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.