Halos walang tulog si Eliane kagabi kaya naman antok na antok siyang bumangon. Maaga pa rin siyang nagising dahil nasanay na ang katawan niya. Mabuti na lang at Sabado na at walang pasok dahil hindi talaga gumagana ang utak niya.
She was still hung up on Cyrus’ words last night. If what he said was true, the strange incidents the past few days might be linked to whatever he was talking about. Mukhang minumulto nga yata siya.
Mukhang tama si Mama kahit papaano, sa isip niya.
Sinubukan niya na lang gawin ang thesis niya sa malapit na café dahil hindi siya makapag-focus sa apartment. Fortunately, she had gathered new information from the Estrella’s sanctum that would make her manuscript more read-worthy. Bandang tanghali ay nag-order siya ng carbonara pero napatigil siya nang makita niya ang bagong pasok sa coffee shop.
Their gazes met but she averted it and marched back to her table. She could see from her peripheral vision that Jaren was telling his order at the counter. Eliane tensed when he was given the beeper and walked toward her direction.
“El,” tawag nito.
“Ano?” malamig niyang tanong habang nananatili ang kanyang tingin sa laptop.
Jaren sat right across her. “Kumusta thesis mo?”
She glared at him in return. “Alam mo—”
“Sorry, okay?” he interrupted. “I was harsh.”
Tinitigan niya naman ang kaibigan. She knew he was sincere because he was fidgeting with his ring around his index finger. Jaren would always do that whenever he needs courage or when he’s vulnerable.
Makalipas ang ilang segundo ay napabuntonghininga siya. “Sorry rin,” she muttered. “I stormed off in anger.”
Nagsimula ang pag-uusap nila sa sorry pero agad ding nagsumbatan ang dalawa. Normal naman na sa kanila ‘yon at isa rin iyon sa mga paraan para malaman nila kung saan sila nagkamali. But truth be told, Eliane had almost forgotten about their quarrel because of what had happened the past few days. But she was happy that they finally reconciled and could joke around again.
“Do you want me to check your thesis again?” Jaren teased while pointing at her laptop.
She groaned. “No thanks. Masakit ka mag-review, eh. Mamaya magkaroon na naman tayo ng cold war.”
He chuckled in response. “I’ll try to be less blunt.”
“Siguraduhin mo lang.”
Nag-stay na rin si Jaren doon kahit ang balak lamang nito ay mag-take out ng kape. He missed her quite a bit, especially since Eliane was one of the two people he only trusts, the other himself.
Eliane came to a halt when she heard a sudden rumble from the sky. It was just 3 PM but tumultuous clouds covered the sky.
“May bagyo ba?” she asked warily.
Jaren shrugged. “Ewan. I’ll check.” He got busy with his phone and several minutes later, he frowned. “Wala naman, sabi ng PAG-ASA. There are no thunderstorm warnings, too.” Lumingon siya at tumingin sa labas. “Bakit kaya ang dilim?”
Nagsitayuan ang balahibo ni Eliane. She was not sure if it was related to the incidents she had witnessed, but it looked like the unfortunate events were still following her.
“Mukhang malakas ang ulan mamaya. Hindi ka pa ba uuwi?” tanong nito.
“Ahh, may imi-meet pa ako later.”
As if on cue, her phone rang. Cyrell’s name appeared on her screen and she immediately answered the call.
“Nandito na sina Mama,” bungad nito. “Pwede ka nang pumunta rito.”
She could not hide the excitement in her voice. Maging si Jaren ay nabigla kaya sinubukan niyang kumalma. She told Cyrell that she would be there in a few minutes and ended the call after.
“Sino ‘yon?” asked Jaren.
“Si Cyrell,” sagot niya.
He recognized the name a second later. “Ah, ‘yong isa mo pang kaibigan. That Estrella.”
She nodded excitedly. “Yup! And I can interview her mom later!”
She explained to him about how her statements would help her in her thesis. Maaari niya ring madagdagan ang nakalap niyang impormasyon lalo na’t maraming alam patungkol doon si Dr. De Luna. Jaren cheered for her and walked her to the waiting shed.
Eliane was still anxious with how the sky looked but she steeled herself and went to the Estrella’s abode.
Nakatayo lamang siya sa may itaas ng hagdanan dahil nahihiya itong pumasok na lamang sa harapang bakuran nila. She tried calling Cyrell but she was not answering. Her phone was probably not with her. Naka-ilang text na rin siya pero hindi pa rin nagre-reply kaya naman hindi niya alam ang dapat gawin.
She just stood there, looking at her phone every five seconds, until someone came out from the main doorway. Nagkatinginan sila ni Cyrus at tila nagulat din ito na narito ulit siya. He approached her direction and she had to text Cyrell again because she still felt awkward with him.
“Magkikita ba dapat kayo ni Cyrell?” tanong nito.
“Uhm, oo.” Kumunot ang noo niya. “Actually, I’m here to interview your mom. Para sana sa thesis ko.”
He stared at her long enough for her to feel embarrassed. “Ah. Okay. Tara.”
Napabuntong-hininga naman siya nang tumalikod ito sa kanya. Sumunod si Eliane kay Cyrus papunta sa loob ng kanilang bahay. Muling napaawang ang bibig niya. Even though he had seen its interior yesterday, it was still breathtaking to look at.
Pinaghintay siya nito sa sala. They both sat at the opposite ends of the couch, but his presence and the uncomfortable silence was suffocating her. Sabay naman silang napatingin sa kanya-kanyang phone. Cyrell texted both.
Pasama ka na lang kay Cyrus dito sa lambana, the text said.
Bigla namang tumayo si Cyrus kaya napatingin siya. “Nag-text siya sa’yo, ‘di ba?” he asked and she nodded in response. “Tara.”
She followed reluctantly but had to get closer to him when she realized how their house was a literal labyrinth. Malingat lamang siya nang kaunti ay pakiramdam niya, mawawala na siya. After several turns, they finally stopped at an arched doorway.
Marahang itinulak iyon ni Cyrus at napanganga siya nang masilayan ang kalangitan. She did not expect to end up at the rooftop. But what was more surprising was the intricate shrine in front of her.
There was a small, roofed platform made of bamboo and rattan built at the center, loosely similar to the pagodas of East Asia. Several carved figures of humans in different positions, but mostly in a squat, adorned the shrine. Stones of different sizes, ornate potteries and gold ornaments could also be seen around.
Ikinamangha niya ang nakita ngunit muling napaawang ang kanyang bibig nang masilayan ang kanyang pakay. Dr. De Luna was standing in front of the shrine wearing traditional clothes meant for priestesses of the old. She was doing some gestures and movements while both Cyrell and Dr. Estrella sat behind her.
Hindi maialis ni Eliane ang mga mata kay Cyrene. She realized Cyrell’s superstitious aspect was a familial trait after all upon seeing them perform a traditional ritual, or perhaps a séance. She felt quite disappointed because all she could think of was her own family’s traditions. She tried hard to escape it yet it found a way to her again, this time, through her friend’s family.
Makalipas ang ilang sandal ay tumigil si Cyrene sa pagdadasal at bumuntong-hininga. “Kung nandito lamang si Sol . . .”
Bigla naman itong tumingin sa direksyon nila ni Cyrus. Eliane’s body tensed upon meeting her gaze. Halos marinig niya ang kabog ng kanyang dibdib nang unti-unting lumapit sa kanya ang iniidolo. She knew her main goal for today was to talk to Dr. De Luna, but the latter’s presence was just too much for her that she unconsciously got closer to Cyrus, shrinking from the lack of confidence.
Cyrene studied her face closely, but she got too conscious that she backed away even more. Nalipat naman ang tingin nito sa kanyang ulunan at tila mayroong agam-agam na gumuhit sa mukha ni Cyrene.
“Mayroon kang basbas ni . . .”
Hindi na nito naituloy ang kanyang sasabihin dahil bigla siyang napalingon sa pook-dasalan. Cyrene quickly went back to where she was a while ago and knelt. Suddenly, a hole of light appeared just above her head, much to Eliane’s surprise. Dahan-dahan itong tumayo at humarap sa kanilang apat ngunit ang mas ikinagulat niya ay ang pag-iiba ng kulay ng kanyang mga mata. It turned into startling gray eyes that looked like they had seen thousands of years of memories and experiences.
Bigla namang nagsitaasan ang mga balahibo niya sa katawan. It felt like a great presence had graced them and it was not Dr. De Luna’s at all.
“Pagbati, pintakasi,” sambit ni Dr. De Luna ngunit nag-iba ang kanyang boses.
Eliane had never believed in witchcraft, but after everything that happened the past few days, seeing a possessed body seemed convincing right now. The woman before her was not Dr. De Luna, but an entirely different entity.
“Malugod kong tatanawing utang na loob ang iyong pagiging sisidlan sa sandaling ito,” the unfamiliar voice said, seemingly talking to Dr. De Luna herself.
“Pagbati, Apo,” Dr. Estrella greeted. “Kung hindi ninyo mamasamain, nais kong malaman ang inyong pagkakakilanlan . . . at patawad sapagkat hindi ko ito mapagtanto.”
The woman stared at him curiously and gave a quick smile. “Marapat lamang. Ang ngalan ko ay Anagolay.”
The twins inwardly gasped after hearing her name, as if it were someone whom they never even thought they would meet. The name sounded familiar to Eliane, too, but she could not remember where she heard it.
“Bilang ang huli at natatanging sisidlan, pati na ang pintakasi ng buwan, ang kanyang diwa lamang ang may kakayahang gisingin ang nahihimbing na hilagyo ng mga anito,” saad ni Anagolay. “At bilang tagahabi ng tadhana, tungkulin kong maging tulay upang wak’san ang kanilang pagkahimlay.”
The woman chanted some words Eliane could not even comprehend. She felt the atmosphere getting heavier and suffocating. She did not know what exactly was happening, but she knew something big was about to unfold.
“Magbangon, anitu!” the woman cried out and before she knew it, a stream of light blinded her, enveloping everything in an unearthly radiance.