The sudden solar eclipse caught the attention of the people. Rumors spread quickly around. It was not supposed to happen until June 10, bringing concerns to the scientists, and bad omens to the superstitious.
A woman looked at the sky and her face were frozen in a silent scream as a tendril of fire swooped at her. It entered through her nose and mouth, and the next thing she felt was the excruciating pain of her insides burning.
Hasanggan took over a woman who did not have a soul reservoir for a spirit. Instead, he killed her four souls, thereby taking over the body entirely. Her skin turned ashen, smoldering as it took the inane heat of the sun deity. Half of her face was molten, and the strands of her hair started to singe. Two people who saw the horrifying situation screamed in terror as they scampered away. He wanted to incinerate them, but most of his powers was sealed in his weapon. Besides, his current body was still adjusting to his essence, although it would probably disintegrate in a couple of hours because it was not a compatible vessel.
Bago harapin si Apolaki ay kailangan niyang mabawi ang kanyang sariktan, o ang pangunahing sandata ng mga anito. Sa kanyang pagkakatanda ay ikinubli ito ni Apolaki sa kahilagaan kung nasaan ang pinakamainit na pook noon dahil naroon ang kanyang mga abyan at tagapaglingkod. Isa pa’y hindi pinutol ni Apolaki ang ugnayan sa pagitan ng kanyang kariktan at hilagyo, isang pagkakamaling kanyang pagsisisihan sa huli.
The connection was faint, but he could feel his weapon waiting for him. He started walking toward the direction where he could sense his own presence, ignoring the ruckus he was creating.
Sa loob ng apat na araw ay narating ni Hasanggan ang kahilagaan. He had used a lot of noncompatible vessels because they disintegrate too fast. But with his sixth vessel, the reaction was far less apparent. The body adapted quite well without any physical changes aside from the ashen skin and eyes.
Ilang tao rin ang kanyang napatay sapagkat hindi ito sumunod sa kanyang kagustuhan. Ilan na roon ang mga pasahero ng isang bus na kanyang nais sakyan. Nang makita niya kung gaano ito kabilis, na mas mabilis pa sa kanyang agilang karo, ay agad niya itong nagustuhan. Luckily, the bus was enroute to the north, but he had no money, nor the patience to tolerate their complains. With his smoldering hands, he held every passenger’s neck and face, burning them to death, leaving the driver the only person alive.
Ipinahinto niya ito nang muli niyang maramdaman ang kanyang sariktan at agad na lumabas sa sasakyan. Hasanggan arrived at Tugegarao, Cagayan, one of the last territories of Apolaki as he was one of the revered deities in the province back in the days.
He walked toward the direction where he strongly felt his weapon and several hours later, a river came into his view. He boarded a wooden boat and rowed until he reached the middle. He could feel the throbbing sensation below him, his weapon yearning to be held again.
With a deep breath, he dove under the water making it sizzle upon contact with his literal hot body. He could feel his skin and lungs stinging in pain, but he gritted his teeth and sunk deeper until he could finally see the golden spear impelled to the ground under.
With a last burst of strength, he pulled the spear out of its containment and the power that was sealed along with it rapidly coursed through his body. He screamed in both pain and delight and as he thrust the spear upward, the whole river burst. In just a few seconds, one of the rivers in the city disappeared, evaporating from the tremendous heat of both deity and the spear. He bellowed in laughter as his power finally returned.
Eons ago, before Apolaki ruled the sky at daytime, a terrible deity called Hasanggan dominated it. He was never known among the others as the god of the sun, but with his other epithet—the god and harbinger of drought.
In a realm far away from the power of the ruling deities, the red tendril of fire and smoke began to take shape. Slowly, carefully, it took a form that was erased from existence for a long time.
The smoke turned into a fiery ball of fire and soon after, a humanoid shape. Where his eyes should be, empty sockets hissing with smoke appeared. His hair was a scorching mess of spikes, literally. The deity bellowed in rage upon its revival.
“Apolaki,” ngitngit nito.
Ilang daang taon na ang nakalipas noong winakasan ng naturang anito ang kanyang hilagyo. Sa huli nilang pagdigma, sinunog nang tuluyan ni Apolaki ang kanyang katawan at ikinulong ang diwa sa sulok ng kalangitang hindi nasisilayan ng liwanag.
Sukdulang galit ang kanyang naramdaman nang matanaw ang kasalukuyang anyo. Tuluyan nang naglaho ang makisig nitong pigura. Nais niyang pagbayarin si Apolaki sa lahat ng kalapastanganang ginawa nito sa kanya.
“Anito,” biglang tawag ng isang boses na kaybigat sa pakiramdam.
Tanging ang kaanyuan lamang ni Hasanggan ang nagliliwanag sa puwang ng kadiliman kaya’t napatigil siya nang marinig iyon. The voice had a tremendous pressure, as if the only words it could utter were commands. The anger rising in his chest slowly subsided.
All of a sudden, he saw a swirl of black smoke despite the darkness. It took a vague shape that looked like a face twice as big as his.
“Ikaw ang unang napukaw ng aking diwa, anito,” sambit nito. “At bilang kapalit ng iyong muling pagkabuhay, ika’y magsisilbi sa aking ngalan.”
Hindi kilala ni Hasanggan ang nasa kanyang harapan ngunit dama niya ang nakakubling kapangyarihan mula rito. Ang hilagyong ito ba ang muling bumuhay sa kanya?
“At ano ang iyong pagkakakilanlan, anito?” tanong niya pabalik.
The entity in front of him glowered. Despite his burning state, he felt cold. The chasm grew darker and colder, as if responding to its emotions. Then something happened. His head was suddenly filled with horrific images—all depicting his death. He yielded before he got overwhelmed and knelt in front of the smoke.
“Ipagpaumanhin ninyo ang aking kawalang-galang,” aniya at agad na nawala ang mga imahe sa kanyang isipan.
“Kamuhi-muhing Lumikha!” the entity roared in fury and it made him flinch. “Kung hindi lamang sa kanyang kapalaluan ay magiging tanyag ang aking ngalan sa lahat ng anito!”
Napaisip si Hasanggan sa tinuran nito. Ang Lumikha ang isa sa mga naunang anito sa kamunduhan. Ilang salinlahi na ang nagdaan noong namuno ang Lumikha at hindi na niya ito naabutan kaya’t wala siyang gaanong alam tungkol sa anitong nasa pinakaluklukan ngunit mayroon din siyang tanim na galit dito.
He had been the sun god for quite a time, but when the supreme god had his three children, they were expected to have the three main realms in the sky—the sun, the moon, and the stars. Every deity of the sun battled each other to determine who was the rightful owner of the throne and after years of fighting, only two warriors remained—him and Apolaki.
He thought it would be easy to defeat him as he had more experience in battles and he had been the god of the sun for a long time, but he unexpectedly lost. The deities celebrated Apolaki’s win and built a golden palace in the sky honoring his accession.
Hasanggan could not accept it and blamed the supreme god for favoring his son by giving him the chance to be the sun god. Apolaki did not like what he uttered and challenged him for a battle to death. He accepted it and vowed to kill the young god, but in the end, he was overwhelmed by the latter’s strength, and he was burned to oblivion.
Pilit itinatwa ni Hasanggan sa kanyang isipan ang nangyari sa nakaraan at inisip na lamang ang kanyang kalagayan sa kasalukuyan.
Kung gayon, ang hilagyong ito ba ay isa rin sa mga kasabay ng Lumikha noong murang gulang pa lamang ang kalupaan? tanong niya sa kanyang isipan sapagkat tila malalim ang galit nito sa kataas-taasang anito.
“Ano ang iyong ngalan?” tanong nito matapos ang paglabas ng galit sa Lumikha.
“Hasanggan, dangal na anito,” sagot niya.
“Hasanggan,” tawag nito. “Ano ang iyong dakilang mithiin?”
The entity’s question lingered in his head but all he could think of was his stolen status.
“Ang muling maging anito ng araw, dangal,” sagot niya.
Isang matunog na halakhak ang binitiwan ng kanyang kausap. “Isang munting kahilingan kapalit ng dakilang adhika. Kung gayon, ika’y magiging anito ng araw sa sandaling mabalik ang aking anyo at kapangyarihan.”
Hasanggan’s eyes blazed with hunger and desire. He still did not know who he was talking to but he was sure it was a powerful deity who could rival the supreme ruler . . . and once he rose to his full power, he knew the deity could give him his aspiration.
“Kung gayon ay iaalay ko ang aking katapatan sa inyo, Maydangal,” pangako niya. “Ang ngala’y Hasanggan, anito ng araw, at ako’y maglilingkod sa inyong ngalan.”
“Kung gayon, Hasanggan,” sambit ng nakatataas na anito. “Nais kong matiyak kung karapat-dapat ka bilang aking tagalingkod.”
Tumindig si Hasanggan. “Anuman ang iyong ipag-utos, Maydangal.”
Ilang sandaling katahimikan ang bumalot sa kadiliman at napagtanto ni Hasanggan na tila mabigat na tungkulin ang iaatang sa kanya ng kanyang maydangal.
“Noong masupil ako ng Lumikha ay ikinalat niya ang aking anyo’t hilagyo sa iba’t ibang kasaklawan,” paliwanag ng anito. “Ang aking bagwis ay kanyang siniil sa kalangitan ngunit hindi ko batid kung saan ang tiyak nitong kinalalagyan.” Tumingin ito nang taimtim kay Hasanggan.“Bilang isa sa mga anito ng kalangitan, nais kong hanapin mo ito at dalhin sa akin.”
“Mayroon ka bang hinuha sa kung saan maaari itong nakakubli?”
Saglit na nag-isip si Hasanggan at naalala niya ang humarap sa anito.
“Maaaring nasa tahanan io ni Apolaki sa kalangitan,” saad niya. “Ngunit higit na mas malakas siya sa akin, lalo na’t ilang pagsikat ng araw na ang nagdaan noong ako’y nahimlay.”
Dumagundong ang malakas na paghalakhak ng anito sa kanyang itinuran. Napakunot ang kanyang noo sapagkat tila hindi nito alintana ang kasalukuyan niyang katayuan.
“Wala kang dapat ipag-alala, aking kabig. Matagal nang nagwakas ang kanilang pamamalagi sa luklukan,” the deity said in confidence, earning a curious expression from Hasanggan.
“Ano ang ibig ninyong iparating?”
“Hindi na sinasamba o pinag-aalayan ng mga tao ang mga anito ng nakaraan noong mayroong dumating na mga dayuhan,” sagot nito. “Sa tuluyang pagkawala ng kanilang mga tagasunod ay naglaho na rin ang kanilang kasarinlan at ang paghimlay ng kanilang mga hilagyo sa mahabang panahon.”
Napaawang ang kanyang bibig sa narinig. Kung gayon ay wala na ang mga anito? Sino na ang namumuno sa iba’t ibang saklaw ng Kaluwalhatian, Kagitnaan, at Kasinaan?
Ngunit kung ganoon nga ang lagay ng kasalukuyan ay mas madali niyang maisasagawa ang kanyang pakay at makamit ang kanyang mithi.
“Tanging mga nakalulunos na hilagyo na lamang sila na nakaasa sa mga sisidlan,” dagdag nito. “Pilit silang gumising upang masiil ulit ang aking pagsilang ngunit sa kanilang kalagaya’y wala akong dapat ipag-alala pa.”
“Kung gayon, kailangan ko lamang hanapin si Apolaki at piliting sabihin ang kinalalagyan ng inyong bagwis.”
“Ganoon na nga. Inaasahan ko ang iyong tagumpay, Hasanggan.”
Muli siyang yumukod sa harap ng pinagsisilbihan. “Sa aking pagbabalik ay ipagdiriwang ninyo ang inyong muling pagsilang . . .”
His words hung in the air. He realized he still did not know the name of his lord. Hasanggan waited for the entity to tell him his name.
The black smoke swirled and took a more humanoid form and smiled at him. “Ulilang Kaluluwa,” he announced.
“Hintayin ninyo ang aking tagumpay, Dangal Ulilang Kaluluwa.”
Hasanggan stood up and returned to his amorphous fiery form. He found his way out and immediately saw the scorching sun. The god released a furious scream and let the world know of his return.
Darkness slowly engulfed the sun as he celebrated his revival on his own. It was also a warning to the deities, especially to Apolaki. He would return to his rightful place, along with the new supreme ruler.
All her life, Eliane thought her mother and her family had delved deep into mystical stuff that she could not believe any of their words anymore. But after the past incidents, she was starting to wonder if they were right after all.
Sa dami ng kanyang mga nalaman, totoo man sa kanyang pandinig o hindi, ay parang wala na siyang ibang magagawa kundi paniwalaan ang mga ito. She could not explain what happened to her these past few days without looking into the supernatural side. Lalo na ngayong nalaman niyang mayroong diyos sa loob niya.
Napabuntonghininga na lamang siya habang nakatingin sa kalangitan. The Estrellas advised her not to leave their home as it would be dangerous to be alone. Besides, their home was protected by spirit guides and Mayari’s divine blessing thousands of years ago. Dahil gusto niyang mapag-isa kahit saglit lamang ay nagtungo siya sa rooftop kung nasaan ang lambana o pook-dasalan.
Unlike yesterday, the night sky was littered with thousands of stars and the half-moon shone brightly among them. She thought it was the first time she had a longer look at the sky during night. Madalas kasi ay nasa loob lamang siya ng bahay o ‘di kaya ay apartment kapag kumagat na ang dilim. Maaga din siyang natutulog kaya wala siyang panahon para tingnan ito.
Halos mapatalon siya nang marinig ang pagbukas ng pinto. When she turned, she saw Cyrus and he was surprised to see her there, too.
Naalala niya ang nangyaring sagutan kanina nina Apolaki at Mayari gamit ang kanilang mga katawan kaya agad siyang nag-iwas ng tingin. They weren’t even close to begin with so arguing with him, even though it wasn’t really her, made her feel embarrassed. Still, she felt drawn to him and Cyrell. Pakiramdam niya tuloy ay kagagawan iyon sa mga diyos at diyosang nasa loob nila.
Lumapit si Cyrus sa kanya at tumingala rin sa langit. She took a glance at him and noticed how his unapproachable demeanor was replaced with a gentle expression on his face.
“Everything’s sinking in?” he asked, still looking at the sky. She let out a dry chuckle. “Not really. Parang lumulutang lang lahat sa utak ko. Idagdag pa na hindi naman ako masyadong naniniwala sa mga gano’n.” Naglakad si Cyrus patungo sa mahabang upuan. A little smile escaped his lips while gazing at the stars. “Kahit sino namang hindi lumaki sa ganitong uri ng paligid ay mabibigla sa mga sinabi namin.”
She wanted to say she wasn’t unfamiliar with this kind of household but held back. May mga nalalaman naman siya kahit papaano, hindi niya nga lang pinaniniwalaan ang mga ‘yon.
“So . . . those three are the deities of the sun, moon, and stars, right?” tanong niya. “Yeah,” sagot ni Cyrus. “At sina Apo Mayari at Apolaki,” sabay turo niya sa kanilang dalawa, “ay ang mga punong-mandirigma ng Maylikha.” “Maylikha?” “Ah,” sabay tingin nito sa kanya. “Ni Bathala.” “Oh. Bakit hindi Bathala ang tawag mo sa kanya?” He drew a breath, ready to explain everything. “According to my parents, the name Bathala was not the supreme ruler’s real designation. Unang nakita ang ngalan na iyon sa isang aklat na sinulat ng mga Kastila noong nakarating sila rito sa Pilipinas kaya marami ang nagsasabing marahil ay hindi iyon ang totoo niyang ngalan. Some scholars even said that the term was from a Sanskrit or Arabic word, not ours.” “Oh, so kaya Maylikha ang tawag ninyo sa kanya?” Tumango si Cyrus. “O kaya naman ay Lumikha. But neither are his real name.” Kumunot ang noo niya. “Ha?”
Naging interesado naman si Eliane kaya lumapit siya kay Cyrus at umupo sa tabi nito. Despite being part of the myth, it was intriguing because it was tied with the precolonial history of the country.
He chuckled in response. “Dahil maraming anito na maaari nilang pagdasalan o hingan ng tulong, madalas ay hindi nila tatangkain pang tumungo sa kanya. Asking for the supreme god for help only meant there would be a cataclysmic situation, so our ancestors never dared address him by his name but just by his epithets or titles.”
Eliane never expected that learning about the deities would be a bit enjoyable. At the same time, she felt scared because that only meant the stories were real . . . because the gods inside them were the proof.
Agad nagbago ang timpla ng kanyang mukha at napatingin siya sa kanyang mga kamay. She did not like what she experienced a while ago. Having her body taken over by someone else was not something she would want to go through. It felt weird to see everything from inside her body.
“Don’t you feel weird?” tanong niya kay Cyrus. “Hindi ka ba natatakot? I mean, there’s a goddess inside you.” Maging si Cyrus ay napatingin sa kanyang kamay. “I admit it felt strange at first, but we are prepared for this kind of circumstance.” “Dahil sa parents n’yo?” He nodded. “Nakinita na ni Mama na muling magigising ang mga anito pero hindi niya inaasahan ang mga nangyari. Still, we somehow managed.”
Nagpakawala siya ng isang malalim na buntonghininga. She still could not understand their world and she felt like she had to catch up real fast to survive whatever danger was looming. Now that she thought about it, few days ago, she was just busy with her thesis writing, this time, she was the vessel of a god.
Eliane still get creeped out with the whole situation, but she felt like she had to accept it, not for her own sake, but for others. Pakiramdam niya tuloy ay hindi na bilang si Eliane ang tingin sa kanya ng mga Estrella, kundi bilang sisidlan ni Apolaki.
“Pero bakit ako?” tanong niya makalipas ang ilang minutong katahimikan. “Pakiramdam ko, nasali lang ako dahil nandoon ako noong nangyari ‘yon . . . and I don’t want this . . . whatever this is . . .” “Proximity might be one of the factors, but the deities won’t choose someone who isn’t compatible with their essence,” he replied. “He chose you because he knew he could exist inside you.” “Why not someone else? Bakit hindi iyong ibang descendants ng mga naging kampeon niya?” “Not all descendants are born as potential vessels.” “What do you mean?”
Cyrus turned toward her and placed his palm in front of her face.
“Alam mo ba kung ilan ang kaluluwa natin sa katawan?” he asked. She frowned upon hearing his question. “Uhh, isa . . . ?” He folded his thumb. “Wrong. We have four.” “Seryoso ka ba?” she blurted out.
Agad naman niyang tinikom ang kanyang bibig nang mapagtanto ang kanyang nasabi pero mukhang wala lang iyon kay Cyrus. He motioned at his fingers and her gaze followed it.
“Una ang katambal,” he said, pointing at his forefinger. “Or the soul proper. Ito ang ating kakambal kapag tayo’y nabubuhay. Basically, it’s our very own essence. Sa pagkamatay natin ay tuluyan din silang nawawala. Pangalawa ay ang kalarma. This is the soul of vigor and reason, and one of the two souls that can be stolen.” “Stolen?” she intoned. “Yes. Supernatural creatures and entities can take it and its absence leads to the person’s insanity. Kaya nga ‘di ba sa mga kasabihan at kwentong bayan, kapag may naeengkwentro silang engkanto ay sinasabing nawawala sila sa kanilang mga sarili? They love to take one’s kalarma because it lengthens their lifespan.”
Kinilabutan si Eliane nang marinig iyon. Hindi rin siya naniniwala sa mga aswang at engkanto pero dahil bahagi sila ng paniniwala ng mga Pilipino noon ay tiyak siyang mayroong katotohanan sa ilan sa mga iyon.
“Which brings us to the third one, the aniwaas, the soul of sleep and wandering,” he continued. “Ito ang lumalabas sa ating katawan tuwing tayo ay natutulog. It’s also the one responsible for our dreams and nightmares.” Kumunot ang noo niya. “Responsible sa panaginip natin? How . . .” “That particular soul can travel through time and space, and through dimensions, and that’s why our dreams vary greatly. Kapag may napapanaginipan kang tao, mataas ang tsansang naroon din ang aniwaas. Kapag walang mukha ang taong napanaginipan mo, madalas ay mayroon itong kaharap ng anito o engkanto.”
She swallowed back the fear crawling through her throat. She remembered that one time she had a sleep paralysis. May kinalaman din bai yon sa aniwaas?
“So kapag nakaranas ka ng sleep paralysis . . . what does that mean?” “Hmm. That means somebody got a hold of your soul,” he replied. “Kaya madalas ay hindi ka rin makagalaw o makasigaw. Then you see something in front of you, trying to choke or keep you from screaming. Tulad ng kalarma ay nakukuha rin ng iba ang aniwaas. Those entities are trying to steal it away, and once that happens, the person will fall into a long slumber.”
There was a hint of grief in his voice and upon glancing, she thought he looked sad for a moment. Saka niya na-realize na parang ganoon ang nangyari kay Dr. De Luna. She was not sure if it was because of the deities’ awakening or it had something to do with the souls he was talking about.
“A-and the fourth one?” she asked, trying to bring his attention back to the topic. She did not like seeing someone bearing a sorrowful expression. “Right,” he mumbled, jarring his thoughts back to the present. “Pang-apat, ang alariya. The soul of the dead. It’s the soul liberated from our bodies upon death. Sa kasalukuyan, ito ang tinatawag nating kaluluwa.” “Oh . . .” “That’s the case for normal people. But . . .” Cyrus suddenly unfolded his thumb. “Some have a special soul reservoir, and that niche can be inhabited by special spirits . . . like what we have right now.” Eliane reached for her stomach. “A fifth soul . . .” “Pitulunan,” he added, and she remembered how he said that word when talking to Mayari earlier. “And since you have it, that means you’ve been a potential vessel since you were born. Marahil ay itinadhana ka para rito.”
Hindi niya alam kung dapat niya bang ikatuwa o ikatakot ang narinig. Somehow, she felt like it just made everything worse. Ibig sabihin ba noon ay nabuhay lamang siya para maging sisidlan o pitulon? Na itinadhana ang lahat ng nangyari at kahit anong gawin niya ay hindi na mababago iyon? Na kailangan na lang niyang tanggapin ang lahat?
“I did not want this . . .” she muttered.
Gusto niya na lang bumalik sa dati ang lahat. Okay lang kahit mahirapan siya sa thesis o maubos ang oras ng tulog niya para rito. She wanted to return to her mundane routine, not this supernatural world she was suddenly pulled in.
Bumalik ang isip niya sa kasalukuyan nang makarinig siya ng ingay. Sabay silang napatingin sa pintuan dahil bumukas iyon at sumalubong ang mukha ni Cyrell.
“Nandito pala kayo. Kakain na raw,” anunsyo niya.
Sabay-sabay naman silang bumaba. Pinakiusapan siya ng pamilya na dito na muna matulog ngayong gabi pero nahihiya siya kaya nakailang pilit si Cyrell bago siya mapapayag. After eating in silence, her friend steered her toward a guest room.
“Kung may kailangan ka, punta ka lang sa kwarto ko,” sabi ni Cyrell. “Okay.”
Eliane plopped on the bed and let out a long and deep sigh. Pakiramdam niya ay napakahaba ng araw ngayon kahit na kabaligtaran naman ang nangyari. She still could not believe everything that happened and everything that she learned. It would be comforting if she realized all of it was just a dream, but she knew otherwise.
Dahil sa pagod ang kanyang katawan at isipan ay mabilis siyang nakatulog kahit wala siya sa sarili niyang kama.
Deep inside her, Apolaki’s essence stirred. He heard everything they talked about and felt her emotions, albeit not understanding half of them.
Apolaki was a proud warrior. Ang alam niya lang noon ay ang makipaglaban. Ang dahilan ng kanyang kayarian ay ang pagkamit ng tagumpay. He could not understand why a vessel would not feel proud if they were chosen by a god like him.
Ngunit hindi batid ng diyos na hindi lahat ng tao ay nais makipaglaban o nais magtagumpay sa anuman. Ang ilan ay kuntento na sa kung ano ang mayroon sila.
Also, he admitted Eliane was not his first choice. The girl did not have any outstanding demeanor or abilities, but she was the closest to him at that moment. Still, he stood by his decision.
‘Bagama't hindi ang unang hinirang, batid kong mayroon kang kakayahang pumukaw sa pumapanglaw na araw,’ sambit nito bago tuluyang mahimbing sa pitulunan.
Eliane woke up groggily. Pakiramdam niya ay masusuka siya dahil umiikot pa rin ang paligid at tiyan niya. Still disoriented, she tried to find her bearing, but she could only gape upon seeing her surroundings.
It was pitch black. She could not see nor hear anything besides herself.
Dahan-dahan siyang tumayo habang dinig ang dumadagundong na tibok ng kanyang puso. The place looked and felt like a chasm with no way out. She was starting to panic when a speck of light the size of a firefly appeared in front of her. She stared at it in wonder. Then two more appeared. And several more, until the light illuminated the place.
Napaawang ang kanyang bibig sa nakita. Behind her was a dais adorned with golden potteries and figures. In the middle sat a burning throne that looked like it was made from the sun’s plasma. Kinurap niya ang kanyang mga mata sakaling nililinlang lamang siya ng mga ito ngunit naroon pa rin ang naglilyab na luklukan.
“What the heck?” she blurted out.
“Gising na ba ang iyong diwa, pitulon?”
Napatalon siya nang muling marinig ang tinig ngunit kaiba sa kanina ay tila galing na ito sa labas. The voice was reverberating through the chasm, making the presence more daunting. Hindi niya alam ang isasagot niya kaya marahan na lang siyang tumango.
All of a sudden, she could see everything again—the Estrellas, their living room, and even her own hands, but there was something wrong. She was not in control of her body. It was as if she was in the back seat, and someone had hijacked the driver’s seat.
“Pagbati,” the voice greeted.
Nagulat siya nang biglang yumuko sa kanya si Dr. Estrella pero nanatiling nakatindig ang kambal. That was when she realized even Cyrus’ appearance changed. His eyes were pitch black and the ends of his hair were turning silver. Napaatras siya nang bigla na lamang siya nitong sinamaan ng tingin.
“Tala, mas maiging tayo lamang dalawa ang mag-usap,” Cyrus said but his voice was quite feminine.
Eliane could feel the irritation in her body, but she knew it wasn’t her own emotion. “Tila nakalilimutan mong saklaw ng aking kapangyarihan ang sandaling ito, Mayari,” the voice controlling her body retorted.
Cyrus rolled his eyes in return. “At natatanaw ba ang araw sa sandaling ito, Apolaki? Unti-unti nang nababalot ng kadiliman ang kalupaan sapagkat patuloy na nahihimbing ang iyong kapangyarihan. Pulos ka lamang kapalaluan.”
Maging si Eliane ay tila nahabag ang buntot sa palitan ng kanilang salita ni Cyrus. Kung hindi pumagitna sina Cyrell at Dr. Estrella ay paniguradong magkakasakitan ang dalawa at ayaw niyang mangyari iyon dahil lang sa hindi nila hawak ang kanilang mga katawan.
That was when she also realized something. The entities inside them called each other by their names—Tala, Mayari and Apolaki. She was sure she heard those names before but couldn’t remember when or where.
Nagulat naman siya sa kanyang sarili. She could not believe she was starting to accept everything as the truth. That despite her hatred toward the occult, she could not deny that it was real.
Cyrus’ right eye suddenly returned to its original state. “Apo Mayari,” sambit niya na tila may halong paunawa. “Patawad, Apo, ngunit maaari bang bumalik muna ang iyong hilagyo sa pitulunan?”
Eliane watched in horror and awe as Cyrus seemed to have two personalities. Ngunit makalipas ang ilang segundo ay nanumbalik ang dati niyang anyo at tila nawala ang babaeng nagsasalita kanina lamang. Even Cyrell turned back to her usual self.
Agad siyang napaisip sa nangyari. Could she also force herself to go back to the “front” and gain her control back? However, she did not know how to do that.
“Apo Apolaki,” called Dr. Estrella, and she could feel the annoyance coursing through her body.
Her surroundings spun around again. This time, she felt like riding a roller coaster but a hundred times faster. Her body jerked violently and the next thing she knew, she and her own presence was back right where she should be.
Confused and frightened, she stared at the three, waiting for any explanation.
“What the heck did just happen?”
Pakiramdam niya ay hindi tunay ang mga nangyayari ngunit kahit itanggi niya ay batid niyang hindi iyon nalalayo sa katotohanan. Somebody was messing with her body, so were the twins.
Dr. Estrella held his gaze for a few seconds. “Hindi ba’t sinabi ko sa iyo na tunay at nananatili pa rin sa kasalukuyan ang mga nagdaang anito?” He exchanged looks with his children. “Naging pintakasi rin kami ng aking asawa noon . . . at ngayon, sila ang napili nina Tala at Mayari.”
She was still processing what happened to her a few seconds ago that Dr. Estrella’s words just lingered in her mind. Tila hindi na kaya ng kanyang utak na magdagdag pa ng hindi makamundong kaalaman. She tried to recall the names she had heard a while ago and gasped sharply upon recognizing them.
No way, she thought.
“Did you finally realize it?” Cyrus commented but she could not answer.
“To make it short, you are Apolaki’s new vessel.” Cyrell chimed in and Eliane looked at her friend, dumbfounded. “The sun god dwells inside you, Eliane.”
She did not know how many minutes had passed already. She was just vacantly staring at Cyrell, trying to process everything that they had told her.
Apparently, the myths of the old were indeed true and she was housing one of the deities inside her.
Gusto niya na lang matawa sa mga nangyayari pero sa loob niya ay alam niyang totoo ang mga ito dahil naranasan niyang makulong sa sarili niyang katawan. For a second, she felt bad because she did not believer her own mother for years.
Nagtungo si Dr. Estrella sa kanilang silid-aklatan at makalipas ang ilang sandali ay bumaba itong may dalang makapal na libro. He placed it on the table between them and gently pushed it toward her. Nag-alangan naman siyang kunin kaya si Cyrus na ang nagbukas nito.
She stared in awe at its content. The book was about the ancient deities of the Philippines in every region, along with some anecdotes about them. Huminto ito sa paglipat ng mga pahina nang marating ang rehiyon ng katagalugan noong unang panahon.
Her skin tingled upon reading one of the god’s name--Apolaki.
“Sa ngayon, tatlo pa lamang ang mga anitong alam nating narito na ang hilagyo,” panimula ni Cyrus. “Kami ni Cyrell ang naging sisidlan nina Apo Tala at Mayari dahil na rin sa kasaysayan ng aming angkan,” sabay turo niya sa mga pahina kung saan nakaguhit ang kanilang hindi gaanong malinaw na kaanyuan.
“Dahil sa iyo nakakubli ang hilagyo ni Apo Apolaki, tiyak na isa sa iyong mga ninuno ay mayroong basbas niya, o ‘di kaya ay minsan niya na ring naging pintakasi,” Dr. Estrella explained.
Hindi pa rin niya lubos matanggap na mayroong diyos sa loob niya at ginagamit siya nito bilang sisidlan. Heck, it was Apolaki, the sun god, and according to the book, he was even the patron god of the warriors. She was suddenly wary of the way she acted toward the voice, which was apparently Apolaki himself. Eliane did not want to anger a god, let alone the strongest warrior among them.
“So . . . how about the other deities?” tanong niya makalipas ang matagal niyang pagtahimik.
Dr. Estrella grimly shook his head. “Hindi namin alam kung ilan ang nagising sa kanilang pagkakahimlay. But I’m sure most of them have their own vessels by now. Hindi nga lang natin kilala kung sinu-sino ang kanilang naging sisidlan.”
Bigla naman siyang napaisip. Kung pitulon din si Dr. De Luna, sa kanya ba tutungo ang isa sa mga anito kung hindi ito nahihimbing ngayon?
She suddenly heard someone scoffing at the back of her mind. “Isang tapat na pintakasi ang sisidlan na iyon, ngunit kahit ang nakasusuklam na si Mayari ay hindi pipili ng sisidlang pinagdaanan na ng panahon.”
Napahawak siya sa kanyang ulo. Noong una ay akala niya’y nahihibang lamang siya tuwing maririnig niya ang tinig na iyon ngunit matapos makinggan at masaksihan ang pag-uusap ng mga anito kanina ay batid niyang kinakausap siya ng naturang diyos.
“Bakit?” tanong ni Cyrell.
“Uhm, h-he’s talking . . . and reading my thoughts.”
“Ah. Yeah. They can do that, and even feel our emotions,” Cyrus remarked.
“What?!” she exclaimed. “Nasaan ang privacy?”
Her friend chuckled. “They can only understand old Tagalog so you’re safe if you think in other languages.”
Hindi niya alam kung nagbibiro ba ito pero ganoon ang ginawa niya. She did not want the god being nosy about her thoughts and feelings.
Napatigil naman sila nang biglang dumagundong ang kulog. She felt like the temperature dropped a few degrees and it made her hair stand on end.
“Ayon kay Apo Anagolay ay mayroon pa tayong mas malalang problema,” saad ni Cyrell habang nag-aalalang nakatingin sa bintana.
Napakunot ang kanyang noo. “Anagolay?”
“She’s the goddess of lost things and the weaver of fate,” she replied. “She’s the only deity who did not fall into slumber because Filipinos have always been a believer of fate. And she’s also the first deity to reach mom.”
Naalala naman niya ang kaibang presensyang naramdaman niya noong nakita niya si Dr. De Luna sa kanilang rooftop. That must be Anagolay.
“She said their biggest enemy is stirring and it has been gathering vassals to do its bidding.” The thought seemed to weigh on her friend’s chest. “Someone is trying to bask the world in darkness by keeping the sun out of sight.”
Tumindig si Dr. Estrella at lumipat ang tingin sa kanya. “Apo Apolaki,” he called and Eliane felt the god stirring inside her. “Isa ito sa iyong mga saklaw. Mayroon ka bang palagay sa kung ano o sino ang gumagawa nito?”
Eliane could feel the god’s anger through her nerves. It was as if the situation reminded him of a bitter past.
“Matagal ko nang binura ang kanyang ngalan sa sangkaluwalhatian,” mariing sambit ni Apolaki sa kanyang isipan. “Ngunit tila nagbabalik ang aking walang hanggang kaalitan.”
Nabalot ng katahimikan ang paligid, naghihintay sa kanyang sasabihin.
“Hasanggan,” he said in a bitter tone. “Iyon ang kanyang ngalan.”
“Hasanggan . . .” Eliane relayed. “He said that might be the perpetrator’s name.”
The sky suddenly turned darker, along with a flash of lightning and claps of thunder, as if recognizing the name, she just uttered.
The fear that rendered her body rigid was the same fear that made her want to run away.
Kahit nanginginig pa ang mga tuhod niya ay dali-dali siyang tumakbo palayo kahit hindi niya alam kung saan tutungo.
Cyrell’s voice from the other end of the line jarred her thoughts to the present. Ni hindi niya napansin na hindi pa rin nito binababa ang tawag. She called her friend’s name with her quivering voice. Before she could tell her what was happening, she heard a chorus of gasps in the background. They must have seen it, too, from their house.
“Eliane,” her friend repeated, but this time, with a hint of urgency. “Just listen to what I’m about to say.” She silently agreed. “Huwag kang titingin sa araw at madali kang pumunta rito. You’ll be safer here.”
Terror registered on her face. Her friend’s voice was grim, as if danger were right upon her. Cyrell said she should not look at the sun and she was sure it wasn’t because of its damaging effects to the eyes alone. She swallowed back the panic that was swelling in her mouth. “S-safer from what?”
There were a few seconds of silence between them, but Cyrell did not answer her question. “I’ll explain everything later. Basta pumunta ka rito.”
Wala siyang nagawa kundi um-oo. Matapos niyang ibaba ang tawag ay dali-dali siyang tumakbo patungo sa kanilang bahay.
Halos magkandadapa-dapa na si Eliane nang makarating siya sa street nila. She was carrying her grocery with both hands, but someone suddenly snatched two of them from her right. Pagtingin niya ay nandoon na si Cyrus.
Her gaze met his and somehow, his presence was much more familiar. For some reason, she was drawn to him. Tila ganoon din si Cyrus dahil napatitig lamang ito sa kanya.
“Seems like yours has woken up, too,” he remarked.
Bago pa niya matanong ito ay nagsimula na itong umakyat sa hagdan kaya agad siyang sumunod. She was tempted to look at what was happening to the sky but remembered Cyrell’s advice.
Nang makarating sila sa tuktok ay pumasok sila sa bahay. Nagpunta sila sa sala at naroon din sina Cyrell at Dr. Estrella. Napakunot naman ang noo niya dahil wala roon si Dr. De Luna. Was she still not awake? she thought.
Nang makita niya si Cyrell ay bigla siyang napatigil. She felt the same unusual riveting sensation toward her. She was not sure if she were just imagining things but there was something different today.
She anxiously sat right across them while Cyrus sat beside her. Their expressions were grim, which made her even more perturbed.
“That one,” Eliane started while pointing upward, pertaining to the solar eclipse, “it’s still too early, right?”
The three exchanged nervous looks. “Ganoon na nga,” sagot ni Dr. Estrella.
“Isa ka nga sa napili nila,” dagdag ni Cyrell habang nakatingin sa kanyang ulunan.
Napakunot naman ang noo niya. She was tempted to look up to see whatever her friend was staring at. Cyrell smiled at her probably dumb expression.
“May something ba ako sa ulo?” tanong niya. “At anong ibig mong sabihin sa . . . napili?”
Dr. Estrella leaned closer and spread an old—almost tattered already—document. Sketches of people and baybayin script were intricately inscribed. She silently marveled at the antiquity right before her eyes.
“Mayroon ka bang nalalaman tungkol sa mitolohiya ng Pilipinas?” asked Dr. Estrella.
She suddenly felt embarrassed. She had been rejecting anything related to myths and supernatural after she left home, but she could still remember some. Eliane knew about some creatures because of her mother’s stories when she was a child, but she could only name one god among the ancient deities of the Philippines--Bathala, the supreme ruler. But she knew that their ancestors were practitioners of anitism, or the worship of nature spirits.
Marahan siyang umiling. “Hindi po gaano.”
Cyrus groaned inwardly. “You should have said yes,” mahina nitong sabi.
Dr. Estrella’s eyes twinkled in excitement, and she understood what he meant. It seemed like the older Estrella was more than eager to teach her about the entirety of the Philippine mythology, but Cyrell reached for their dad’s arm.
“Pa,” she called, with a hint of warning.
The gleam in his eyes turned cold. “Ah. Right, right . . .” Muli itong tumingin sa makalumang papel sa kanilang harapan. “What if I tell you that these—” He pointed at the figures on the document. “These deities are real? Maniniwala ka ba?”
Eliane was taken aback by the question that she just stared at him in silence. Not again, she thought, and had to held back her sigh. Akala niya ay nakalayo na siya sa ganitong uri ng salaysay pero hindi niya inasahang dito rin mauuwi ang lahat.
Muling dumapo ang kanyang paningin sa mga nakaguhit sa papel. Kung iisipin ang mga kakaibang nangyayari nitong mga nakaraang araw, tila mayroon nga itong pagkaka-ugnay sa kanyang sinasabi kahit na pilit itinataboy ng utak niya na totoo ang mga ito.
“We’re actually from a long line of priestesses,” said Cyrell. “Katalonan o babaylan sa ating wika. My mom is the last of her kind.”
Hindi niya alam kung maniniwala ba siya pero tumahimik na lang si Eliane at piniling makinig.
“Ang mga babaylan noong unang panahon ay nagsisilbing tagapamagitan sa katauhan at mga anito,” paliwanag ni Dr. Estrella. “At mayroong iilan na naging kanilang sisidlan.”
“Yes. There was a time where the gods and goddesses communicate closely to the people,” Cyrell added. “And the katalonans and babaylans became their vessels. Iyon ang dahilan kaya’t patuloy na sinasamba ang mga anito noon.”
“But then the Spaniards came,” Cyrus chimed in. “Priestesses were stigmatized by them as witches and practitioners of Satanism. They lost their high social status and were replaced by friars.”
Remorse glinted in Dr. Estrella’s eyes. “Ginamit ng mga Kastila ang ating paniniwala laban sa atin. Our ancestors thought Christianity was just another deity, not an entirely different religion. They used their advanced medical knowledge, too, to displace the babaylans as healers, branding them as fake. Dahil sa pagpaslang sa mga tagapamagitan ng katauhan sa mga kataas-taasan, at ang paglaganap ng Kristiyanismo sa buong kapuluan ay unti-unting naglaho ang ating mga anito.”
Napanganga na lamang si Eliane sa mga narinig. She thought she would only hear some fictitious accounts from them but they tied it to the history, which made their stories quite believable.
“P-pero po, bakit sila nawala?” tanong niya makalipas ang ilang sandali.
Isang malungkot na ngiti ang binitiwan ni Dr. Estrella. “The essence and glory of the deities are always tied with the beliefs and worshipping of people. Sa sandaling makalimutan ng mga tao ang isang anito, mawawala na rin ng silbi ang kanyang katungkulan at maglalaho ang kanyang hilagyo’t pagkakakilanlan.”
“Then . . .”
“Fortunately, there are still indigenous groups who continue to believe and worship them; hence their essences were not fully eradicated, but they are slowly waning.”
“Oh . . .”
Wala na siyang naisagot pa. Everything that she had heard was still not sinking in her brain. Some parts, she already learned from her history classes, but the bits about the babaylans and deities were kind of difficult to fully believe.
“Now back to the present. Did you ever experience something that you could not explain rationally?” dagdag nito at agad niyang naalala ang lalaki sa convenience store.
She wanted to forget about that because no one would believe her if she told that to anybody. Sino ba naman ang maniniwala kapag sinabi niyang bigla na lang natupok ang lalaki sa harapan niya at niligtas siya ng isang bata mula rito? Her mother probably would but she would never tell it to her. But then again, she just heard some outrageous stories from them, so perhaps they, too, would believe her.
She drew a deep breath and slowly nodded. “Recently lang po,” simula niya. “Last week, noong shift ko po sa work, biglang may pumasok na lalaki sa convenience store. Tinutukan niya ako ng kutsilyo kaya akala ko ay kailangan niya ng pera pero bigla na lang nagbago ang kilos niya.” Reminiscing that incident sent shivers down her spine. “It felt like someone or something possessed him.”
Her narrative caught their utmost interest, but there were also hints of concern on their expressions. “Mayroon ba siyang sinabi?”
Pilit niyang inalala ang mga salitang binitiwan ng lalaki ngunit hindi na niya matandaan ang eksaktong kataga. “Something about being powerless? Tinawag niya rin akong pito . . .”
“Pitulon,” Cyrell corrected.
“Yeah, that!” she exclaimed. “Tapos may biglang dumating na bata.”
“Siguro ay around twelve years old? The guy called her abyan but she called herself a diwata. Tapos bigla na lang natupok ‘yong lalaki . . .”
Her last words hung heavy in the air, and she realized it sounded ridiculous. But the absurd seemed to be more interesting to them.
“So . . . m-may kinalaman po ba iyon sa mga nangyayari ngayon? Like this weird solar eclipse?” she asked, breaking the few seconds of silence among them.
Huminga nang malalim si Dr. Estrella at tila pinagtatagpi-tagpi ang mga kaganapan sa kanyang isipan. Idagdag pa ang sinabi nito sa kanya kanina tungkol sa mga diyos at diyosa.
“Alam kong hindi kapani-paniwala itong mga susunod mong maririnig,” he paused, gauging her reaction. “pero mukhang kabilang ka sa mga napili nila.”
Lalo lang siyang nalito. “Ano po ang ibig n’yong sabihin?”
“A dark entity is waking and the gods of the old need to stop him,” he answered. There was a wistful expression on her face as he glanced at the upper floor. “Pero dahil nahihimbing ang kanilang mga hilagyo ay kinakailangan nila ng isang makapangyarihang pintakasi upang gisingin ang kanilang mga diwa. At ang aking asawa iyon.”
Muli siyang natahimik sa mga narinig at tila hindi pa rin napoproseso ng utak niya lahat ng nalaman. She felt like her brain would be overloaded in any minute now.
“But because they only exist as essence right now, they need vessels to get around,” dagdag ni Cyrell. “Of course, not anyone can be a vessel. You need to have the blood of their heroes. In short, a descendant of their former vessels.”
“What . . .”
“Katulad namin,” Cyrus remarked.
She just stared at them for a few good seconds. Everything she heard seemed fictitious but the three looked like their lives depended on it. Hindi niya tuloy alam kung mayroon ba siyang dapat sabihin o manatiling tahimik na lang at makinig sa iba pa nilang salaysay.
Cyrell suddenly sighed. “Mukhang hindi ka naniniwala.”
“Uy, hindi. Uhm—”
Her friend closed her eyes and she thought she was just disappointed, but she stifled a scream the moment Cyrell opened them. Her eyes gleamed in gold and white . . . literally. A golden mark also appeared right above her head—a twinkling star.
“Pagpupugay, pitulon,” bati ni Cyrell ngunit nag-iba ang boses nito. Somehow, she sounded mature and more intimidating. The unknown presence smiled at her. “Tila hindi mo pa nakikilala ang aking kabsat.”
Eliane was about to ask what she meant when she heard that voice again inside her head . . . no, someone spoke using her voice.
“Pagbati, mahal kong kapatid.”
Before she could react, the world around her spun and her stomach churned badly. She didn’t know what was happening, but she didn’t like the nauseating feeling. Napakapit siya sa upuan at napasinghap nang maramdaman niyang tila may humatak sa kanya pababa.