“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.