“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.