya. The deep wound on his chest and abdomen also opened up. ‘Hindi mo mabubuksan ang Black Dimension sa cabin na ‘to,’ I said. ‘It was designed that way.’ Bigla naman siyang naglakad patungo sa pintuan kaya agad kong humarang sa dadaanan niya. “You can’t leave yet,” mahina kong sabi at muli niya akong sinamaan ng tingin. “May trackers sa labas.” “I don’t care. I’ll kill them if I have to—” “You’re not killing any of my comrades,” I warned as I summoned a longsword. Handa na ako sa maaaring mangyari pero nagulat ako nang bigla na lang siyang natumba. He collapsed on his knees as he groaned in pain. Dahan-dahan ko siyang nilapitan at mukhang malala rin ang bagong sugat sa palad niya. I sighed loudly and helped him get up. I was half-dragging him because he was too heavy. Nang makarating kami sa kama ay agad ko siyang inupo ro’n. Kinuha ko ulit ang kit sa cabinet at sinimulang tahiin ang sugat niya sa dibdib. Akala ko nga ay magrereklamo ulit siya. His mind must be overwhelmed with intense physical and emotional pain. Matapos no’n ay nilinis ko rin ang sugat sa palad niya. The wound was quite deep and I felt a bit guilty. Bakit ba kasi niya hinawakan ‘yon? As I was dressing his wound, I kept on thinking about Akemi. Ano nga ba ang nangyari sa kanya sa Shinigami base? Bakit ganoon ang kalagayan niya nang bumalik siya rito? Ano ang ginawa nila sa kanya? “Did she suffer there?” I asked, breaking the silence. I wasn’t expecting any answer from him. At okay lang din kung hindi niya sagutin dahil technically, we were enemies. “She did.” Napatingin ako sa kanya nang marinig ko ang sagot niya. He had a pained expression on his face and I could see the regret and guilt in his eyes. My emotions started to stir up but I held back my tears. I didn’t want anyone to see me crying anymore. “Was she happy here?” he suddenly asked. For a moment, I was unsure if I heard that right. Ilang segundo rin ang lumipas bago ako nakasagot. “She was,” I muttered, reminiscing the times we were still with her. Akemi wasn’t fond of smiling. She didn’t like crowds and would rather be alone. But when she was with us, especially with Hideo, I would always catch her suppressing a smile . . . and for me, that was enough reason to know that she, indeed, had a happy time with us. Akemi was happy here. And I knew she died happy because she was here.