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.