“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.