After that night, bumalik kaagad ako sa dorm at paggising ko ay naabutan ko si Akemi na may hawak na libro. Lumapit ako sa kanya at pagtingin ko, ancient Erityian writings ang nakalagay sa libro. “Hey.” Nagulat naman siya at hindi man lang napansin na nasa tabi na niya ako. She tried to hide the book and I rolled my eyes because it was too obvious. “Yeah right. Nakita ko na so no need to hide it.” “Damn it,” bulong niya sa sarili niya at nilapag niya ang libro. Umupo naman ako sa harapan niya at tinignan ko rin ang librong hawak niya kanina. Matagal ko nang nakikita ang Erityian writings sa ilang buildings dito. Ang iba ay nakaukit sa ilang parte ng mga kwarto pero hindi ko na pinapansin dahil hindi naman na iyon ginagamit. Hindi ko alam na may mga libro palang nakasulat gamit iyon. “Gusto ko silang mabasa,” sabi niya habang nakatingin sa libro. Actually, me too. “Well . . . siguro naman hindi ganun kahirap i-decode ‘to.” Tumayo muna ako para kumuha ng scratch paper at pen para sa aming dalawa. Hindi ko rin napigilan ang pagngiti ko. I can’t believe I’m getting excited with this. Learning something new is, indeed, thrilling. We tried decoding the symbols and we didn’t even notice the time. Sa sobrang pagfofocus namin na maconvert ang bawat symbol sa corresponding letter nito ay inabutan na kami ng araw. Napansin lang namin ‘yun nung biglang nagising si Akira at tinanong niya kami kung ano ang ginagawa namin. Nagmadali naman agad kaming magprepare dahil may klase pa kami kaya naman napagdesisyunan naming ituloy na lang ‘yun mamaya. Lumabas kami sa kwarto at mukhang nauna na sina Michiko at Mayu dahil wala na sila sa loob ng room nila. Saktong pagbaba namin ay naabutan namin sin Hideo at Mitsuo. Our eyes met and I remembered what happened last night. He suddenly broke his gaze and stood behind Hideo. “Problema nun?” I blurted out. Darn. “Pano lagi mong hinahampas,” biglang sabi ni Akira. “Nagkaroon na tuloy ng automatic reaction kapag nakikita ka,” sabay hampas niya sa akin. What? Ilang beses ko pa lang naman siyang hinahampas. “Siguro ang saya na ngayon ni Hideo dahil hindi na lang siya ang nakakatikim ng masakit mong hampas.” “Kahit naman hampasin ko siya ng tubo, wala pa ring expression ‘yung mukha niya,” sabi ko naman at biglang tumawa si Akira nang malakas. Um-attend lang kami ng classes at napansin kong umiiwas ng tingin sa akin si Mitsuo. Is he really avoiding me? For what reasons? Dahil ba sa nangyari kagabi? Hindi ko na lang din siya pinansin at pagkatapos ng klase namin ay nagpatuloy kami ni Akemi sa pagdedecode. Nalaman ko rin ang sixth sense niya dahil sinadya kong matapilok habang dala ko ang dalawang baso ng juice para sa amin. Before the glasses hit the floor, she quickly repelled them and they broke upon contact with the wall. So her sixth sense is repulsion, huh. After a few days, nagkaroon na rin kami ng ideas about the corresponding letters, numbers and punctuations. We decoded several pages of the book. Napansin ko rin na laging nawawala si Akemi kapag madaling-araw. Lagi akong nagsasabi na matutulog na ako pero ang totoo ay binabantayan ko ang bawat kilos niya. Hideo is right. She’s hiding something from us. Pagkatapos ng Psychology class namin ay naglakad agad kami pabalik sa dorm pero napalingon ako nung nakita kong magkausap sina Akemi at Mitsuo pero hindi ko marinig ang usapan nila. Bigla namang lumingon sa akin si Akemi at ngumiti nang nakakaloko. “Oo meron pero na kay Naomi na. Hiramin mo sa kanya kung gusto mo. Bye,” sabay lakad niya papunta sa akin. Napakunot naman ang noo ko dahil sa sinabi niya. “What happened?” tanong ko kaagad pero hindi siya sumagot at mukhang may malalim siyang iniisip. Pagbalik namin sa dorm ay agad na nakatulog sina Akemi at Akira kaya naman ako lang ang nagdecode sa naiwan naming pages. After some time ay nahilo na ako at sumakit na ang ulo ko kaya naman napagdesisyunan kong lumabas muna. Halos 7 PM na rin kaya naman kinuha ko ang jacket ko at naglakad papuntang plaza. Pagkarating ko sa plaza ay dinala kaagad ako ng mga paa ko sa paborito kong lugar doon. Napangiti ako noong makarating ako sa fountain area at naupo ako sa isa sa stone benches na nakapaligid doon. The lights below the fountain changed their colors, as the water danced with the faint music coming from the nearest stall. “Isn’t that Miss Naomi of Atama family?” “Oo nga! Wow, minsan ko lang makita ang members nila.” “Sabi nila, she’s one of the smartest woman inside this campus.” Iniwas ko kaagad ang tingin ko. I appreciate their thoughts about me but I still feel embarassed when students think highly of me. I always thought that they only admire me because I’m part of the Atama family. “You look so confident and calculating outside but deep inside, you’re anxious and insecure of yourself.” Napatayo naman ako nung narinig ko ang boses na ‘yun at pagtingin ko ay nasa gilid ko na si Sir Eiichi, our Logic professor. “Sir Eiichi!” I squeaked and he just smiled at me. “No need to panic, Naomi.” Sighing, I decided to compose myself. Aside from Hideo, our professors can also read my mind, and Sir Eiichi is one of them. Standing six-feet tall, with his muscular body and sharp yet dashing facial features, Sir Eiichi looks like he’s still in his twenties even though he turned 36 this year. But what makes him attractive is his brilliance and wit. “Are you perturbed about that guy?” So he already read my mind. “A bit,” I confessed. Wala naman akong mapapala kung magsisinungaling ako. He can easily read my superficial thoughts. “And Akemi, too.” Naging seryoso naman ang expression niya. “Those two, they give off a dark and dangerous impression yet I can feel the melancholy on their thoughts.” “What do you mean by that, Sir?” “You should observe them carefully and see for yourself.” After those vague statements, he walked away from me. Nanatili naman ako sa bench at pinanood ulit ang fountain pero naglakbay na ang isip ko sa mga sinabi niya. Dark and dangerous . . . He’s right. Unang tingin pa lang ay alam kong may kakaiba na sa kanilang dalawa. Both of them are tight-lipped when it comes to their personal information and when I tried to read their minds, I can only see and hear the surface of their thoughts. They know how to conceal the confidential and critical data inside their heads. Tinignan ko ulit ang pagbabago ng kulay ng fountain pero biglang nabaling ang mga mata ko sa bandang kaliwa. A silhouette made its way inside the forest. Wait, is that . . . “Mitsuo?” bulong ko sa sarili ko. Agad akong napatayo at mabilis na naglakad papunta roon. But why would he go to that part of the forest? The forest surrounding Tantei High is divided into four directions and only the eastern side, the side near the dormitory and library, is relatively safe. Beyond that, wild and vicious creatures freely roam around to serve as our external protection from unwelcomed visitors. However, we are not exempted from their attacks. So why did he go there? Maybe he doesn’t know about those creatures? But that’s impossible. He’s with Hideo so I’m sure he already told him the things he should know inside and outside the campus. So why? “You should observe them carefully and see for yourself.” Sir Eiichi’s words echoed inside my head. I don’t know what happened to me but I decided to follow him. I stealthily closed our distance and observed his movements but he suddenly disappeared from my line of sight. Damn it, where did he go—! Without any warning, something monstrous charged towards me. I immediately jumped to the branches of the tree beside me and the creature banged its head straight to the bark. The tree shook tremendously and I almost fell directly to that thing. His low growl made my skin crawl and when the moonlight illuminated the surroundings, my stomach tightened due to the creature’s unsightly appearance. “What are you going to do now?” Buti na lang at nagawa kong balansehin mula ang sarili ko dahil muntik na naman akong malaglag noong makarinig ako ng boses sa likuran ko. Pagtingin ko, nakatayo sa kabilang sanga si Mitsuo. I didn’t even notice him! “That’s what you get for following me,” he said as he jumped to the branch where I’m sitting. So he knew I was following him! Hindi na ako nakapagsalita dahil umalog na naman nang malakas ang puno. Sabi ko ay hindi na ako titingin sa baba pero nang nakita ko ulit ang itsura niya, nakaramdam ako ng takot. Possessing a broad and long husk, it looks like a boar but the size of lion. Its jaws and teeth are those of a shark while its body is covered with sharp hairs. Looking at it for a few seconds made me nauseous and panic started to engulf my senses. “Hey, stop it!” biglang sigaw ni Mitsuo kaya napalingon ako. “W-what—” Just when I thought that one monster is enough to scare the heck out of me, two . . . three . . . six . . . six more appeared and surrounded us. Terror dominated my mind and body. “Shit, I said stop it!” Mitsuo shouted and he kneeled so that I can see him. “These creatures can smell fear and they are attracted to it. If you don’t want to attract more of them, calm yourself!” Pagkarinig ko nun ay lalong bumilis ang tibok ng puso ko pero bago pa madagdagan ang nararamdaman kong takot ay sinubukan kong kalmahin ang sarili ko. I thought of my parents, friends, the happy memories I shared with them, but their bone-chilling growl pulled me back to reality. C’mon Naomi, calm down! Out of desperation and the need for comfort, I reached for his hand and I saw him flinched. Confused, he looked at me but I did not look back. “Let me hold this for a while,” I breathed. “Please.” He stayed silent but after a few seconds, he moved and positioned his back in front of me. Looking at his broad back, I felt the security and slowly, my fear started to dissipate. “Don’t let go until you’re really calm,” he whispered and he lightly squeezed my hand. “Alright.” We stayed like that for several minutes, waiting for my heartbeat to return to its normal pace . . . but it never happened.