The sky is still burning. Red and orange flames. Blue and white flames. Dragons. Phoenix. Someone’s falling. A voice. A face. Ryleigh . . .
Napadilat ako bigla habang hinahabol ang hininga ko. Was that a dream?
“Rei—” Lalo akong nagulat dahil bigla na lang may mukhang tumambad sa gilid ko. “—ka! Gising ka na!” Nakita ko si Lexi at umiiyak siya nang malakas habang nakatingin sa akin. Paulit-ulit niyang sinasabi ang pangalan ko, hanggang sa hindi ko na maintindihan ang lumalabas sa bibig niya. “Agayagodigayagigisikkkk!”
Napangiti na lang ako sa kanya at gusto ko sana siyang yakapin pero napatigil ako nang makita ko ang paper seals na nakapaligid sa akin. The seals act like a shield and that’s why Lexi can’t touch me. Pinunasan naman niya ang luha niya na kumalat na sa buong mukha niya. Tumingin siya sa gilid kaya sinundan ko rin ‘yon ng tingin at napatigil ako sa nakita ko.
Master . . . she’s alive . . .
“The two of you have been unconscious for four days,” sabi ni Lexi habang nakatingin kay Master na hanggang ngayon ay wala pa ring malay.
Our bodies are both covered with gauze cloth and paper seals but the difference is the burns on her skin, from her left cheek down to her left arm and leg. Agad na tumulo ang luha ko no’ng nakita ko ang kalagayan niya.
“Wait!” sabay tayo ni Lexi. “I need to call the Spirit Masters. Hintayin mo ko d’yan,” saka siya nagmadaling lumabas ng kwarto.
No’ng naiwan kaming dalawa ni Master ay hindi ko naalis ang tingin ko sa kanya. Pinilit kong tawagin siya pero walang lumalabas na boses sa bibig ko at hindi ko rin masyadong magalaw ang katawan ko. Memories suddenly rushed in my mind—Master falling with her burning body, Ignus disintegrating together with Hell, the burning sky, my parents and their guardians, Arsen and Phoebe, Ryleigh and Kon.
“We’re sorry for leaving you behind, for leaving you alone, but this isn’t the right time for us to be together.”
“Reika, we’re proud of you. Thank you for saving the world, my princess. Even if you aren’t born as a real one, you will always be my princess. So stay strong and always remember that we’re always here for you.”
Hindi ko alam kung hallucination ko lang ba ang nangyari noong nahuhulog ako pero malinaw na malinaw sa alaala ko ang mga salitang binitiwan nila.
I miss them. Hearing those words felt like home, a place that I won’t ever see anymore.
Napatigil naman ako sa pag-iisip no’ng biglang bumukas ang pinto. Pagtingin ko ay isa-isang pumasok ang Spirit Masters at dumiretso sila sa akin.
“Can you speak?” tanong ni Astrid at dahan-dahan akong umiling. “Looks like you still can’t move your body. Adrielle,” sabay tingin niya kay Adrielle.
“Okay,” sagot naman niya at pareho silang pumwesto sa magkabilang-gilid ko.
Seals appeared in front of Astrid and Adrielle chanted something. The seals from my body disappeared and I suddenly felt a searing pain, as if my insides are burning. I yelled, assuming that it won’t be heard, but my voice unexpectedly returned, filling the room with my unpleasant cry. However, when Astrid and Adrielle finished the incantation, the pain gradually subsided.
“You need more rest. You used all of your strength and stamina, to the point that you even tapped your life force,” Astrid explained. I didn’t object since exhaustion took over me. Unti-unting bumigat ang mga talukap ko pero bago ako tuluyang pumikit ay nakita ko ang pagtingin nila kay Master.
“Reika . . .”
Paulit-ulit kong narinig ang pagtawag ng pangalan ko pero hindi ko makita kung sino. The voice is muffled but sounds familiar. Who is that? I feel like I should know her but I can’t remember anything.
“Reika . . .”
“Who are you?” I asked, hoping for a response, instead, a blue flame appeared in the middle of the darkness. Doon ko narealize na parang nakalimutan ko ang lahat, at unti-unting bumabalik sa akin ang mga alaalang iniingatan ko.
“Phoebe . . .” I called and the blue flame transformed into a girl—a princess.
“Once again, I’m sorry for giving you a hard time,” she said and the smile on her face was replaced with guilt.
“It wasn’t your fault,” sabi ko naman. “It’s our fate and we can’t do anything about that.” Pagkasabi ko no’n ay muli siyang ngumiti, pero kita pa rin sa mga mata niya ang lungkot.
“You really are worthy of being the Second. Thank you, Reika.” Bigla naman akong may naalala kaya tumingin ako sa kanya.
“Phoebe, I . . . I have a question.”
“What is it?”
“D-did . . . did I become an immortal, too?”
My question was followed by silence and I’m actually scared to hear the answer. I know that immortality has a lot of benefits but I don’t want to have it. I want to grow old with everyone. I don’t want to be alone.
“Don’t worry, you aren’t.” Pagkasabi no’n ni Phoebe ay halos tumigil ang paghinga ko. I’m not? Did I hear that right?
“R-really?” tanong ko at ngumiti naman siya.
“Yes. You just gained my power and guardian form, not the curse.”
Nakahinga ako nang maluwag pagkatapos kong marinig ‘yon pero agad din akong naguilty dahil sa mga pinagdaanan ni Phoebe. Mukhang nabasa naman niya ang iniisip ko kaya ngumiti lang siya at sinabing wala dapat akong alalahanin. After that, she turned into a phoenix and soared away from me.
“Reika . . .”
My eyes flew open when I heard my name, expecting Phoebe to appear in front of me but I saw nothing. Then I realized that I am still inside the ‘seals’ made my Astrid and Adrielle. I was about to close my eyes when I heard my name again, and this time, much clearer. With my heart thumping quickly, I turned my head to the right and saw her looking at me.
“M-Master,” I whimpered as tears flow from my eyes. She smiled at me and that made me sob harder.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” she breathed. Walang laman ang isip ko kundi ang makalabas mula sa ginawang space ng seals at makalapit kay Master. With the incantation lingering in my mind, I chanted and blue flames appeared, incinerating the paper seals around me. I can feel the pain throbbing all over my body but I didn’t mind it. Pinilit kong bumangon at naglakad ako papunta kay Master. Umupo ako sa gilid niya at patuloy lang na umaagos ang luha ko.
“I’m sorry,” sabi ko habang nakatingin sa katawan niya. “I’m sorry, Master, I’m sor—”
“Wala kang kasalanan,” pagputol niya sa akin kaya napatingin ako sa mga mata niya at nakita kong umiiyak na rin siya. “That was my own decision so you don’t have to be sorry.”
“But because of me . . .”
“Because of you, the world didn’t fall into Ignus’ hands, and because of you, I am still alive, so thank you Reika. Thank you for saving me.”
Lalo lang akong naiyak dahil sa sinabi niya. Gusto ko siyang yakapin pero hindi pwede dahil sa seals na nakabalot sa kanya. Magsasalita na sana ako pero bigla na lang bumukas ang pinto.
“What happened? The seals were destroyed—!”
Napatigil sina Astrid at Gavin no’ng makita nila kaming dalawa ni Master.
“You . . .” sabay tingin sa akin ni Astrid at nalipat ‘yon kay Master. “Ariah . . .”
“You’re awake. You’re . . . you’re finally awake,” sabi naman ni Gavin habang nakatingin kay Master.
“Yeah, I guess I’m still alive.”
Matapos ang gabing ‘yon ay nilipat na nila ako sa naging kwarto ko sa Hydra habang si Master ay binabantayan pa rin nila dahil mas malala ang kondisyon niya. Wala akong ginawa kundi magpahinga, kumain at matulog kaya after two days ay nakakagalaw na ako nang maayos pero ayaw pa rin nila akong palabasin sa kwarto, lalo na ni Lexi. Dumalaw rin sa akin sina Yano, Tito Leon at Henric kaya naman kahit papaano ay may nakausap ako sa loob ng dalawang araw.
Nalaman ko rin na inayos na nila ang funeral para kay Arsen at lahat ng Divians, maliban sa amin ni Master, ay nagtipun-tipon sa Capital. They honored his life and achievements as the Divine General and Yano said that all Divians cried during his funeral. That was expected since Divians respect and admire him.
Bumalik naman ang isip ko sa kasalukuyan. Nasa kwarto ko naman ako pero pakiramdam ko ay para akong nakakulong. I want some fresh air. I want a breathing space.
Tumayo ako at dahan-dahang lumabas sa kwarto ko. Dahil mukhang madaling-araw naman na ay wala nang makakakita sa akin ngayon. Ilang minuto akong naglakad hanggang sa makarating ako sa pamilyar na lugar. I was about to reach the balcony, which is directly connected to the roof, when I heard footsteps from my right side. The sound of the footsteps stopped and I decided to look at that direction. A guy stood there and we both ended up staring at each other.
“Ryleigh,” bulong ko at bigla kong naalala ang nangyari bago ako mawalan ng malay.
“Lagi na lang ba kitang sasaluhin?”
Napatingin ako sa balcony dahil bigla akong nahiya. Hindi ko na lang siya pinansin at nagdire-diretso ako papunta ro’n pero bigla naman siyang nagsalita.
“Where are you going?” saka ko narealize na nasa gilid ko na siya.
“Above,” sabi ko na lang at saka ako humawak sa railings. Nagulat naman ako dahil bigla siyang tumayo sa railings at nilahad niya ang kamay niya sa harapan ko.
Dahil nando’n na rin naman ako ay inabot ko ang kamay niya at tinulungan niya akong makaakyat sa itaas. Nang makaakyat na kami pareho ay umupo lang kami ro’n at tahimik na nakatingin sa buong Capital.
“So why are you here?” bigla niyang tanong kaya napatingin ako sa kanya. Ngayong nandito na kami sa itaas ay hindi na gano’n ka-awkward. I looked at the Capital from here and I can see some spirit particles dispersed in the air.
“I want to breathe,” I said and inhaled some fresh air. “Ikaw?” tanong ko naman pero bigla kong narealize na alam ko na pala ang dahilan. Ryleigh doesn’t sleep at night because of his traumatic experience from his village.
“I can’t sleep,” sagot naman niya.
Pagkatapos no’n ay tumahimik lang kami at nakatingin lang sa view ng Capital mula rito. Bigla na namang pumasok sa isip ko ang nangyari no’n at mukhang hindi matatahimik ang isip ko kapag hindi ko ‘yon nasabi.
“T-thank you,” mahina kong sabi habang nakatingin pa rin sa harapan. “Thank you for saving me.”
“That’s my job,” sabay tingin niya sa akin. “Saving the princess, I mean.”
“I’m not a princess, though.”
Ilang oras pa kaming nag-stay do’n at no’ng naramdaman ko na ang antok ay napagdesisyunan naming bumaba na. Sabay kaming naglakad hanggang sa makarating kami sa hallway kung nasaan ang kwarto ko.
“You are,” bigla niyang sabi at saka siya naglakad palayo. Naiwan naman akong nakatayo sa harapan ng pinto dahil sa sinabi niya. What was that?
Ilang araw pa ang nakalipas bago ako tuluyang nakalabas sa kwarto ko. Everybody is busy because of the reconstruction of the Capital. The Spirit Masters are having a meeting right now and all Divians directly involved with the battle days ago were also summoned, including me.
Pagdating ko sa Divine Hall ay sumalubong agad ang Spirit Masters sa table at parang lumubog ang puso ko dahil wala nang nakaupo sa gitna. Tumingin sila sa akin at bigla kong naalala ang sinabi ni Arsen bago siya mawala. They just asked me about Ignus and how I defeated him.
“Thank you for the information, Reika,” sabi ni Astrid at mukhang ieescort na ako palabas pero nanatili akong nakatayo sa harapan nila.
“The Divine General . . .” Pagkasabi ko no’n ay napatingin silang lahat sa akin. His name still brings sorrow and discomfort to Divians, especially to them since they’d worked under his command. “The Divine General left his last words to me and I want to relay them to you,” sabi ko at tumahimik naman sila. Huminga ako nang malalim at saka ko inalala ang mga sinabi ni Arsen. “Tell them that I can’t say goodbye personally. Those people are a bunch of troublemakers and gave me a lot of headaches but they are good-natured. I told them before that they should decide who’ll be the next Divine General in case something happened to me but they all refused to do it until I’m here.”
After I said that, they all went silent and I was surprised when I saw them smiling while wiping the tears off their faces. Saka ko napansin na umiiyak na rin pala ako.
“We already know that,” sabi ni Tito Leon at tumingin silang lahat kay Lark. “Paano ba ‘yan? Mukhang ikaw na ang uupo d’yan,” sabay turo niya sa upuan ni Arsen. Kumunot naman ang noo ni Lark.
“It should be you. You’re stronger and—”
“I don’t like big and crucial responsibilities,” pagputol ni Tito Leon sa kanya habang nakasandal sa upuan. I guess that’s true. He might be the strongest and most powerful among them but he’s too laidback to be the Divine General.
“We already know that,” Master chimed in. She’s in better condition now though she’s still being observed.
“And one more thing,” Adrielle cut in. “The Divine General already recommended you before.”
“Then we must prepare for your inauguration,” Henric added.
“Wait,” sabay taas ni Master sa kamay niya. “Where are those Exorcists by the way?”
“Ah. In the underground prison,” sabi naman ni Gavin.
So the Exorcists who aided Ignus were caught, huh?
“Let me be the warden,” Adrielle said with a smile and that made my skin crawl.
“Oh, that sounds nice. Adrielle, let me be your substitute if you have something to do,” sabi naman ni Master.
“The two of you are frightening,” Gavin commented and almost all of them agreed.
Since I’m not needed here anymore, I was escorted out by Henric. I was about to walk away but he suddenly called my name.
“Reika.” Napahinto ako at lumingon sa kanya. “You’re going to start your training next week, so be prepared.”
“W-what?” Hindi ko alam kung nagkamali lang ba ako ng rinig o mali lang ang sinabi niya. “Training?” I asked and he just smirked at me.
“Of course. You have awakened your power but you still can’t control it well.”
Hindi naman agad ako nakasagot dahil totoo naman ang sinabi niya. I defeated Ignus, yes, but I didn’t utilize Phoebe’s power completely that’s why I was forced to use up my own life force.
“Especially your stamina,” he added. “It’s actually better than an average Divian since the Limiter Seal was removed but now that you have her as your main guardian, you have to improve.”
“Then, are you going to be my trainer?” tanong ko naman.
Among the Spirit Masters, I like my own Master to be my trainer but looking at her current condition, I don’t think she can do that. I still feel awkward around them but if it’s Henric, that’ll be better since he’s just around my age age.
“Yes, until Ariah gets better,” he answered and I felt relieved.
“Okay. I’ll work harder,” sabi ko habang nakangiti at ngumiti rin siya sa akin.
“By the way, your comrades are already at the Camp. You should get there, too.”
“Oh. Okay. Thank you.”
Pagkatapos no’n ay nagpaalam na kami sa isa’t isa at pumunta naman ako sa balcony. Usually, Divians use praevala to travel by air, however, those who have aerial or flying guardians can use them instead.
“Phoebe, sal-ve!” I chanted and the familiar blue phoenix appeared in front of me. I smiled at her, even though I know that Princess Phoebe’s essence and consciousness had already vanished.
Sumakay ako sa kanya at lumipad kami papunta sa Divine Camp. Habang nasa itaas kami ay nakatingin lang ako sa baba. I can’t believe that this land was once a kingdom ruled by Phoebe. Ever since she accepted her fate, she worked hard to unite all the neighboring kingdoms and established them into a nation. Along with time and the people, she evolved and protected this land from the Exorcists. With the help of Arsen, they founded Sima, built the Capital and trained the Divians. They had lived their lives eminently until the end and I’m really honored to know them.
“Hey.” Nagulat naman ako dahil may narinig akong boses at pagtingin ko ay halos nasa Divine Camp na pala ako.
“What are you doing here?” tanong ko kay Ryleigh dahil nasa taas din siya habang sakay ni Kon. Lumapit ako sa kanila at nakita kong malapit sila sa cliff kung saan ko unang nakita si Ignus.
“Lorgan wants me to monitor the training from above,” sabi naman niya habang nakatingin sa baba. True enough, the Divians are currently training and the older ones are helping the beginners.
“How about Lexi, Yano and Lycus?”
“Yano is helping those who have water guardians,” sagot niya. Oo nga pala. One of Yano’s guardians is Dip, a whale. Then that means . . . “Lexi and Lycus are in charge of close-range combat.” I knew it. With their main guardians being lion and wolves, they are suited for that job.
Suddenly, my eyes were glued to Kon. I just realized that the Divine Camp was once the border of the two kingdoms and where Erno met his demise.
“Where did you hear that expression?” tanong ko bigla kaya napatingin siya sa akin.
“Ah. That,” sabay tingin niya kay Kon. “When I finally merged with him, that was the first thing I heard.”
“Do you know the reason why he only appears above the ground when summoned?” tanong ko at naalala ko ang nangyari noon.
“No, though he’s always been difficult and demanding.” Hearing that made me sneak a smile but I think Kon didn’t like that because he growled and snarled at Ryleigh.
“It’s basically that saying,” sabi ko naman.
“What?” he asked, confused and curious at the same time.
“Do you know his name when he was still a human?” I asked. After the battle, all of them discovered that guardians were once humans, though I’m sure the Spirit Masters already knew that.
“Erno,” I revelaed and Kon looked at me, as if a familiar person called him. “And like Arsen, he’s one of Princess Phoebe’s personal guards. The two of them protected her in their own ways and lived with that expression--the dragons should always protect the princess.”
After saying all of that, we both went silent. It is still beyond belief the phoenix and the dragon were once comrades and now, they’re reunited as our guardians.
“Too bad the hydra isn’t here,” he said, breaking the silence.
“Yeah. This would have been a lovely reunion,” sabi ko naman.
Phoebe shrieked out of the blue and started flapping her wings. It looks like she’s too excited to fly and I’m pleased to her like this, though I almost lost my balance.
“Sinasadya mo ba?” Ryleigh asked and I realized that they were several meters below us.
“Ang alin?” Ano bang sinasadya ko? O may hindi lang ako narinig?
“Nothing.” He heaved a sigh. “Now I know why hierarchy exists. Rulers should always stay above to overlook everyone and everything. On the other hand, generals remain just below them for support,” sabay tingin niya sa akin, “or catch them in case the ruler falls.”
Natahimik naman ako sa sinabi niya at narealize ko na kung ano ang ibig niyang sabihin kanina. Bigla naman silang lumapit sa amin ni Phoebe hanggang sa magkaharap na kami.
“Be more cautious,” he instructed. “I’m not there to catch you every time.” Pagkasabi niya no’n ay naunahan ako ng hiya kaya inalis ko ang tingin ko sa kanya. I gathered my thoughts and looked at him again.
“Okay,” I whispered.
“Seal it,” sabi naman niya at inilahad niya ang kamay niya sa akin. Nawala naman ang hiya ko at natawa na lang sa kanya. I played along and crossed my pinky finger with his.
Pagkatapos no’n ay nanatili kaming tahimik pero bigla namang lumipad si Phoebe. With her wide and flamed wings, she soared into the sky.
“Hey!” sigaw niya kaya napatingin ako sa ibaba.
“Don’t worry, I won’t fall today!” I shouted back and he furrowed his brows, though he stayed there on guard. He’s so into that phrase and role it made him endearing in a way.
I held onto Phoebe’s neck, feeling her warmth and the cool air that brushes my skin. She glided over the clouds and I feel like I’m on the top of the world.
“Let’s fly away, Phoebe,” I said and we soared higher. “Away from everything and everyone. Just the two of us.”
Alongside, they showed their strength,
And fought together until the end;
The phoenix and the princess fly,
After conquering and guarding the sky.