I was too broken to function. In just one night, I lost a friend, my home and the most important person in my life. I was useless. Powerless. If I only used my ability . . . if I only stayed by his side . . . What’s the use of this power if I can’t even stop his death? ‘I will always remember you, Nathalie.’ I wailed while remembering his last words, the rain masking my misery. It pains me that I wasn’t there when he needed help. It hurts me that he died alone. Napatigil naman ako nang marinig ko ang pag-iyak ni Rainie. Hideo told me to run away because Rainie is one of their targets. I had to leave Nathan because of the situation and that made me more broken. I couldn’t even tell him what happened to his father and now I’m leaving him for the sake of Hideo’s daughter. Akira, Michiko and Mayu helped me escape and when I reached the humdrum’s world, the scenario has changed drastically. Contrary to the war happening in our world, this place looked happy. Fireworks brightened the sky and people were waiting for another year to start. Rainie smiled at me and I felt sorry for her. She was just born yet she was already carrying a lot of burden on her little shoulders. “I couldn’t protect your mother so let me protect you instead,” I said and it seemed like the rain has finally stopped. “Let’s start a new life, Rainie. You and I.” *** “Kung may kailangan ka, sabihin mo lang sa akin.” “Okay. Thank you.” Tinignan ko naman ang loob ng maliit at lumang apartment na nakuha ko. The landlady was still in her post-New Year celebration mode so she just gave me the key after I paid her a 3-month rental fee. I had to thank Mayu for preparing a bag with the supplies we need to survive before venturing in this world. Nilapag ko naman si Rainie sa isang lumang kumot at mukhang mahimbing ang tulog niya. Kailangan ko pang bumili ng mga gamot dahil mainit siya kanina. Napaupo naman ako at doon ko naramdaman ang pagod. It was too noisy outside but my ears were rejecting the sound. I felt empty and lost. Suddenly, tears were streaming down my face. I still couldn’t believe everything that happened. Pinagdadasal ko na sana panaginip lang ang lahat pero kapag naaalala ko ang mga nangyari ay ramdam ko ang sakit, at alam kong totoo ang mga iniisip ko. It was the reality I dreaded to happen. I told him that I would rather live in pain than forget him but his memories, that saved me once, are now tearing me apart. It was more terrifying than what I had experienced in Shima. I didn’t know that memories could destroy someone like this. Naramdaman ko naman ang singsing sa daliri ko at lalo akong naiyak. I was beyond happy when he said he would marry me after soon. He even brought me to my parents’ grave after that to ask for their permission. But now, it would just be a dream. I was willing to wait, but now it felt like waiting for something that isn’t going to happen. Hindi ko alam kung ilang araw akong nakatulala lang. Kumikilos lang ako kapag nagugutom si Rainie at kung kailangan. I wasn’t on my right mind and my body felt heavy. Natauhan lang ako nang lagnatin si Rainie nang sobrang taas at kinailangan ko siyang isugod sa ospital. Humdrum’s blood do not go well with ours so I was worried and it might cause confusion to the doctors. I was about to get her out of the hospital because of those reasons but somebody looked at me with her curious eyes. The sunglasses covered my eyes so I wasn’t concerned about their color but her gaze felt like it went through them. Lumapit siya sa akin at tumapat sa tenga ko. “I’m from the Quirino clan,” she said. “Ako na ang bahala.” Kinuha naman niya sa akin si Rainie at agad akong sumunod sa kanya. I didn’t know that a Senshin doctor is working here and I felt relieved that she noticed me. As far as I know, Reina is part of the Quirino clan and they are known to be a family of Shinigami trackers and doctors. May pinainom siya kay Rainie at sinabi niya sa akin na magiging ayos ang kalagayan niya maya-maya lang. Mukha namang hindi niya ako nakikilala kaya nakahinga ako nang maluwag. She might be a comrade but I don’t want to be associated with any Erityians right now. “What’s your name?” tanong niya at napaisip naman ako. I love my name but using that would just trigger my memories about everything, along with the pain. I want to start a new life with Rainie, a peaceful one, where she can grow like a normal child. I will be her mother from now on but I want Rielle to be part of her—a reminder of her real mother. “Rina,” I said. “I’m Rina Lazaro.” *** “Rainie! Ayos ka lang ba?” Napatakbo ako sa labas dahil nadapa siya habang tumatakbo. Umiiyak na siya at papunta na sana ako sa kanya pero napatigil ako nang may makita akong naglalakad papunta sa direksyon niya. A familiar woman with eyeglasses kneeled in front of her and helped her stand up. “Rainie, is that your name?” she asked and Rainie nodded. Bigla naman siyang tumingin sa akin at naghalu-halo na ang emosyon ko. Seeing her in front of me brought back the memories I kept at the back of my mind. “Mayu,” I called and she ran to hug me. “Oh my God, Naomi.” I missed her so much. Hindi ko alam kung gaano kami katagal magkayakap at halos titigan na kami ni Rainie. Pinapasok ko siya sa loob habang nakabantay ang mga mata namin sa bawat galaw ni Rainie. “I can’t believe she’s already three,” sabi niya. She gave me new supplies, including liquid lenses, tracking device . . . and a picture of Nathan. I teared up when I saw that and I couldn’t believe he had grown so much. Mayu also informed me about the current situation in Tantei High. She said the Shinigamis weren’t making any move, a reason to be worried. Pagkatapos no’n ay umalis siya kaagad dahil marami pa raw siyang aasikasuhin. Mayu visited us again the next year but after that, she stopped coming and I didn’t know that that was our last time together. Rainie and I lived a normal life. Nagluluto ako ng pagkain para sa isang restaurant at iyon ang naging source of income ko. Pumapasok naman sa paaralan si Rainie at habang tumatagal ay napapansin ko ang kaibahan niya—a reminder that she’s an Erityian. “Mama, tignan mo, ang unique ng pangalan ng isa kong classmate,” sabi niya sa akin sabay turo sa isang babae. First day of classes niya sa high school at wala siyang kahit sinong kakilala pero nalaman niya ang pangalan ng kaklase niya dahil sa ID niya. That girl was about twenty meters away from us. It might seem normal to her but it wasn’t. After that, I told her not to mention to anyone that she can see more clearly than them because they might treat her differently. She agreed. Noong mga panahon ding ‘yon siya naging matanong tungkol sa Papa niya. When she first asked about him, I was flustered and dumbfounded that I told her he was already dead and I don’t want to talk about him anymore. ‘Gusto kong makilala si Papa pero wala naman siyang pictures at ayaw ko namang pilitin si Mama,’ she once said in her inner voice. Napansin kong lagi niyang kinikimkim sa sarili niya lahat ng gusto niyang sabihin at alam kong dahil ‘yon sa akin. Every time she asks questions about our family, her above average sight, my eye disorder, and why she couldn’t get along with her classmates, I would always dismiss them and say she should focus on her studies. Kaya tuwing may gusto siyang sabihin ay lagi siyang nagdadalawang-isip at sa huli ay sasarilinin niya na lang. I felt bad but I don’t know how to deal with her thoughts. Naaawa rin ako sa kanya tuwing birthday niya dahil hindi ko magawang maging masaya at alam kong napapansin niya ‘yon. “Happy birthday, Rainie,” I would say every 31st of December. “Thank you, Mama,” sabay ngiti niya. ‘Ayoko nang mag-birthday kung ganito ang nangyayari kay Mama lagi. Hindi ko alam kung ano ang nangyari pero mas gugustuhin ko nang huwag mag-celebrate kung ‘yon ang dahilan kung bakit siya malungkot.’ While everyone is celebrating New Year’s Eve, I am grieving for Rielle and Vince’s death. I wanted Rainie to feel special during her birthday but I couldn’t. The pain from losing my loved ones was too overwhelming. Ilang taon na ang nakalilipas pero gano’n pa rin ang nararamdaman ko. I tried connecting to people but I failed. No matter who or how many they are, they can never heal these invisible wounds. They can never take the place of someone I've lost. “Vince . . .” And every New Year’s Eve, instead of staying up all night, I always cry myself to sleep. *** “Rainie, may bago ba kayong teachers?” tanong ko sa kanya matapos niyang mag-enroll. “Opo. Dalawa. Mukha naman silang mabait.” “Gano’n ba?” Kakaiba ang pakiramdam ko noong samahan ko siya sa school. I didn’t see the new teachers but I felt something odd . . . something out of the ordinary. Just to be sure, I staked outside her school on her first day but when I was about to change my position, someone had her weapon at my neck. It has been a long time since I felt this kind of thrill and without a second thought, I disarmed her using my fan. We both fell to the ground and we were surprised when we saw each other’s face. “A-ate N-Naomi?” tawag niya at nagulat naman ako. Ang tagal ko nang hindi naririnig ang pangalan na ‘yon kaya naman tinitigan ko siya at doon ko narealize kung sino ang kaharap ko ngayon. Even though she was already a grown-up woman, I could still see her younger self. With a smile on my face, I called her name. “Reina?” “Ate Naomi!” She lunged at me and hugged me for a long time. Pagkatapos no’n ay sinabi niya sa akin ang lahat ng nangyari at hindi ako makapaniwala sa narinig ko. Mayu and Akira were killed by Elites and she said it was planned a long time ago. “According to Hayate, they chose to attack them when the President wasn’t present. Their targets were the remaining members of the Atama family. Ate Michiko managed to survive. Si Ate Mayu, papunta siya kung saan nang bigla siyang harangin ng mga Elite. She can fight them but when they showed her a live footage of Hiroshi, she had already lost her battle,” sabi ni Reina at nakita ko ang panunubig ng mga mata niya. Bumigat naman ang pakiramdam ko dahil alam kong papunta sa amin si Mayu noong panahong ‘yon. Sa loob ng sampung taon ay wala akong kaalam-alam at lalo lang akong nanlumo dahil ginamit nila ang anak niya para patahimikin siya. “Ate Akira, on the other hand, was on her way back to Tantei High when she was ambushed in the forest. Vivien, her daughter, heard her so she went to the forest by herself and that gave the Shinigamis an advantage. Walang nagawa si Ate Akira at ang mas nakakalungkot ay nakita ni Vivien ang bangkay niya. She was hanged on a tree and according to the story, before her last breath, she repeatedly said ‘Don’t come here, Vivien. Please. Stay away. Please.’ Dumating si Ate Michiko no’n galing sa mission niya at nagmadali papunta ro’n para pigilan si Vivien pero sa huli ay nakita pa rin niya ang nanay niya.” Hindi ko alam kung ilang oras akong umiyak nang malaman ko ang sinapit nina Mayu at Akira. I felt guilty and sorry because I could've done something to save them yet I wasn’t aware of their situation. Buong magdamag akong nagkulong sa kwarto matapos no’n. I was too heartbroken. I thought Vince and Rielle’s death were enough to make me suffer, yet two of my friends were killed, too. That time, I was desperate to see Michiko and Hideo, terrified that I wouldn’t see them again, but Hideo’s words echoed in my head. ‘We will see each other again at the right time. Goodbye for now, Nathalie.’ Ilang beses kong pinigilan ang sarili kong bumalik sa lugar na ‘yon dahil ayaw ko ring mapahamak si Rainie. The pain of losing and missing my friends were enough to kill me but I chose to live with it. We managed to live normally but it seemed like the time to return to that place has come. “Tantei High,” Rainie said after giving me a pile of documents. “Alam mo ba ang school na ‘yon, Ma?” All the memories that I have been trying to push in the back of my mind resurfaced and I had to keep myself calm in front of Rainie. Mukhang ito na nga ang tamang panahon para magsimula ulit at para mabuhay si Rainie sa mundo kung saan siya totoong nabibilang. Pero natatakot ako para sa kanya dahil wala siyang kaalam-alam sa totoo niyang pagkatao. I didn’t tell or teach her anything that could remind me of the past. The only thing she can depend on is her sixth sense. Inayos ko ang mga kailangan niya at naghanda rin ako para sa pagbabalik ko. When I saw the familiar place in the middle of the forest, I felt a spark burning inside me. After a long time, I felt alive. Ironically, the last time I felt alive was when he was dying. ‘Welcome home.’ Those words from Hideo and Michiko brought me back to our last time together. Fifteen years ago, there were still seven of us. Their demise was hard to accept but it was the only way to move on . . . to move forward. I wanted to see my son, to hug him and spend time with him but I can’t do that right now. Magugulo lang ang isip niya, maging si Rainie, at lahat ng nag-akalang patay na ako. Gusto kong manatili ro’n pero marami pa akong kailangang gawin sa labas ng lugar na ‘to. “Do you really want to do this mission?” tanong ni Hideo nang sabihin niya sa akin ang isa sa classified missions na wala pang humahawak. “Yes. Please let me,” sabi ko naman. “Besides, I have a debt to pay.” “Sigurado ka ba, Naomi?” tanong naman ni Michiko. “Of course. I’ll find Haruka.” *** I spent almost three months just to find the place where they exiled the traitors. According to the Intel department, it might be in the West, particularly in Alaska. I located them in an abandoned village and they were guarded by a group of Elites. Sa pagkakatanda ko, tatlo ang Elite ni Rielle pero dalawa lang silang nandoon—Haruka and Daiki, I think. I consulted Hideo about my plan and just like when we were young, we ended up modifying it with respect to the variables, making it the most efficient and possible way. After days of monitoring them, I attacked their guards when they were changing shifts and just as expected, she already knew what I was doing. It seemed like they were already planning to escape since they got a copy of the key to their prison. “How long has it been, Naomi?” she greeted and even though she’s a Shinigami, I do not feel any hatred towards her. Sinabi ko naman ang sitwasyon sa kanila at mukhang alam nila ang mangyayari. Rainie’s presence in Tantei High would surely cause another war. The Shinigamis, especially Rin, wanted to use her against us and she has a personal issue with her. On the other hand, the Council of Elders might see Rainie as a threat because she has a Shinigami blood. “Let’s go, then,” Haruka said. “I have a fight to settle.” *** I arrived just in time to help the Senshins. Chaos was everywhere and everyone was trying to protect themselves and the people they treasure. It reminded me of what had happened years ago, thinking about the things I could’ve done but didn’t. Hindi na ako nakapag-isip nang maayos at hinayaan ko lang ang katawan ko na kontrolin ako. I was angry. I was seeking for revenge. Seeing a lot of Shinigamis here triggered those emotions and made me a killing machine, until I saw him. Unang tingin pa lang ay si Vince na kaagad ang nakita ko sa kanya dahil sa mga mata niya. He has his father’s eyes—intense yet calculating. It was hard to look at him because he reminds me too much of his father. Nang humupa ang labanan ay naiwan sina Hideo at Rainie sa parte ng gubat na ‘yon at naglakad naman ako palayo. Gusto ko munang ayusin ang isipan ko bago ko siya harapin pero naramdaman ko ang pagsunod niya sa akin. I was determined to avoid him but what he just said made me stop. “Are you . . . are you my mother?” I promised myself not to cry anymore but hearing those words from him stirred my emotions. Lumingon ako sa kanya at agad ko siyang niyakap. Ilang taon na ang nakalipas noong huli ko siyang nayakap. He was still a child back then and I felt ashamed and sorry for not being there as his mother. “I’m sorry, Nathan,” I sobbed, hugging him tighter and I felt his hand on my back. “I’m sorry.” “I remember you, and that’s enough for me. May I call you . . . Mom?” I cried harder when I heard that from him because those were the same words his father told me before his death. Maybe it was just a coincidence, or maybe it was fate, but one thing is for sure—I will never leave his side again. *** “Mom?” Tumama sa mga mata ko ang liwanag ng ilaw at doon ko narealize na nakahiga na pala ako sa couch. Bumangon ako habang nakaalalay naman sa akin si Nathan. Inalala ko kung ano ang huling nangyari bago ako nagising. I was massaging Nathan’s head and started reminiscing my past life. It seemed like my memories overtook my consciousness and caused me to pass out. Doon ko lang napansin na basa ang gilid ng mga mata ko pati na ang pisngi ko. Nathan gave me a concerned look so I smiled at him in return. “Don’t worry, I’m fine,” sabi ko naman. “But . . .” “My memories are just hard to control, so be careful of yours,” I warned since his sixth sense allows him to remember everything. “I will.” I was about to hug him but his stomach suddenly grumbled and that made me laugh. He looked embarrassed, as if he did something wrong. “Let’s eat,” sabi ko at saka ako tumayo. Dahil mukhang ubos na ang supplies dito sa kusina ay nagdesisyon kaming sa Central Plaza na lang kumain ngayong gabi. Naghanda kaming pareho at lumabas mula sa bahay. Students, teachers and staffs were also roaming around the campus since the curfew was temporarily lifted due to the effects of war. Naglalakad kami papunta sa stalls nang marealize ko na nasa central path kami. Napahinto ako sa paglalakad at naalala ko ang araw na ‘yon. I only had one wish during that time but whatever I do, it wouldn’t happen anymore. I remembered the scenario I imagined that time—the three of us walking together while Nathan was still a child. “Mom?” Nathan had a worried look on his face so I forced a smile but it seemed like he could read my thoughts. “Sorry, it’s just that . . . I miss your father so much,” pag-amin ko habang pinipigilan ang nagbabadyang luha sa mga mata ko. It has been more than a decade but it felt like yesterday. My memories were still vivid and it still hurt after all this time. Bigla namang lumapit sa akin si Nathan at minasahe niya ang sentido ko gaya ng ginawa ko sa kanya kanina. “You said this will soothe your mind,” sabi niya kaya napatingin ako sa kanya. “I . . . I can’t remember his face clearly but I remember his words.” ‘I will protect her, so don’t worry . . . Dad.’ Nang mabasa ko ang isip niya ay nagtuluy-tuloy na ang luha ko. Naalala ko ang mga salitang ‘yon kay Vince bago niya ibinigay si Nathan kay Hideo. Hearing those words from him made me sad and proud at the same time. I realized he has really grew up. Napatingin ako sa langit at kitang-kita ang mga bituin. Pinunasan ko ang luha ko at ngumiti. Maybe it’s time to let go of the past. Maybe it’s time to restart and start living again. I was miserable after Vince’s downfall and even thought of giving up but right now, in front of me is the person I have to and want to protect. “Let’s go, Mom,” sabay hatak sa akin ni Nathan. For the last time, I looked at the fountain and the sky, hoping that Vince could hear me in the other world. With a heavy heart, I took a step forward . . . towards Nathan . . . towards the future. Every minute, every hour and every day, I will always think of you. No matter how painful, I will always remember you just like what you said to me before you left because your memory is my home, my refuge. You will never be forgotten, Vince. I promise.
“Is that okay with you, Reina?” tanong ko. “Mmm!” “Okay, then.” I left Nathan with her since we received classified missions from Sir Hideyoshi. It has only been four months since Nathan was born yet we couldn't take care of him due to the number of works we needed to do, especially now that the tension between Senshins and Shinigamis is in its peak. “Naomi, where are you?” Mayu's image projected in front of me. “I'm on my way.” “Okay.” Naging sobrang busy namin nitong mga nakaraang buwan dahil sa sunud-sunod na missions. I didn't even have the luxury to rest because of the preparations if ever a war breaks out. The Atama family has been given classified tasks by the Council and Intel department. We were sent back to our respective families or clans to request for their support, however, I wasn't able to travel because of my condition. I was given a month to rest after giving birth to Nathan and it was a hard time for me because Vince wasn't at my side. Mayu welcomed me in her small laboratory, along with Hiroshi who was tinkering some piece of wire. “How's Hiro?” she asked and I still couldn't get used to Nathan's alternative name. Those who were born in the campus were immediately bestowed with their alternative names to familiarize them easily. “He's with Reina,” I answered. "I didn't expect Reina to like him." “Me too.” A smile was formed on my lips, “maybe she wants a younger brother and I think she's really good at taking care of others.” She gave me the letter that I need to give to my grandfather, the current head of Heren clan. Isang beses ko pa lang siyang nakikita at iyon ay noong umalis kami sa bahay para tumira sa campus. I was just five that time and I couldn’t remember his face anymore. “Sir Hideyoshi said you should meet him,” sabi naman ni Mayu at tumango ako. “Alright. Bye, Hiroshi,” I said and Hiroshi waved at me while holding the tangles of wire. Naglakad naman ako papunta sa office ni Sir Hideyoshi at halos lumabas na ang puso ko sa sobrang kaba. Matapos niyang humingi ng tawad sa akin ilang buwan na ang nakakalipas ay hindi ko pa siya ulit nakakausap na kaming dalawa lang. I stood in front of his door and just like what happened that day, it opened before I could even knock. He was sitting on the couch and I strode towards his direction. Pinaupo naman niya ako sa tapat niya at agad naman akong sumunod. “I’m sorry for giving this kind of task to you,” he said in an apologetic tone. I promised that I wouldn’t cry anymore after giving birth to Nathan but his words were stirring up my emotions. “It’s okay. We need them.” After what happened in Shima, I couldn’t look or speak to any Council members anymore. They were the reason why my parents died, even after their clans joined the Senshin tribe, and the mere fact that they wanted to ask for their help made me want to throw up. I loathed them but I had no choice. I want Vince and Nathan to live in peace and the only way to do that is to win the war. “I’ll take my leave now—” “Wait.” Napatigil naman ako sa pagtayo nang sinabi ‘yon ni Sir Hideyoshi. His usual composure was replaced with a worrisome expression. For a second, I wanted to look at his mind but that might cause trouble to both of us. “Hideo,” he said, “Please help him.” Pagkasabi niya no’n ay natulala ako. Since we were young, Sir Hideyoshi had been strict and harsh to Hideo because he would be the next President. In contrary, he was a caring father-figure to me and I realized it might be because of what happened to my parents. However, they said that a father’s love to his daughter is different from his son. This was the first time I’ve seen him so concerned about Hideo and that made me smile. “Of course,” I said. “We’ve been helping each other since we were young. You don’t need to worry.” Sir Hideyoshi flashed a smile of relief and after that, I went out of his room. Bumalik ako sa kwarto namin at naabutan ko sina Reina at Nathan na tulog. Ang tahimik na ng kwartong ‘to simula nang umalis si Akemi at humiwalay si Akira. I was alone during my pregnancy and the photos, things and my memories were fueling my depression. During those times, I realized why Hideo fell in love with Akemi—they’re both born to be leaders. They have to put their people first before theirselves. Maybe, he saw himself in her because they are sharing the same fate and pain. I remembered one time, I thought somebody was inside the room since I felt a presence. I was so scared because it might be a Shinigami, especially now that their attacks were getting frequent. Buti na lang, walang masamang nangyari at mukhang imahinasyon ko lang ang lahat. Kinumutan ko naman sina Nathan at Reina. Umupo ako sa gilid ng kama at nakita ko ang mga litrato na naka-display sa ibabaw ng mesa—our childhood photos; Hideo and me; Akira, Akemi and me; the Atama family; and my own family. Sometimes, I wish life could be preserved just like moments into photos but I know that it’s impossible. *** The succeeding months were the busiest. I was out of town for almost a month because of that mission and it took all my willpower to enter the household. The Herens, my mother’s clan, is one of the oldest clans in Slavic communities who joined forces with Shinji’s people during the 1650’s. Heren means ‘to hear’ in Old English and it was because they could hear the thoughts of each other. After weeks of persuading my grandfather, who was intimidating despite his old age, I finally got his approval, however in one condition. “Give me the names of those Elders,” he ordered and I winced when I felt the pressure . . . his own thoughts . . . in my head. “Looks like you finally know what happened to your parents.” I almost shivered when I realized he was looking through my mind. Honestly, it was more frightening than hearing the prisoners’ thoughts in Shima. It felt like he was testing my loyalty, knowledge and courage. I thought I would collapse in front of him but I managed to hold my ground. After that visit, I immediately went home to bring the good news but the atmosphere in Tantei High became more suffocating. Dumiretso ako sa dorm dahil miss na miss ko na si Nathan at pagpasok ko sa kwarto ay napatigil ako sa naabutan ko. Vince was there. He and Nathan were asleep and I had to choke back my tears when I saw Nathan holding his father’s index finger with his tiny hand. “I can’t take care of him like a normal father.” “I’ll just protect him from afar.” “I don’t want him to be labeled as an Executioner’s child.” Iyon ang mga salitang lagi niyang binibitiwan tuwing sinasabi ko na hawakan o alagaan niya si Nathan. But looking at them now, it seemed like he would be a perfect father. I covered him with my blanket and left the room. Gusto kong magkaroon siya ng oras para kay Nathan kahit na sabihin niyang hindi niya kaya. Naglibot ako sa campus at naisipan kong pumunta sa gubat. Ilang oras din akong nagpalakad-lakad hanggang sa makita ko si Hideo. I thought he would see me using his sixth sense but I guess his mind was too chaotic to even notice his surroundings. Nandito na naman siya at may hawak na naman siyang bulaklak. The green flower, if I remember correctly, is Akemi’s favorite. I wanted to comfort him but I don’t know what to say. Somehow, I felt guilty because I was feeling happy while he was drowning in misery. I used my sixth sense and froze the time within my range. The rustling of the trees, the wind, and Hideo stopped moving altogether. I approached him and hugged him, hoping that it could bring him warmth and hope. “Don’t give up, Aaron. I, together with the Atama family, will always stand by your side. You will find her,” I whispered though I know that he couldn’t hear me. Agad akong umalis nang maramdaman ko ang pananakit ng mata ko. Pagkatapos no’n ay bumalik ako sa dorm para makasama ang sarili kong pamilya. *** The sound of sirens woke us up. Vince immediately held his gun while I covered Nathan. “What’s happening?” I asked and I could sense the panic in my own voice. “That’s the warning for intruders,” he said and he stood up. “Where are you going?” “I’ll check the situation. Don’t get out.” “But—!” “I’ll be back so don’t worry.”
Hindi na ako nakapagsalita matapos niyang sabihin ‘yon. Agad siyang lumabas ng kwarto at naiwan kaming dalawa ni Nathan. Sakto namang pumasok sa kwarto sina Reina at Hayate kaya sinabihan ko silang bantayan muna si Nathan. I went out to see what was happening and I saw the Medical department in chaos. Tumakbo ako papunta roon at nakasabay ko si Michiko papasok sa loob. The doctors were running out of the building and we had to squeeze ourselves between them to get inside. There was smoke coming from the left wing, where the confidential studies of scientists are done. “Activate shield,” a robotic voice said and we ran faster to get through it. Nang makarating kami sa dulo ay nakita namin ang hagdan papuntang basement. Agad kaming bumaba ni Michiko at napatigil ako sa nakita ko. “What in the world . . .” My voice disappeared after seeing the room in front of me. “Akira, get Dr. Miwako out of here,” Mayu instructed and Akira immediately pulled the unconscious body of Dr. Miwako. “I’ll deactivate the chamber but it might explode. Naomi, Michiko, you have to—” “I get it.” Hindi ko alam kung ano ang buong pangyayari pero nang makita ko ang katawan ni Hideo sa loob ng isang cryogenic chamber at ang isa pa sa tabi niyang sira na at walang laman, alam kong may kinalaman ito kay Akemi. With Mayu’s abilities, the chamber shut down and the glass started to crack. It shattered into fragments when the pressure was high enough but before it reached us, I used my sixth sense to stop the time and get Hideo out of it. I felt the stinging sense at the back of my eyes but I extended the time enough to protect us from the debris. When I released it from being frozen, Michiko was already prepared to shield us from the explosion. Agad naming dinala sa labas si Hideo at tinulungan naman kami ng ilang doktor na natira. Hinanap ko rin sa paligid si Vince pero hindi ko siya makita. “He followed the Shinigamis who took Akemi,” biglang sabi ni Akira. It must have been her sixth sense. “Where?” “Hindi ko alam. Bigla na lang nawala ang mga boses nila.” Ilang minuto ang nakalipas bago kami nakapunta sa maayos na medical quarter. Mabuti na lang at nandoon si Yuuki kaya iniwan muna namin sa kanya si Hideo. Nagpaalam naman ako sa kanila para hanapin si Mitsuo. Ni hindi ko alam kung saan siya nagpunta at kakaiba ang pakiramdam ko ngayon. He was chasing Shinigamis and other Erityians since he was young, but those people are different. If they could get inside the basement of the Medical department without getting notice . . . God, Nathalie, stop thinking about bad things! Kung saan-saan ako tumakbo pero hindi ko pa rin siya makita. I was running out of energy when I suddenly felt an eerie feeling—similar to a Shinigami’s presence. Agad akong tumakbo papunta sa Midori building at hinanap kung nasaan ang Shinigami pero pagbukas ko ng pinto papuntang hallway ay agad ko rin itong sinara dahil sa nakita ko. It was pitch black and I could feel the smoldering heat even the door was already closed. Several thoughts rushed in my head but I was distracted by a voice . . . a familiar voice. “D-damn it!” “Vince!” Without a second thought, I opened the door and saw Vince on the floor. When he saw me, his expression changed into panic but before he could say anything, I stepped inside and reached his hand. *** A flash of light almost blinded me and I had to blink several times to get used to the brightness. Pagdilat ko ay nakita kong nakahiga ako sa kama at mukhang nasa medical quarter ako. I tried to remember what happened but my head throbbed painfully. “You’re awake . . .” Nakita ko naman si Vince sa gilid ko habang buhat niya si Nathan. He has a bandage on his forehead but it looked like he was fine. Doon ko naalala kung ano ang nangyari. “The hallway . . .” My voice dissolved into thin air when I saw Vince’s expression. “It’s now guarded by the Intel department.” “What happened?” “I don’t know the exact details but I’m sure it was the Black Dimension.” Kinilabutan ako sa sinabi niya kahit na may idea na ako tungkol doon. Hindi ko alam kung papaanong nangyari ang bagay na ‘yon pero nakababahala dahil mayroon silang pwedeng daanan papunta rito. “How’s Hideo?” tanong ko naman nang maalala ko ang nangyari sa Medical department pero hindi ako sinagot ni Vince. “Why? What happened to him?” “He’s . . . in a state of coma.” *** Ilang linggo na ang nakakalipas pero hindi pa rin nagigising si Hideo. Hindi ko alam kung dahil ba ‘yon sa chamber o sa nangyari kay Akemi. Dr. Miwako told us the truth and my hatred for the Council of Elders reached its peak. How could they do something so cruel? I thought Senshins lived by the principles taught by Shinji but they were acting like Shinigamis. “Hideo,” tawag ko, umaasang naririnig niya ako, “don’t give up. I know it’s hard but you can’t give up . . . for the sake of Akemi and for us.” “I’ve never seen him this frail,” sabi naman ni Michiko. “Don’t worry. He’s strong and I believe in him,” dagdag ni Mayu. Mabuti nang wala rito si Akira dahil hindi makabubuti sa kondisyon niya ang makita si Hideo na ganito. Idagdag pa ang lumalalang tensyon sa pagitan ng Senshins at Shinigamis. Halos hindi na kami makatulog nang maayos dahil baka bigla silang umatake lalo na’t pagkatapos nang nangyari kay Akemi. Isa-isa na ring inihatid ang mga batang estudyante sa kani-kanilang sariling pamilya, lalo na iyong mga hindi pa kayang lumaban at hindi kayang kontrolin ang sixth sense nila. Students who could use them stayed, as well as the teachers and staffs. Some clans also arrived and given respective tasks by the administration. I don’t know if the Heren’s already arrived since I was busy running errands but I was hoping they would really help us. Makalipas ang ilang araw ay nagising si Hideo. His thoughts immediately flowed out and I had to close my mind and get out of the room because of trauma. I was scared that his memories would replace mine, just like what happened in Shima. Tinawag ko kaagad si Dr. Miwako para tignan ang kalagayan niya at pagkatapos ng isang oras ay lumabas siya mula sa kwarto. “He’s now fine but he needs rest,” she said and I could see the tinge of guilt in her eyes. “You should rest, too.” Sumang-ayon naman ako sa kanya at dumiretso ako sa kwarto ko. Naabutan ko sina Nathan at Vince na nagtititigan at napangiti ako dahil do’n. They both looked at me and Vince seemed flustered. “It suits you,” I said and he gave me a confused look, “being a father, I mean.” Natahimik naman siya at lumakad ako papunta sa kanila. Contrary to his words, he’s actually trying his best to get close to his son. “Why?” tanong ko dahil seryoso siyang nakatitig sa akin. I tried to reach his mind but he was getting better in blocking his thoughts from outsiders. Bigla naman niyang hinawakan ang kamay ko at nagulat ako sa sumunod niyang ginawa. “After all of this, let’s be together,” he said and I teared up after seeing the ring on my finger. “I’m not really good at this but—” Napatigil siya nang bigla ko siyang niyakap at natumba kaming pareho dahil sa ginawa ko. “Stupid,” I muttered while trying hard not to cry. “That was the best thing I’ve heard these past few weeks.” Inalalayan niya naman ako at pareho kaming napaupo sa sahig. Hindi ko alam kung bakit pero bigla kong naalala ang unang beses na nakita ko siya. Ang laki na ng ipinagbago niya pero mas gusto ko kung sino siya ngayon. He has changed for the better. For a second, I was tempted to stop the time just to look at my family—the two guys who changed my world. *** The tension in the air was suffocating and my skin tingled to every sound I hear. Being assigned to the boundaries of Latens forest was kind of thrilling in this situation. The barrier against Black Dimension would not reach this area because of the distance so Senshins with appropriate sixth sense were entrusted with monitoring and protecting this part. Nanginig ako dahil sa malakas na hangin. December na rin kasi kaya malamig na pero nakakalungkot dahil ngayon pa nangyayari ang ganito. Instead of preparing for Christmas, we’re preparing for war. All of a sudden, I felt a change in the atmosphere and I saw a portion of Black Dimension opening in front of me. I was about to stop everything but when I saw a familiar face, I hesitated for a second. It was Haruka. “I’m not here to fight you,” she said while getting out. “I’m here to negotiate.” I stayed alert after she said that since our last encounter didn’t go well. “Where is Akemi?” tanong ko habang nakatutok sa kanya ang pamaypay ko at nakita ko ang galit sa mukha niya. “I’ll bring her to you,” sagot niya naman at pagkatapos no’n ay agad niyang binuksan ang Black Dimension. “Wait! What do you mean? She’s coming back?” “No. It’s because we don’t have a choice,” she said and I could feel the grief in her voice. “What happened to h—” Naputol naman ang pagsasalita ko nang bigla siyang tumingin nang masama. “We’re enemies so why would I tell that to you?” She turned around to face me with her bitter expression. “If there are other ways, I wouldn’t bother to go here but our backs are against the wall this time.” There was an uncomfortable silence between us after that. Hindi ko alam kung bakit pero parang naisantabi ko ang galit ko sa kanya pansamantala dahil sa sitwasyon. Hindi ko akalain na magagawa niya ang ganitong desisyon. “Why are you doing this?” I asked. “You’ll be in trouble.” “I’m just doing my duties as her Elite,” sabi naman niya at tuluyan na siyang nawala. As a friend, I thought, but maybe that rarely use that word. They really treasure her and if she had those people around her, I think there’s no need to worry . . . for now. *** “I’m scared.” “Me too.” Naririnig ko ang usapan ng ilang estudyante na ngayon pa lang makakaalis sa campus. Several vehicles were parked in front of Midori Building and the students were slowly filling them up. We decided to let Nathan go with Reina and her friends since this place wouldn’t be safe for him. We were in the middle of assisting them when we suddenly heard an explosion from the forest. Almost all of us stopped on our tracks but it was followed by panic. The children started crying and we had to prevent them from running away. After a few seconds, the alarms blazed and the barriers were activated. Bigla ko namang naalala ang sinabi ni Haruka noong nakaraang araw. “Vince,” I called. “Stay here with Nathan and the kids. Help them.” “Where are you going?” Nginitian ko naman siya kaya napatigil siya. “I need to meet someone.” *** Kinilabutan ako sa bilis ng mga pangyayari. Few minutes ago, everything was still in order but right now, several explosions and commotions could be heard from different places. We were preparing for this war for months but now that it’s here, it felt unreal and terrifying. Nagmadali ako papunta sa timog na bahagi ng gubat kung saan ko nakita si Haruka. Ilang beses din akong napatigil para tulungan ang ilang estudyante at nahirapan din ako dahil biglang umulan nang malakas. I had to use my sixth sense a couple of times when I was outside the barrier because several Shinigamis started to appear. Two Shinigamis made their way towards the southern part of the forest. I immediately stopped the time within my perimeter and took them down. Halos kilabutan naman ako nang marinig ko ang mas malakas na sigawan sa silangang banda ng gubat. Kahit hindi ko nakikita ay ramdam kong nag-iba ang simoy ng hangin. The Shinigamis are already here. Tumakbo ako hanggang sa malampasan ko ang grassland at mapunta sa mapunong banda. It was still raining hard and it would definitely affect the fight. Napatigil naman ako nang may naramdaman akong kakaiba sa paligid. I could hear the rain and the battles behind me but there was something else—something alive. A heavy breathing. Hinanap ko kung saan nanggagaling ‘yon at dahan-dahan akong naglakad papunta sa isang parang kwebang gawa sa lupa. I readied my fan in case someone decided to jump on me. With careful steps, I approached the opening but before I could get inside, someone attacked me. My body reacted and I deflected the weapon using my fan. It landed on my foot and when I saw what it was, I gasped. A card. “N-Naomi . . .” Nang marinig ko ang boses na ‘yon ay napatingin agad ako sa loob. Napanganga na lang ako nang makita ko si Akemi kasama ang anak niya at si Demi. “Oh God. You’re really here, Akemi.” Lumabas siya agad habang hawak ang anak niya at sumunod naman si Demi. Inalalayan ko siya dahil mukha na siyang nanghihina. “I need to thank Haruka for this,” sabi ko nang makalabas siya. Tinanong niya naman kung ano ang ibig kong sabihin pero hindi ko na ipinaliwanag pa dahil sa sitwasyon. “How’s your son?” tanong niya bigla at ako naman ang nagulat. “How did you . . .” “I just know.” Tinignan ko siya at sinubukan kong basahin ang isip niya. I saw myself when I was pregnant and I didn’t know how she had that memory. “He’s fine. He’s turning one in two months,” sabi ko at naalala ko ang nangyari kanina. He’s fine. Maybe I was telling that to myself. Inalalayan ko si Akemi at naaawa ako sa bata dahil nauulanan siya. Nag-aalala rin ako dahil hindi siya umiiyak o umiimik man lang. “What’s her name?” tanong ko. “Rainie,” she said with a smile. “How about your son?” “Nathan. And you know what? Si Vince ang nagbigay ng pangalan niya.” “Vince?” “I mean, si Mitsuo. Sorry, nasanay na akong tawagin ang totoo niyang pangalan.” Pagkasabi ko no’n ay nabasa ko ang iniisip niya. It seemed like she didn’t bother to close her mind anymore. ‘I want to know their names.’ “Nathalie,” sabi ko, “if that’s what you want to ask.” “Rielle,” sabi naman niya. “So kaya ba Nathan ang ipinangalan niya para nakasunod sa pangalan mo?” “I think so. That guy is sentimental even though he doesn’t look like one.” Napangiti naman ako nang maalala ko ang araw na sinabi niya ‘yon pero agad din ‘yong nawala nang biglang bumagsak si Akemi. Tinulungan ko siyang tumayo pero nagulat ako nang makita ko ang kamay ko na nabahiran na ng dugo. I told her that we should rest but she looked at me with those determined eyes. “Naomi, please. I need to see him. I want to see him. Please.” After saying that, she completely opened her mind and her thoughts flowed into my head. Her memories were kind of hazy but I could feel her despair and pain. My tears automatically fell after seeing her mind and I felt bad for not being there for her. Tinulungan ko siyang maglakad at sinabi kong kapag nalampasan namin ang grassland ay malapit na kami sa campus. That made her smile. ‘Kaunti na lang. Makikita ko na siya.’ Parang lumubog ang puso ko nang marinig ko ‘yon mula sa kanya. Kahit anong mangyari, tutulungan ko siya. I will do everything to let them meet. They had suffered enough pain and I don’t want to see them like this. Hindi ko alam kung anong nangyari pero biglang may ibang alaalang pumasok sa isip ko. The trauma from what happened in Shima kicked in and I had to keep myself from screaming. I tried to breathe slowly, telling myself that this wasn’t the same as before. These memories seemed familiar and I realized they were from them. ‘Akemi?’ I heard Akira’s voice in my head, as well as the voices of every person near her. ‘Why am I hearing a lot of voices?!’ tanong naman ni Michiko. ‘Akira, isn’t this your sixth sense?’ Mayu added. Kinilabutan ako nang makita ko ang buong paligid ko at naaalala ko ang bawat punong nadaanan namin. ‘Seventh sense,’ I muttered. Napatingin ako kay Akemi at sa tingin ko ay siya ang dahilan nito. She must’ve activated it while trying to reach our thoughts. But what scared me was the fact that we could read each other’s mind without any restriction. Sharing your deepest and darkest thoughts to someone, even if they’re your friends, would take a lot of courage and trust because you would expose your raw and vulnerable self. I was scared because I once lost my own memories but in order to help her, we need each other’s abilities. Nagulat naman ako nang bumagsak na naman si Akemi at hindi ko na magawang pigilan ang luha ko dahil sa kalagayan niya. I was about to help her but I felt some presence around us. Several Shinigamis appeared and they started approaching us. They called Akemi a traitor and even said that she deserves to die. “Who are you to decide what she deserves?” tanong ko at pinatigil ko ang oras nila. I attacked them using my fan and two of them fell down. “But I can say that you deserve to die because you said those things. Talk bad about her and you’ll die by my hands.” I will protect her until Hideo comes. I will protect her because she’s my friend. Sunud-sunod na lumabas ang mga Shinigami at ginawa ko naman ang makakaya ko para pigilan sila. Demi helped me, too, and that was enough for me. However, with the help of Hideo’s sixth sense, I saw something terrible. A portion of the Black Dimension opened near the dorm where the children are . . . where they are. Without a second thought, I started to run but Vince’s voice stopped me. ‘Don’t,’ he said. ‘Stay with her, Nathalie.’ The Shinigamis who appeared, according to Akemi’s memories, were her parents’ Elites. He was the only adult there and the children were still evacuating. Nanginig ang buong katawan ko dahil doon at para bang tumigil ang mundo ko. ‘I’ll protect him with my life so don’t worry,’ dagdag niya at agad na tumulo ang luha ko. ‘Idiot. Don’t say that.’ He warned me about the Shinigamis around us and I responded with my own attacks. Hindi na ako makahinga nang maayos pero wala akong magawa dahil kailangan kong protektahan si Akemi. ‘Naomi, you don’t have to do this,’ Akemi said. ‘You have your own family to protect, so please . . .’ Hindi ko siya sinagot dahil sa ilang Shinigami na nakapaligid sa amin. I was busy protecting the both of us when I saw a sword pointed at Akemi. Almost all of us shouted her name and I was about to use my sixth sense but Demi managed to save her. She tried to stand up while holding Rainie even though she couldn’t support herself anymore. ‘Akemi! What are you doing?! I can’t protect you keep on moving!’ sigaw ko. ‘I’m going to the campus,’ sabi niya kaya napatigil ako. ‘You can’t even walk properly—!’ ‘I don’t care!’ sigaw niya. ‘You said you’ll protect me, right? Then keep moving! Pupunta ako sa campus sa ayaw at sa gusto mo.’ Iyon ang sinabi niya pero iba ang nasa isip niya. ‘Wala na akong pakialam kung magalit siya sa akin. Gusto ko lang na makasama niya sina Mitsuo at Nathan ngayon at ayaw kong maging hadlang sa kanila. I’ll walk even if my legs fall off or even crawl if that’s the only way to reach them.’ Nagtuluy-tuloy na ang luha ko nang marinig ko ‘yon at hindi ko alam kung ano ang dapat kong maramdaman. I don’t even have the time to be thankful or sorry because of these Shinigamis. Nagpatuloy siyang maglakad at ako naman ay nasa likuran niya habang pinipigilan ang mga Shinigami sa pagsugod. Halos mapatigil naman ako nang makita ko si Dr. Miwako na dumating at kahit papaano ay napanatag ang loob ko. The other doctors escorted the children but Vince couldn’t give Nathan because he was already facing an Elite. “Are you going to fight me while holding that child?” tanong niya kay Vince at lumipat ang tingin niya kay Dr. Miwako. “And are you going to protect those children inside that building?” The two of them didn’t respond but I could feel Vince’s rage and worry. Gusto kong pumunta sa kanila para makatulong pero masyado pa kaming malayo. “This is why getting rid of one’s emotion is the key to a war. Protecting someone is just a hindrance. You’re being held back because some people can’t fight for themselves,” the Elite said. “And this is why Shinigamis are unsympathetic. War isn’t just about strength, strategies and victory. People survive war because they are being protected or they have something or someone to protect. You’re just a bunch of wild animals who kill for your own satisfaction, or maybe you’re lower than them since they are more compassionate,” sabi naman ni Dr. Miwako. “I’d rather be a beast than having those inessential feelings and diminish my efficiency. Now let’s see if you can really protect everything.” It happened so fast that I wasn’t able to process it at first. It felt like everything around me has stopped moving, as if I used my sixth sense. The next thing I knew, I was already screaming his name and running towards them but Akemi pulled me. I knew there was a Shinigami in front of us but I didn’t care. All I wanted was to save him, to protect him, but my hope quickly disappeared when I saw how the spear pierced his chest. “No! No! Let me go!” I was desperate to run to him but Akemi’s grip was too tight. “Please let me go!” Vince collapsed on his knees while trying to cover Nathan. My heart sank after seeing that. It was meant for our son but he received the blow. He pulled the spear out of his chest and blood gushed down his body. Sinubukan kong tumayo pero narinig ko ang boses niya. ‘Stay there, Nathalie,’ he calmly said, breaking my heart even more. ‘Hideo! Please help him. Please—’ Napatingin naman ako kay Akemi nang sabihin niya ‘yon. Hideo was already on his way to us but I saw him running towards Vince’s direction. I was about to ask Akemi but she just smiled at me and it made me feel guilty. Nalipat muli ang tingin ko kina Vince dahil patuloy nilang inaatake si Nathan. Vince managed to inflict an injury to the Elite but his condition was worsening. “Don’t touch them!” I yelled. It was too much. Kahit nanghihina na ang katawan ko ay kinuha ko ang pana mula sa Shinigami. I aimed it at the Elite using Hideo’s sixth sense and Akemi repelled it to travel faster. Within a few seconds, it hit the Elite’s shoulder. Nakita ko naman ang pagbagsak niya at ng isa pa dahil sa putok ng baril. Pagtingin namin sa itaas ng building ay nakita ko si Sir Tora. “S-Sir Tora . . .” “Don’t talk, Mitsuo. Miwako, treat him imm—” “I-I’m b-beyond treatment—” I collapsed when I saw Mitsuo vomited blood. I was hoping Dr. Miwako would say otherwise but her expression looked crestfallen. I called his name but it felt like a whisper and I couldn’t even hear my voice anymore. “So you’re finally here,” he suddenly said and I saw Hideo looking at him. “You . . .” “I know you need to go to Akemi, but I have a favor to ask.” Nathan started crying and he was holding onto his father’s clothes. “Sorry Nathan. Take care of your mother for me.” “No . . . Vince . . . don’t say that . . .” Hindi na ako makahinga nang maayos at hindi ko na alam ang gagawin ko. I had fallen into the world of misery after hearing those words from him. I wasn’t ready for this. I wasn’t ready to lose him. He gave our son to Hideo and started running away. I wanted to stop the time but it also meant stopping Hideo. I was torn but in the end, I chose to save him. ‘Don’t do it, Nathalie,’ bigla naman niyang sabi. ‘But—’ All of a sudden, he hit the spear with another one. Then he did it twice. Thrice. Bigla kong naalala ang sinabi niya noong nasa Shima kami. ‘I’m here. You should calm down and think carefully. You’re safe so you do not need to worry.’ Those were the meanings of his knocks. ‘But I’m sorry, Nathalie, I don’t think I can save you from now on.’ “You said I couldn’t protect anyone. Maybe you’re right. After all, I am not trained to protect someone. But I can kill everyone who gets in my way. I’m going to drag you to hell with me.” He was already covered with his blood yet he could still wield those weapons with no difficulties. Seeing him like that felt like I was back in Shima. I was on the verge of being demented once again. Wala na akong pakialam kung ano ang mangyari sa akin basta’t nasa tabi niya lang ako ngayon. Tumingin ako kay Akemi at alam kong naiintindihan niya ang sitwasyon ko kaya hindi na niya ako pinigilan. Nagsimula na akong maglakad pero bigla namang hinawakan ni Akemi ang braso ko. I was about to shout at her but I was surprised when she handed me her daughter. “W-what are you—” “Get out of here. She’s coming,” Ilang sandali pa at bumukas ang Black Dimension at lumabas mula roon ang isang babae na kamukha niya. “Naomi, go,” she ordered and gave me a locket. Hindi na ako nagreklamo pa at agad na tumakbo palayo. Kahit nanghihina na ang mga paa ko ay patuloy pa rin akong tumakbo papunta sa direksyon ni Vince. I was chanting his name, hoping that I could be by his side even though he said I shouldn’t. I was focused on reaching him that I wasn’t aware on what was happening on Akemi until Hideo shouted her name. When I looked at her, two arrows were already pierced on her chest. However, I didn’t have the time to grieve for her because of what happened to Vince. “NO!” Napaupo na ako nang makita ko kung paano niya pinugutan ng ulo ang Elite na kalaban niya . . . at kung paano siya sinaksak sa puso ng Elite na ‘yon. The spear fell down from his hands and he collapsed on his knees. “VINCE!” ‘Sorry . . . Nathan . . . Nathalie . . .’ ‘No. No. This isn’t right. This isn’t happening. W-wait for me okay?’ Pinilit kong tumayo pero nanghihina na ang mga binti ko. Please, don’t give up on me right now. I need to be with him. ‘Sorry.’ ‘Don’t say that! Please, don’t say that.’ Halos sabay na kaming umiiyak ni Rainie at kahit anong pilit ko ay lalo lang nanghihina ang katawan ko. Lalo ring lumakas ang ulan na para bang pinipigilan din ako sa pagtayo. Nakaluhod lang siya ro’n at halos pula na ang buo niyang katawan dahil sa dami ng dugo na nawala sa kanya. I already knew it was hopeless but I was still hoping. ‘Please, just forget me,’ he weakly said. ‘Use my sixth sense, Nathalie.’ ‘What are you saying?’ ‘I don’t want to cause you more pain.’ ‘Are you stupid? I’d rather live in pain than forget you.’ How could he say those words to me? How could he say that I should forget him? ‘But I . . . but I can’t live with you anymore and I’ll hurt you even more.’ ‘I don’t care. If you can't live with me, then I'll let you live in my memories.’ Hearing those words from my own mouth shattered my soul but that guy . . . he still managed to smile at me. ‘Tell Nathan that he should fulfill my wish,’ sabi niya habang nakangiti at nagtuluy-tuloy ang agos ng luha ko. ‘I’m sorry for saying that earlier. The truth is, I am scared that you will forget me.’ ‘How can I forget someone like you?’ I retorted and he smiled again. ‘Maybe it’s because I was used to forget people every now and then that I thought everyone would also be like that. But you know what? If I could live another life, I'd still choose to remember you. Even if my own memories were erased, as long as you're still inside my head, it would be enough.’ ‘Vince . . .’ ‘You are enough.’ How could this guy make my heart flutter and shatter it at the same time? I wanted to hear his voice more but it was becoming weaker and weaker. Blood was also gushing out of his head and my heart momentarily stopped when he closed his eyes. ‘Vince!’ ‘I will always remember you, Nathalie.’ And those were the last words I heard from the guy who could forget everything.
“Do you really have to leave again, Vince?” “That old fart will be returning soon. You don’t need me here.” Nanatili naman ako sa bukana ng gubat habang nakatingin sa kanila. Mitsuo did what he said last night and prepared for our departure. It seemed like the jailbreak incident has been controlled but there were still remaining escapees. After talking to Lionel, Mitsuo marched towards my direction. Our boat was already prepared, along with supplies we would need throughout the trip. “Let’s go,” he said and we boarded the boat. It was weird and awkward. The tension between us has heightened after what happened last night. A lot of things were running in my mind but thankfully, the memories of the prisoners weren’t that vivid anymore. It was like a series of nightmare, slowly eating my memories. Kung nanatili pa ako ro’n ng ilang oras ay hindi na kakayanin ng isip ko. “You should eat,” biglang sabi ni Mitsuo at inabutan niya ako ng tinapay. Kinuha ko naman ‘yon dahil nakaramdam ako ng gutom. Tahimik lang kami dahil na rin siguro sa lahat ng nangyari. Hindi ko akalaing mababago ako nang gano’n sa ilang araw na pananatili ko sa lugar na ‘yon. It was terrifying. I didn’t know that my ability could change and damage me like this. “You have that ability, too, right?” Bigla ko namang naalala si Manzo. He confessed his crime and I was ready to take his life but Mitsuo stopped me. I was angry and sad but after that, I forgot everything. When my own memories came back, I felt guilty because I forgot the anger and sorrow I felt for my parents. “In the end, I still believe that your clan is a threat. I do not care what Hideyoshi think of me. I did it to protect his position and the Miyamoto lineage.” Hideo’s clan, the Miyamotos, have been the heart of both Senshins and Shinigamis. After all, Ryou and Shou Miyamoto established our roots. They have been the owners of the throne and power. But to kill my parents because they saw them as threat? That was unforgivable. “Why are you crying?” Napatingin naman ako kay Mitsuo at doon ko napagtanto na tuluy-tuloy na ang pagtulo ng luha ko. “It’s just that . . . I don’t know how to face Hideo anymore,” I said while remembering our childhood. Hideo has been the brother I look up to, the one I could always depend on. We were each other’s partner and the people around us said that we would end up as husband and wife. “Does he know the truth?” tanong niya. “I don’t know.” Bigla naman niyang hinawakan ang kamay ko at nagulat ako sa ginawa niya. He looked at me with those intense yet worried eyes and I couldn’t help but reach for his face. With a simple gesture, he melted some of my apprehensions. “Hideo is not like me,” he said. “I can betray anyone for the sake of my clan but not him. He’s even willing to disobey the Council just to find Akemi.” Napaisip naman ako sa sinabi niya. He was right. Hideo has always been the guy who would think about the consequences of every situation first before making a decision. Masakit para sa akin ang nangyari sa mga magulang ko pero ayaw kong masira ang pagkakaibigan namin dahil doon. Hindi rin naman niya kasalanan ang nangyari at ang kailangan kong makausap ay si Sir Hideyoshi. I want to know everything from him. Naging tahimik ulit kami habang binabaybay ang karagatan. Somehow, the ocean felt more refreshing than I thought it would be. It might be because of my experience in Shima. The vastness of the ocean made me feel free and safe compared to the confined place I was locked in, which was suffocating and depressing. I was used to being alone but staying there without anyone scared me and made me think of my friends. I was really thankful when Naia joined me even if it was only for a few minutes. Napatingin ulit ako kay Mitsuo dahil gusto kong magtanong kay Naia pero mukhang alam na niya ang gusto kong iparating. Siguro ay dahil hindi ko na maisara nang mabuti ang isip ko. I couldn’t risk to fully close it yet because those people’s memories were still here and I felt like if I close it, they would stay in my mind forever. “Naia? She’s a Custos,” he said and that surprised me. “A Custos?” I couldn’t tell her tribe because her eyes weren’t on any stage yet. But how did a Custos child end up in that place? “Yeah. She was born there.” “Wait, you mean . . .” “Her parents are criminals.” “H-how did it happen?” Lalo akong na-curious sa pagkatao niya at naalala ko ang sinabi niya sa akin. According to her, her parents were already dead. “Her parents’ identity was discovered when they were spying a mafia in Colombia but instead of adhering to Custos’ principles, they chose to betray their comrades.” “What did they do?” “According to Aristus, they named the other spies in the system, in exchange for their lives that’s why they were brought in Shima,” dagdag niya. “Then, the reason why they did that must be her,” sabi ko naman. “Yes. She was pregnant that time. She wished to wait for her child to be born before killing them and the Executioners agreed. I can still remember she said when she was about to die.” Tumingin naman siya sa akin at bumilis ang tibok ng puso ko sa pagtitig niya. “The sin of the parents is not the sin of the child. Please take care of her. Those were her last words.” His eyes softened for a bit. Hindi ko akalaing gano’n ang nangyari. Siguro ay mas makabubuti sa bata na hindi lumaki ro’n pero mukhang napamahal na siya sa kanila. Ilang oras ang lumipas at nakarating kami sa pamilyar na lugar. Bumaba kami sa bangka at inalalayan naman niya ako. Napahinto kami sa bukana ng gubat at naalala ko ang nangyari rito. Ilang araw pa lang ang nakakaraan nang mangyari ‘yon pero parang ang tagal na. Agad naman kaming naglakad papasok sa gubat pero nagulat ako nang hawakan niya ang kamay ko. He has never been this bold so I wasn’t used to his upfront gestures. My heart fluttered as he held my hand while we were treading the forest. I squeezed his hand in return and he turned around to look at me. I gave him a timid smile in return. Everything has changed after leaving Shima. I was scared because of the things that happened but having him in my side was kind of reassuring. I could still remember the words he said before he left. ‘Thank you, but I shouldn’t be loved. I might hurt and break you so give your heart to someone who could really protect you. But your feelings toward me, I’ll treasure it.’ Yet here we are, together and have chosen each other. I gave my heart to him and even though he might hurt me, I’d still choose him. Before, I couldn’t understand why people would give up everything for the person they love, but now I know why. This is why love is powerful and dangerous at the same time. Halos tatlong araw rin kaming naglakbay mula sa Shima hanggang sa makarating kami sa Latens Forest. I almost cried when I saw the familiar forest and I realized how much I missed this place . . . my home. Nang makarating kami sa campus ay dumiretso kami sa Intelligence Department para puntahan si Sir Hideyoshi pero bigla naman naming nakasalubong si Sir Kyo. He looked at us with those censorious eyes, making me flinch. “Mitsuo, come with me,” he ordered and Mitsuo had no choice but to follow him. Naiwan ako ro’n kaya naman mag-isa akong dumiretso sa office ni Sir Hideyoshi. I was about to knock but before I could touch the door, someone has already opened it. “Come in,” Sir Hideyoshi said, “I know you have a lot to say.” Bigla namang bumigat ang puso ko sa sinabi niya. I sat on the couch and he served me a cup of tea. He sat in front of me and there was just silence and tension, as if he knew what I wanted to tell. “I’m sorry for not telling you the truth,” he said, breaking the silence. My tears automatically fell after hearing those words, remembering the hardships my parents went through because of the Council’s ideas. “Why?” I asked, trying my best to stay calm even if my face and mind were already a mess. “Because I felt guilty, knowing that your parents, my friends, died because of me and my family,” he replied and I could see the remorse and sincerity in his eyes. Nagulat naman ako nang bigla siyang lumuhod sa harapan ko at yumuko. “Sir . . .” “From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry for hurting you like this,” he said while bowing for apology. Lalo akong naiyak sa ginawa niya at pinatayo ko siya dahil ayaw kong makita siyang gano’n. He took care of me after my parents’ death and treated me like his real daughter. I do not want to lose another parent. Pagkatapos no’n ay nagpaalam ako sa kanya at pumunta sa mausoleum. I have been visiting this place yearly but today felt different. Standing in front of their tombs made my heart heavier, knowing what they went through. “I’m sorry for not knowing the truth until now,” I said with a shaky voice. “I lived in solace while you were wrongly judged and killed. I’m sorry.” Akala ko ay naubos na ang luha ko nitong mga nakaraang araw pero ngayong kaharap ko ang mga magulang ko ay nagtuluy-tuloy ang daloy nito. Halos ilang oras akong nanatili ro’n hanggang sa kumalma ako. I wanted to be alone for a while but I suddenly heard Hideo’s voice. “I need your help,” he said. Ang laki ng ipinagbago niya simula nang umalis ako. Stress has taken its toll to his body and when our eyes met, we immediately knew each other’s condition. We were both broken and miserable. “Sure,” sagot ko naman at sumunod ako sa kanya. *** “Are you sure?” tanong ni Akira. “Yes,” Mayu replied. “I received a report about the Genome Organization having Erityian hostages and the Shinigamis might pay them a visit.” “Then we should go now,” sabi naman ni Hideo. The five of us agreed to help him despite the warning of the Council of Elders. We know how Hideo changed because of Akemi. He truly cared for her, even after knowing her real identity. “But you know, it’s nice that you’re back,” Michiko suddenly said while looking at Mitsuo. “We already know about Shima after that jailbreak incident,” Mayu added. “But you made her suffer,” Hideo said and that made us silent. “Hideo . . .” Tinignan ko siya at alam kong alam na niya ang laman ng isip ko. After all, I left my mind open to let the nightmares drift away. “I will take responsibility. From now on, she’s under my care,” Mitsuo said and I suddenly felt a lump in my throat. Kahit wala ang mga magulang ko sa tabi ko, nandito pa rin sila para sa akin. I’m really lucky to have these people in my life. To me, they are my family. Bago pa ako tuluyang maiyak ay tinanong ko kung ano ang plano namin at doon naman napunta ang usapan. We talked about our strategy and prepared for our visit. After several hours, we boarded Miyu and went to the organization’s base. Along the trip, we received a case that happened in that same place so Akira contacted the police for back-up. When we arrived, the place was already in chaos. We all went inside the building and Hideo narrowed down the suspects. It must be one of the staffs working in the top floor. Nang nakarating kami ro’n ay agad kaming napatigil dahil may kakaiba kaming naramdaman. The presence of a Shinigami. “Hideo . . .” I checked him and he seemed troubled. “Calm yourself.” Pagpasok namin sa crime scene ay ilang staffs ang nandoon at hinarang na rin sila ng mga pulis. However, I felt an eerie pressure, similar to what I feel when a Shinigami is opening the Black Dimension. “No one’s leaving this place,” Hideo warned and his eyes found her. Akemi . . . Her comrade opened the Black Dimension and Hideo suddenly whispered something to me and Mitsuo. “This time, I’ll take her back so help me. For sure, she has her other Elites here. I’ll leave them to you.” Pagkasabi niya no’n ay agad kaming kumilos ni Mitsuo. He said the only place he could choose would be the rooftop where there are no police. We ran towards the rooftop and just like what he had predicted, they were really here. “I am done with all of you so stop this bullshit,” she harshly said but I could read her mind. “Are you sure?” tanong ko naman. “Your mind doesn’t say so.” I was about to lunged at her but a portion of the Black Dimension opened beside me and that girl from before kicked me in the chest. The impact threw me away and my body crashed to the wall. “Naomi!” Mitsuo yelled while running towards me. Rielle’s Elites faced us and we couldn’t do anything but let her go. Hideo wasn’t able to take her and I could see the pain and regret on his face. The fight reached stalemate and neither of us won, but we lost . . . we lost someone who wasn’t really ours. *** Ilang buwan ang nakalipas matapos ang insidenteng ‘yon. Hideo has been hellbent on finding her but his efforts were all in vain. I wanted to support him as much as I could but Dr. Miwako said that I should rest for a while. My mind was still unstable due to those people’s memories . . . and the child in my womb. When she informed me about it, I didn’t know how to react. I was embarrassed but it made me happy. I consulted her because every time I go to sleep, I would always dream of their memories. I couldn’t sleep peacefully anymore and I was scared that it might affect my whole life. She said I should undergo a rehabilitation so she checked my vitals first and that was how she knew my condition. “Are you scared?” she asked while giving me some medicines. “Yes,” I breathed. I was afraid not for myself but for the life inside me. I do not know what to do. “You do not need to worry. Someone vowed to protect you, right?” Pagkasabi niya no’n ay biglang bumukas ang pinto at nakita ko si Mitsuo. He stopped in front of us, eyes wide open. “Y-you called him?” tanong ko Kay Dr. Miwako at ngumiti siya. “Not me. Maybe someone who can hear our conversation?” “Akira?” “Is it true?” biglang tanong ni Mitsuo at naramdaman ko ang pamumula ng pisngi ko. “Maiwan ko muna kayo,” sabay labas ni Dr. Miwako sa kwarto. Naiwan kaming dalawa ro’n at hindi niya maalis ang tingin niya sa akin kaya ako na ang unang umiwas. I was flustered and afraid at the same time. Bigla naman siyang lumapit sa akin at hinawakan niya ang tiyan ko. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Why are you saying sorry?” tanong ko. Hindi ko alam pero nasaktan ako sa sinabi niya. “I am not worthy to be someone’s father. I don’t deserve this. I—” “You are and you do,” I said while cupping his face. His expression softened, just like when he saved me before. “But . . .” “Vince.” Bigla siyang tumingin sa akin nang sabihin ko ang pangalan niya. Ever since we returned from Shima, I wanted to call his real name but he might not like it. I wanted to be part of his life, not just him being Mitsuo, but as Vince—the Senshin who grew up in Shima, the Executioner, and the person who treasures me. “Stop discrediting yourself, Vince,” mahina kong sabi. “But it’s the truth. My hands were already soaked in people’s blood. I’ve killed hundreds of people. Someone as filthy as me can’t have something so pure.” “Then does that mean what you did was a mistake?” tanong ko habang pinipigilan ang luha ko. Natahimik naman siya at tinignan niya ako nang matagal. He stood up and held my hand. “No. Sorry,” he said and he hugged me. “It’s just that . . . I don’t want the both of you to be labeled as an Executioner’s wife and child. But I’ll do anything to protect you so you don’t need to worry. I made this choice so I will do anything to keep you out of danger.” Tuluyan nang tumulo ang luha ko sa mga sinabi niya. Some people would think he’s cold and aloof, but he’s nothing like that. In fact, he’s a gentleman, someone who would protect you even if it means hurting himself. But what made me emotional was when he said wife and child. Somehow, I could imagine my life with him, together with our child. For someone who was used to kill and hunt, it was all I wanted to hear. Despite his nature, he would be a good husband and father. I’m sure of it. *** “Una na ako, Naomi!” paalam ni Akira habang nagmamadaling lumabas ng kwarto. “Don’t run,” sabi ko naman pero nginitian niya lang ako. Napangiti lang din ako nang makaalis siya. She was actually wearing a yukata since there’s an ongoing festival in the Central Plaza. It has been celebrated yearly ever since Tantei High was established to commemorate Lord Shinji’s birthday. Since he couldn’t return to his hometown after he built this place, he wanted to see the Japanese culture once more before he passed away, giving birth to Shinji Festival, as well as to some beliefs. Some said that when you throw coins in the fountain at the center of the plaza, you will pass all your subjects and graduate on time. Some believe that when you walk with your partner or loved one on the central path, you will end up together. Kumilos naman ako para maghanda na at makalipas ang halos isang oras ay naayusan ko rin ang sarili ko. May narinig naman akong pagkatok sa pinto kaya napatingin ako ro’n. It was followed by two knocks, then three more. Napangiti naman ako at naalala ko ang sinabi niya noon. Once means I’m here. Twice means you should calm down and think carefully. Thrice means you’re safe so you do not need to worry. If you’re not, then I’ll barge in and save you. “Are you ready—” Napatigil siya sa pagsasalita at mukhang nagulat siya sa itsura ko. Nakaramdam naman ako ng hiya kaya tinakpan ko ang mukha ko gamit ang pamaypay ko. “What? I’m not used to this, okay? This is the first time I wore something like—” “It suits you,” he said, cutting me off. Bumilis naman ang tibok ng puso ko sa sinabi niya at tinignan ko rin siya. He was wearing a black yukata and he looked cool with it. Nilapitan niya ako at hinawakan ang kamay ko. Even though we have been together, he could still make my heart flutter with his simple gestures. “Let’s go.” Lumabas kami ng dorm at kahit gabi na ay sobrang liwanag ng campus. There were students, teachers and staffs everywhere. Everyone was having fun but I suddenly remembered Hideo. “How is he?” tanong ko kay Mitsuo. “Still the same. He’s searching everywhere to find her.” Napabuntong-hininga ako sa sinabi niya at lalo lang akong naawa kay Hideo. Simula nang makita namin si Akemi noong araw na ‘yon ay hindi na ‘yon muling naulit pa. We couldn’t trace her anymore and there wasn’t any news about Shinigamis. It was actually odd not to hear anything about them. They were quiet, just like the calm before a storm. Habang naglalakad kami ay pinagtitinginan kami ng ilang estudyante at siguro ay dahil ‘yon sa tiyan ko, pati na rin sa nangyari sa Shima. Simula nang malaman nila ang tungkol sa Shima ay nag-iba ang tingin nila sa kanya. I thought it would have a negative impact, yet he became a man of courage for them. I was proud and all but some girls were looking at him with more than admiration and that made me worried. Napunta kami sa central path at naalala ko naman ang paniniwala nila. I held his hand and wished something simple—to be with him and our child for a long time. “Is that your wish?” bigla niyang tanong kaya napatingin ako sa kanya. “You read my mind?” “I can hear your thoughts easier now,” he said while smirking. “That’s because I’m letting you,” I retorted. Natawa naman kami pareho at naramdaman ko ang paghigpit ng hawak niya sa kamay ko. It was a simple wish but I wasn’t sure if it would be an easy one. Suddenly, I imagined the three of us walking together, our child in his arms while I look at them happily. It made me satisfied. “Nathan,” he suddenly said. “Hm?” “His name.” Ilang segundo akong natahimik pagkatapos kong marinig ‘yon. Hindi ko alam kung epekto ba ‘to ng pagbubuntis pero bigla akong naiyak. This guy could really surprise me with his actions. “Did you get it from my name?” tanong ko habang pinupunasan ang luha ko. “Yes, for he is the greatest gift you have given me, and a reminder that he should protect you when I’m not around.” Lalo lang akong naiyak sa sinabi niya at niyakap niya naman ako pagkatapos no’n. In times like this, I wish I could selfishly use my power. I wanted to stop the time, preserve the moment, and live with it. However, this power wasn’t meant to do that. “I hope we could attend this festival next year together with Nathan,” I said and he just smiled. “The three of us, huh?” “Yeah, the three of us.” It was one of my most memorable night. I spent my time with him, eating, talking and bickering just like an ordinary couple. I was looking forward for our next festival but I didn’t know that it would be our last . . . his last . . . because after that, a looming storm would take everything away from me.
“I’m sorry, Naomi.” “Saan si Mama? Saan si Papa?” “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” My eyes fluttered open and the first thing I saw was the kid’s face. Napapikit ulit ako at inisip ko kung anong nangyari. Right. I passed out because of exhaustion and the prisoners’ destructive thoughts. “Are you okay?” the kid asked. What was her name again? Naia? Pinilit kong bumangon at sumandal ako sa pader. Umupo naman sa harapan ko ang bata. I remembered her from one of Mitsuo’s memory but I thought she was a boy because of his hair and clothes. She was looking at me curiously with those big brown eyes so I approached her. “Your name is Naia, right?” tanong ko at tumango naman siya. “W-what are you doing here?” “Hiding,” she said. “There’s too much blood outside.” Kinilabutan naman ako sa sinabi niya at hindi ko alam kung dapat ko ba siyang seryosohin. I decided to peek at the small opening I had discovered a while ago and saw a lifeless body slumped to the ground. A shriek of horror escaped from my mouth when I realized that the head was missing from the body. Sinara ko kaagad ang bintana at napasandal ako sa pader habang nakatingin kay Naia. “What’s wrong?” inosente niyang tanong na para bang wala lang sa kanya ang mga nangyayari. Pinilit kong pakalmahin ang sarili ko at lumapit ako sa kanya. I tried reaching for her thoughts, hoping that she’s one of us, and when I did, I still got surprised. Hindi naman ako nahirapang basahin ang isip niya dahil bata pa siya. She didn’t know how to close her mind yet so her thoughts were easy to read. I saw Mitsuo and his grandfather from her memories, as well as several executions that happened right in front of her eyes. Itinigil ko ang pagbabasa sa isip niya dahil nakaramdam ako ng awa. She should be playing with other children, enjoying her youth, yet here she is, living in a place of cruelty and violence. “Are you Vince’s wife?” bigla niyang tanong at nanlaki ang mga mata ko nang narinig ko ‘yon. “W-wife? No! I-I’m his, uhm, friend.” I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks after she said that and I had to control my breathing to keep myself calm. How could she ask that with such innocent face and why his wife in the first place? In addition, I still can’t get used to his real name. Almost all the people we encountered here called him Vince. “Friend? What is friend?” Naia asked and I just looked at her, dumbfounded. “You do not know what a friend is?” tanong ko at umiling siya. Lalo akong nakaramdam ng awa kaya lumapit ako sa kanya. I smiled at her and she looked at me with curiosity. She might be too young to understand the concept but still, I wanted to tell her. “Hmm, let’s see. A friend is someone who’s always by your side, someone you can trust.” “Like Vince and Ise?” Ise? Is that Mitsuo’s grandfather? “They’re your family, right?” “No. They’re already dead.” Natahimik pagkarinig ko no’n at hindi ko alam kung saan ako mas nagulat—her parents’ death or her knowledge about it. Hindi ko napigilan ang sarili ko at niyakap ko siya. Ang bata niya pa para maranasan at malaman ang mga bagay tulad nito at nalulungkot ako dahil sa ganitong lugar siya nakatira. “Are you okay?” tanong niya. “Yeah,” sabay ngiti ko sa kanya. “I’m okay.” Bigla namang bumukas ang pinto at nakita ko ang isa sa mga lalaking nagdala sa akin dito. Tumayo si Naia at tumakbo papunta ro’n kaya sumunod ako pero tinignan niya ako nang masama. Nakita ko namang madilim na sa labas pero hindi ko alam kung anong oras na. “You’re not allowed to leave,” sabi niya sa akin habang inaalalayan si Naia palabas. Magsasalita na sana ako pero lumingon si Naia sa akin habang nakangiti. “Bye bye . . .” she said but she stopped and it looked like she was thinking of something. Napangiti naman ako nang mabasa ko ang isip niya. “Nathalie,” I announced. “That’s my name.” “Bye bye, Nathalie,” sabi niya at saka siya tuluyang umalis. I looked at the guy who was still standing outside and I reached for my weapon. “Don’t even try,” he said in a low, threatening voice. “Where is Mitsuo?” tanong ko at lalong naging seryoso ang itsura niya. “Don’t involve yourself with him anymore,” he said with his piercing gaze, his scythe pointed at my direction. “Why can’t I? He brought me here. He should be held responsible,” sabi ko naman. “Your name is Nathalie, isn’t it?” he asked, avoiding my retaliation. “Nathalie Lazaro.” My body went rigid when I heard my whole name from his mouth. How did he . . . “Am I right?” “Who are you?” I demanded while reaching for my weapon. “I am Aristus, Jikko’s history compiler,” he said, “and the truth about your parents’ death lies here.” I almost forgot how to breathe after hearing that and memories from my childhood, the ones I buried deep in my consciousness, began to resurface. Almost a decade ago, Sir Hideyoshi, Hideo’s father and my parents’ friend, suddenly informed me about my parents’ demise. According to him, they died during their mission, without giving me further explanation. “What do you mean by that?” I asked, trying to control my emotions. “How did you know them? Tell me!” “You’re in no position to demand answers from me, Senshin,” sabi niya at pagkatapos niyang ilapag ang pagkain na bitbit niya ay bigla niyang sinara ang pinto. “Wait!” I ran towards the door but it was already locked outside. Sumigaw ako at sinubukan ko ring sirain ang pinto pero wala pa ring nangyari. Napaupo na lang ako sa sahig at lalo lang akong naguluhan dahil sa sinabi niya. Ano bang ibig niyang sabihin? Hindi ko alam kung ilang oras akong nakaupo lang at kung anu-ano na ang pumapasok sa isip ko. Bumalik naman sa kasalukuyan ang diwa ko nang may narinig akong malakas na pagsabog sa labas. Napatayo ako at sumilip sa bintana para makita kung ano ang nangyari pero wala akong makita dahil sobrang dilim. However, I gaped when I saw the gray smoke rapidly covering the entire island and the atmosphere, and that was when I realized that the volcano has erupted. Panic started to arise in my body as the volcanic ash and other matter coming out of the volcano. I ran towards the door, pounding it and screaming for help, but my voice was masked by the mass outcry happening inside my head. ‘No! No! I don’t want to die!’ ‘Help me!’ ‘I don’t want to die this way!’ I tried to ignore the voices inside my head and wailed for help. “Calm down.” Napatigil naman ako nang marinig ko ang boses na ‘yon sa labas. “M-Mitsuo?” I breathed and I heard him knock on the door. “Once means I’m here,” he said and he knocked again, this time, with two consecutive thump. “Twice means you should calm down and think carefully.” “B-but . . . the volcano . . .” He knocked thrice. “Thrice means you’re safe so you do not need to worry.” “What if I’m not?” “Then I’ll barge in and save you.” Natahimik naman ako matapos niyang sabihin ‘yon. His voice was enough to calm me down but I wanted to see him. He’s the only one I could rely on here. “This area won’t be affected by the ash and gases from the explosion so there’s no need to worry,” he said in a calm tone but I could also hear the uncertainty in his voice. “Is it really an active volcano?” tanong ko at gusto kong sumilip muli sa bintana pero hindi ako makaalis dito sa may pinto. I felt like he would disappear once I move away from here. “Yes, however, it only erupts once a year. This is the second one,” he explained. “Sorry, I need to go,” he suddenly added and that alarmed me. “Wait! C-can I go with you?” Being in this secluded room heightened my senses, especially reading closed minds, and staying here might make me insane. “You can’t. This is the safest place here right now so stay here. I’ll be back.” Iyon ang huling salitang narinig ko galing sa kanya. I stayed in this room, just like what he had suggested, but several inner voices started to invade my mind once again. Their agony, horror and pain were reflected on their voices and I could see some of their tormented thoughts and memories. My worry about the volcanic eruption wasn’t helping either. Hindi ko alam kung paano ako nakatulog sa gitna ng mga pangyayari at sa dami ng naiisip ko. Maybe it was due to mental exhaustion. I woke up to the shriek of an animal and my alertness took over. From the small opening, I peeked at the situation outside and stared open-mouthed at the drastic change after the eruption. The barren field has been covered with cooled and hardened lava, along with different pyroclastic materials. Maybe that was the reason why the land was left like that—the materials from the volcano would always end up here, causing it to be barren and infertile. The change in the landscape surprised me but the set-up in the middle of the barren land caught me off-guard. I had seen the execution several hours ago but what was in front of me was more disturbing. “How dare you do this to me, Senshins! I’m going to kill all of you! Watch me!” the woman screamed while vultures, crows and ravens circled around her, her naked body covered with cuts and wounds. I clutched my stomach when I saw the vultures lunging at her wounds, as if they were hastening her death. One of the crows targeted her eyes and I instinctively closed my eyes, imagining the scenario if it was me in her place. Her wails and curses filled the air but my eyes flung open when I realized the owner of that voice—it was the Huntres we encountered on the sea. As far as I can remember, we lost her in the sea after she used her water attribute on us. Hindi ako makapaniwalang nandito siya ngayon. I have too many questions inside my head, so instead of drowning myself from those, I used my ability to seek for answers. Having too many Erityians who could use their inner voice was mentally draining, however, I could also get necessary information from them. According to the prisoners’ thoughts, the prison chamber, which is located in the plateau near the volcano, is divided into five levels: keimusho-yon, keimusho-san, keimusho-ni, keimusho-ichi and keimusho-rei, arranged from top to bottom according to the magnitude and extent of their crime. Yon, the topmost level, is for humdrums while the rest are for Erityians. Rei, the lowest and located underground, is for the gravest cromes committed by an Erityian. My train of thoughts was interrupted by the commotion outside. I ran towards the hole and saw several Executioners running in the field of hardened lava. The Huntres screamed at them but they didn’t look at her. “We found the source of the prisoners’ escape,” one guys said. “It was a Huntres with an Earth attribute.” “He changed the underground system of the island, creating an escape route towards the sea and causing the volcano to erupt suddenly.” “Huntres, huh?” the guy who was with us, Lionel I think, said. “He’s right. I checked the logs and he was apprehended without a fighting back. Maybe that was his motive—to be caught intentionally and be brought here,” Aristus, the one who visited me, added. “I see. That’s why Lord Ise said he’ll chase that Huntres himself. He knew it from the start.” Lionel, along with the other Executioners, approached the Huntres in the middle of the field. “Do you know that Huntres?” he asked but the Huntres spit on his face. Almost all Executioners pointed their scythes and swords at her and one of them pricked his weapon to her wound. “You won’t get any information from me,” the Huntres said and I teared up when I saw her state. The Huntres tribe can be considered as warriors because they are physically and mentally strong. I remember reading that in a history book and seeing her proved that point. Her body was in tatters yet she didn’t back down against the Executioners. “Is that so? Then I have no choice,” Lionel said. “Bring that thing.” After a few minutes, an Executioner brought a headgear. He forced it on the head of the Huntres and seconds later, she went silent. Hindi ko alam kung bakit pero malakas ang kutob kong galing sa Intelligence department ang headgear na ‘yon—and it might be one of Sir Aiwa’s works. “STOP! NO!” the Huntres shrieked. “I didn’t mean it! Believe me! Please!” I was right. It was, indeed, Sir Aiwa’s project. Based from her words and expressions, the device plays the worst memories of the person wearing it, and to monitor its extent, the brain waves were converted to the frequency of someone who could use inner voice. In this case, it was me, and I could hear and see her thoughts and memories. “I see. So the Alveria family is hiding there.” “I gave you the information you want so release my family.” “Of course.” It was awful. I saw her giving confidential information to a guy who was covered in flames. From her point of view, I saw the outcome of the civil war between Huntres divisions and how her information affected all of them. She was apprehended by a group of ice attribute users and her thoughts were filled with guilt. Her worst memory was her betrayal and the downfall of their government. Napahawak ako sa ulo ko pero may iba pang alaala na pumasok sa ulo ko. Dahil na rin sa sitwasyon nila ay hindi na nila naisasara ang isipan nila at ‘yon ang dahilan kung bakit ko nababasa at nakikita ko ang mga naiisip nila. I suddenly felt scared because unfamiliar memories were starting to fill and overwrite my mind and for a second, I couldn’t remember my own memories anymore. Hindi ko alam kung ilang oras akong nakaupo lang doon, pinipilit tanggalin ang mga alaalang hindi naman sa akin. I repeatedly said the names of my friends and comrades but I felt the panic rising in my throat when I couldn’t visualize their faces. Nagulat naman ako nang biglang bumukas ang pinto at nakita ko si Aristus. He approached me and grabbed my wrist. “W-what are you doing?” “Come with me.” “Why should I?” “Since you’re already here, you might want to know the reason for your parents’ demise.” Pagkasabi niya no’n ay napatigil ako. Ilang minuto kong inisip kung ano ang dapat gawin at tumayo ako para sumama sa kanya. I couldn’t remember my parents’ face anymore but I wanted to know what happened to them. Nagulat naman ako paglabas namin dahil madilim na ang paligid. Hindi ko akalaing buong araw akong nakaupo sa isang sulok at doon ko lang naramdaman ang pagkalam ng sikmura ko. “Where is Mitsuo?” tanong ko habang naglalakad kami. “Vince? He’s not here,” sabi niya at napatigil naman ako sa paglalakad. “H-he’s not here? What do you mean?” “Several Executioners were deployed to hunt down the remaining escapees.” “Remaining?” “We already captured more than half of them.” Magkahalong pagkamangha at takot ang naramdaman ko sa sinabi niya. They were like hunting predators who could trail and chase their targets. Magtatanong pa sana ako pero napalingon ako at nakita ko ang Huntres. Her body was being eaten by avian scavengers and I had to cover my mouth to prevent myself from vomiting. Nagpahatak ako sa kanya hanggang sa makarating kami sa isang station kung saan may cabin lift na papunta sa plateau. We boarded one of the lifts and the line connecting the station and the plateau moved, taking the lift along with it. My head throbbed more painfully because the thoughts of the Erityians were amplified, especially now that we’re going to the prison chamber. Ilang minuto kaming naghintay hanggang sa makarating kami sa itaas ng talampas at nanghina ang katawan ko nang makita ko ang sitwasyon dito. The highest level was designed to house humdrum prisoners and I saw a familiar face—D.B. Cooper. He’s an infamous air pirate who extorted a huge amount of money after hijacking an aircraft on 1971. I remembered him from one of the articles we were required to read and the FBI even asked for the Senshins and Custos assistance because they couldn’t find any trace of him. Ngayon ay alam ko na kung bakit—nandito siya sa Shima. Gaya ng nasa ibaba, mayroon ding execution ground sa talampas at mula rito ay kitang-kita ang kakasabog pa lang na bulkan. Sinundan ko si Aristus hanggang sa makarating kami sa gitna kung nasaan ang isang matandang lalaking nakaupo sa upuan. Napatingin siya sa amin at halos mapatayo siya nang makita niya ako. “Y-you . . .” Aristus held his scythe near the guy’s neck but he didn’t budge. Nakatitig lang siya sa akin at ako naman ay iniisip kung saan o kailan ko siya nakita. “He’s Manzo, former member of the Council of Elders,” Aristus said, “and he ordered to kill your parents and your mother’s clan.” My chest felt tight, as if all the air in my lungs were sucked out after hearing those words. I looked at Aristus, hoping that he would tell me he was just messing with me but his expression remained stern. “What are you saying? How can an Elder, a Senshin, order something like that?” I muttered. “Ask him,” he said. “Today is his execution so extract all the information you want.” Lumayo siya sa amin at hinarap ko ang lalaki. Pinipilit kong pakalmahin ang sarili ko pero hindi ko magawa dahil sa mga narinig ko. “So you are the child of that couple,” he said without even showing any remorse. “Did you really . . .” Hindi ko na naituloy ang sasabihin ko dahil umagos ang luha ko. “I did,” sabi niya, “because I must do it.” “For what reason?!” I pointed my fan at his direction and the memories I was trying to remember a while ago were becoming vivid. “You have that ability, too, right?” After hearing that, I immediately read his mind, hoping that I could find the answers and at the same time scared to know what really happened. “Are you sure about that? It might turn into a civil war.” “But the Heren clan is dangerous. We can’t let them overthrow the Miyamoto clan.” “You’re right. They have the ability to read closed minds. I heard they can also use their own minds to attack others.” “And one of them is close to Hideyoshi.” “That girl already has a husband, right?” “But still, they might use their sixth sense and abilities to take advantage of Hideyoshi, especially now that they are close to him.” “Then, allow me to do the dirty work.” I wanted to stop reading his memories but I found myself still looking through them until my parents’ death. I clutched my chest because it felt like my heart would burst any second. “You killed my parents because you were afraid of my mother’s ability?” marahan kong tanong habang tuluy-tuloy na ang pag-agos ng luha sa mukha ko. “They are danger—” “You disgust me,” I said. “How dare you question my parents’ and our clan’s loyalty when all they did was support the President!” “It’s for Hideyoshi’s sake.” “It wasn’t! Sir Hideyoshi treasured them as friends, and yet because of your doubts, he lost them . . . I lost them.” Now I know why Sir Hideyoshi couldn’t tell me the real reason—it was because of him. For his sake, his people eliminated them. “Because of you, a little child grew up without her family. It must’ve been Sir Hideyoshi who exiled you here. He must’ve loathed you for what you have done.” “Yes, you are right, but I don’t regret what I did,” sabi niya habang nakatingin sa akin. “In the end, I still believe that your clan is a threat. I do not care what Hideyoshi think of me. I did it to protect his position and the Miyamoto lineage.” His words stung like poison and I couldn’t take it anymore. I swung my fan at his direction, ready to slit his throat, but something restricted my hand. “Don’t sully your hands.” The next thing I knew, Mitsuo was already in front of me, preventing me from attacking the Elder. When I saw him, the remaining strength I was holding onto dissolved and triggered my tears. He pulled me into his chest and I cried my heart out. ‘I’ll do it for you.’ I felt his hand moved and heard the whoosh of air caused by the rapid movement of an object, followed by the howl of the guy. Lalo lang akong naiyak dahil do’n at hindi ko alam kung paano kami nakaalis sa lugar na ‘yon. Sinamahan niya ako hanggang sa makarating kaming muli sa kwartong ‘yon. During our trip down the plateau, the thoughts and memories of the prisoners invaded my mind once again and I couldn’t think straight anymore. I was physically and emotionally drained, enough to make me demented. Nang makapasok kami sa loob ng kwarto ay hindi ko na maalala ang mga nangyari. I was crying a while ago but why? Why am I thinking about dead children? Who are these red-eyed people? Why is everything on fire? Who . . . who am I? “Who are you?” I asked the guy who was holding my hand. He looked surprised and it felt like I knew him. “Naomi . . .” “Naomi? Is that my name?” Ilang minuto lang siyang nakatingin sa akin hanggang sa bigla niya na lang akong niyakap. Hindi ko alam kung bakit pero may kung ano akong naramdaman nang gawin niya ‘yon. Biglang tumulo ang luha ko at bumigat ang pakiramdam ko. “W-who are you? Please tell me,” I whispered and he hugged me tighter. “Mitsuo,” he breathed, “that’s my name.” “Mitsuo . . .” I wanted to ask another question but suddenly, I could hear and read his thoughts. Few minutes later, his own memories flowed into my own mind and somehow, I could feel warmth and familiarity. There were people smiling at me and . . . “Oh my God.” Hideo, Akemi, Mayu, Akira and Michiko . . . Halos hindi ako makahinga nang maalala ko ang mga taong ‘yon at hindi ko akalaing magagawa ko silang kalimutan. I realized I lost my own memories for several minutes and it terrified me to the core. However, Mitsuo’s memories helped me remember them and I felt guilty after forgetting my own life. “I’m sorry,” bulong niya. “I’m sorry for bringing you here.” I couldn’t even speak because I was overwhelmed by my emotions and his thoughts. He let me lie down to rest and before he could move, I reached for his hand. ‘Don’t leave me here,’ I said, scared to lose my own thoughts again. “I won’t. Never again.” Nagbabadya na naman ang luha sa mga mata ko pero agad ko ‘yong pinigilan. Huminga ako nang malalim para pakalmahin ang sarili ko at tumitig lang ako sa kanya. ‘I thought I would go mad. I was scared,’ sabi ko sa kanya at naramdaman ko ang paghigpit ng hawak niya sa kamay ko. “All of the people here, the prisoners and even the Executioners, have their own share of madness. I thought I can protect you but I haven’t considered your ability. It must’ve been hard for you. I’m sorry.” Nanatili kaming tahimik matapos no’n at gusto ko nang magpahinga pero natatakot akong matulog. Natatakot ako dahil baka paggising ko ay mawala na naman ang alaala ko at mapalitan ng iba. ‘I’m scared. I want to leave this place,’ sabi ko sa kanya. “We’ll leave tomorrow.” ‘Really? Are you sure? What about your order?’ “You don’t need to worry about that.” Naalala ko naman bigla ang nangyari kanina. I was grieving for my parents’ death but I suddenly forgot about them and I felt bad. Lalo pa akong nasaktan dahil nalaman ko ang totoong dahilan ng pagkamatay nila. Hindi ko alam kung paano ko haharapin sina Sir Hideyoshi at Hideo kapag nakabalik na kami. Bigla namang pinunasan ni Mitsuo ang luha sa mga mata ko at humiga siya sa tabi ko. He cupped my face and looked at me with concern. “Look at me,” he ordered. “Don’t think about anything tonight.” I met his gaze and his eyes looked less intense, as if he was studying me. My heart thumped excitedly and I remembered reading one of his thoughts a while ago. “Do you really have feelings for me?” I asked and I smiled a little when I saw his surprised expression. “Taking advantage of my memories, aren’t you?” he teased with a smirk painted on his face. “I thought you were showing them to me,” sabi ko naman. “And I thought I was doing a great job of keeping it at the back of my mind.” Our conversation was followed with silence and the tension between us skyrocketed. I could read his thoughts but I still felt restless. He leaned closer and the next thing I knew, he has already sealed my lips with his. It was the kind of night I didn’t expect to happen. It was probably the only time I didn’t use my head before deciding but I didn’t mind. We didn’t need to say any words because our feelings, our vulnerability, led us here and tonight, he became my everything.
The island’s ambiance was worthy of its name—it looked cursed. Its shape was similar to a volcano, making it more like a fortress or prison because of its dimensions. We reached the island’s shore and left the raft afloat. Nanatili akong nakatayo lang habang pinagmamasdaan ang gubat na sumalubong sa amin. It was as eerie as the forest we went through before navigating the ocean. “I-is this a hidden island?” tanong ko sa kanya kaya naman napalingon siya sa akin. “No. This is in the prefecture of Ogasawara, Japan. Locals call it Minami Iwo Jima but they believe that this is an uninhabited island due to its features.” “But what about the fog a while ago?” I asked and he gave me a smirk in return. “That was Farallon’s sixth sense,” he answered. Nagsimula naman siyang maglakad kaya agad akong sumunod sa kanya pero napapahinto ako kapag may naririnig akong sumisigaw. Their howls were a mixture of pain and anger, sounds that could trigger anxiety to others. Napatingin ulit ako sa gubat at lalo akong natakot dahil kakaiba ang mga nakikita kong puno at halaman. They looked endemic and several of them were peculiar and unnatural. I moved closer to him since the atmosphere felt disturbing and I don’t want to be alone in this kind of place. Bigla naman siyang napatigil at nabangga ako sa kanya. Pagtingin ko, may tatlong lalaking galing sa loob ng gubat na papunta sa direksyon namin. They were wearing black and red clothes, and I wasn’t sure if the red spots were part of the design. “Vince!” the shortest one yelled. One of them looked at me and their green eyes were intense and terrifying, as if emeralds were embedded on their iris. Nagtago ako sa likuran ni Mitsuo dahil kakaiba ang tingin nila sa akin at hindi ko rin alam kung ano ang kaya nilang gawin. “Let’s go,” bulong ni Mitsuo pero hindi ako gumalaw dahil kakaiba talaga ang pakiramdam ko sa lugar na ‘to. Magsasalita na sana ako pero nagulat ako nang bigla niyang hinawakan ang kamay ko. ‘Trust me,’ he said and my heart just skipped a beat. What was that? Wala akong nagawa kundi ang magpahatak sa kanya at sinundan naman namin ang tatlong lalaki. When we entered the forest, the sunlight was immediately blocked by the tallest and bulkiest trees, making it more frightening. My initial reaction was to clench Mitsuo’s hand and I was surprised when he held it tighter. Bumilis na naman ang tibok ng puso ko pero parang tumigil ‘yon nang dahil sa nakita ko. Consecutive roars from the huge lion and leopard in front greeted us and I was rendered motionless due to fear and confusion. Their bodies were twice larger than the normal ones and they looked more ferocious. “Shira, Hyora, halt,” the guy in the middle ordered and both of them backed away, but their glares and growls made it clear that they were still watching us. ‘C-can they use their inner voice?’ I asked, still wary of those three. ‘No. Why?’ ‘Bakit may lion at leopard dito? What’s their purpose?’ tanong ko naman. ‘They are the guardians of the forest entrance,’ he said while all of us continued walking, ‘and there are also poisonous insects and plants, as well as black mambas. They are all placed here to prevent anyone from escaping and entering this island without permission.’ I almost forgot to breathe when he said that and I got more cautious because of the danger that this place could offer. Some of the plants and trees we passed by emit strange odor and chemicals that, according to him, could paralyze or cause hallucination. Hindi ko alam kung ilang minuto o oras kaming naglakad, at kung ilang beses akong napasigaw at nagpanic dahil sa iba’t ibang hayop at halaman na pwedeng maging dahilan ng pagkamatay ko. My right hand was still held by Mitsuo while my left was lingering on my weapon in case something goes wrong. Unti-unti naman nang lumiliwanag at nawawala na rin ang mga malalaking puno kaya medyo nakakahinga na ako nang maayos. After a few hours, we reached the forest’s threshold and I gasped when I saw Shima’s inland. A volcano right in the center of the island came into view. In front of us was a stretch of sludge which looked nasty and beyond that was the barren land I saw in Mitsuo’s mind a couple of times. Lumapit naman ang isa sa malaking bato sa gilid at nagulat ako nang bigla niyang sinugatan ang sarili niya at tumulo ang dugo sa bato. Suddenly, a path of stone emerged from the sludge and they started to march on them. Mitsuo pulled me along and while walking through the sludge, I could smell a rancid odor, enough to make me dizzy. ‘Don’t breathe in,’ he warned. ‘This sludge is mixed with different acids.’ Napatakip naman agad ako sa ilong at bibig ko at nagmadali kaming maglakad hanggang sa makarating kami sa dulo. When our feet reached the ground, the stones immediately sank into the sludge, making it impossible to cross. “Why did you bring someone here?” biglang tanong ng isang lalaki habang nakatingin sa akin at alam kong kanina niya pa gustong itanong ‘yon nang makita niya ako. “Long story,” sagot naman ni Mitsuo. “What’s the current situation?” “Bad,” the one who ordered the forest guardians said. “Keimusho-rei is the worst news.” All of a sudden, the two other guys grabbed both of my arms while the one who was speaking pointed his spear at Mitsuo. “Mitsuo!” I called, frightened by the situation. I wanted to reach my fan but I couldn’t move my arms due to their strength. “What are you doing, Lionel?” Mitsuo snarled while glaring at the guy. “We have a rule, Vince,” he said, “and you should comply with it. Do you really want to break our clan’s oath?” Lionel and Mitsuo both looked at me and I just wanted to go to his side. In this unfamiliar place and situation, Mitsuo was the only one I could depend on. “Bring her to that place,” Lionel ordered and the two guys who were holding me nodded. “Wait, what are you doing? Mitsuo!” sigaw ko habang hinahatak nila ako palayo. Mitsuo just gave me an apologetic look and he didn’t move from his spot. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘What’s happening? Saan nila ako dadalhin?’ I asked and I could feel the panic rising in my throat. ‘In a safer place. Don’t worry, I’ll be there after this. I promise.’ The guys dragged me away from them and I could feel the stinging pain from where they were holding me. Instead of yelling at them, I observed the surrounding and I almost gasped when I saw the crimson-colored ground. After minutes of pulling me, we arrived in front of what looked like a cabin. They forced me inside it and locked the door from the outside. “Hey!” I yelled while banging the door but nobody responded. I tried using my fan to cut the knob but it was unsuccessful. In the end, I plopped myself to the floor with nothing to do. Kung anu-ano na ang tumatakbo sa isip ko dahil sa mga nangyayari at hindi ko alam kung ano ang gagawin. This wasn’t my usual self and I felt frustrated because I can’t think properly. Everything happened so fast and I have no idea what to do. My task was to bring Mitsuo back and here I am, locked up in some kind of shack in Shima. I lost my things and supplies in the sea, leaving me with only my weapon, which was useless in this kind of set-up. On the bright side, I learned something about him and his background. I visualized Shima and thought of its landscape. One way of entering the island was through the forest, with dangerous predators and plants lurking and guarding it. After that, an acidic sludge would welcome you and beyond it was a barren land where the execution probably happens. While walking toward this shack, I saw another forest on the far side of the barren land and an elevated land, maybe a plateau, right behind that. Beyond the plateau was the volcano sitting in the middle of the island, which might be an active one because the rocks and stones I saw from the sludge were mostly igneous. I was in the middle of analyzing Shima when I suddenly heard a loud cry from the outside. ‘Stop! I don’t want to die! Fucking stop!’ Napahawak ako sa ulo ko nang marinig ko ‘yon. I could hear someone who could use his inner voice and his thoughts were disturbing. I tried to ignore his thoughts but they were too overwhelming. All I could see were blood, a mountain of corpse and green eyes. “Stop. Just stop,” bulong ko habang nakahawak sa ulo ko. Narinig ko ulit ang pagsigaw mula sa labas kaya tumayo ako at nang makita ko ang maliit na bintana sa gilid ay itinaas ko ang tabing. Hinanap ko kung saan nanggagaling ang boses at napanganga ako nang may makita akong isang lalaki na nakatali sa kahoy na poste. His clothes were covered in blood and his hands were bleeding badly. I paid attention to his hand and I ended up clutching my stomach when I noticed his missing nails. “Any last words?” Napatingin naman ako sa harapan niya at nakita ko ang isang lalaki na may hawak na scythe. Bigla kong naalala ang nakita ko sa isip ni Mitsuo dati at halos napatigil ako sa paghinga. “Curse you, fucking Jikko!” the guy yelled and he spat on the ground. “Okay then.” The Executioner swung his scythe and I immediately closed the window. The guy howled in anger but after a few seconds, it disappeared. My body convulsed, imaging the scenario that just happened outside. Hindi na ako makahinga at nilalamig ang buong katawan ko dahil sa nangyari. Different thoughts from several Erityians who could use their inner voices reached my mind and they were driving me crazy. Please stop, I pleaded but they kept on invading my own mind . . . my own memories. I was so close to breaking when the door suddenly opened. “Are you okay?” I was expecting Mitsuo to come but a kid appeared instead. Siguro ay kasing-edad lang siya ni Reina at naalala ko siya dahil siya ang nakita kong batang kasama ni Mitsuo noong nabasa ko ang isip niya dati. Lumapit siya sa akin at umupo sa harapan ko. Kahit papaano ay tumigil saglit ang sakit ng ulo ko dahil napunta sa kanya ang atensyon ko pero unti-unti nang nanlalabo ang paningin ko. My head was spinning like crazy and my body felt frail. I was physically and mentally exhausted and those chilling thoughts drained my remaining energy. “W-who are you?” I asked but it sounded like a murmur. “Naia,” she said and before I could respond, the last of my consciousness slipped away.