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.