Saturday, April 16, 2005

Mulawin Awards.

This post is long overdue. I was supposed to write this after posting the retelling of the final episode. But I got sidetracked. I don’t have much to add to everything that’s been already said about Mulawin. I’ll just say that among the things that made the show unique is that it wasn’t just a TV show. It also became an Internet phenomenon. It has got to be one of the best-covered local shows on the World Wide Web, and that is due to the had work, support and genuine interest of all the bloggers and fans online. I think, now, the strength of a TV series’ Internet presence can be used to partially gauge it popularity. If you can be bothered, why not look back on the series and vote for your choices in the following categories? CATEGORIES
Best Actor
Best Actress
Worst Actor
Worst Actress
Best Fighter
Lamest Fighter
Best Hero
Best Villain
Favorite Character (not necessarily the “best” character)
Most Hated Character (not necessarily a villain)
Best Monster Worst Monster
Best Hero Costume
Best Villain Costume
Best Weapon
Worst Weapon
Best Effects
Worst Effects
Best Fight Scene
Worst Fight Scene
Best Dramatic Scene
Worst Dramatic Scene
Funniest Scene
Corniest Scene.
Best Confrontation Scene
Scene that made you go "Eeeewww!!!" or "YUCK!!"
Best Episode
Worst Episode
Best Flashback
Most Obvious Spoof
Most Shocking Revelation
Finest Moment
Most Annoying Scene or Incident
Most Glaring Loophole
Most Memorable Line What did you learn from Mulawin? What do you think should have happened in Mulawin but did not?

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Monday, April 04, 2005

Ultimate Sacrifice.

Episode for Mar 18, 2005, Friday. And so I rest assured, for I am tranquil that when the final fire has burned me out, the greatest part of me shall live on. - Ovid When heroes fall in love and war, they live forever. - Cher Death is a mystery, and burial is a secret. - Stephen King Now this brave tale draws to its close. Listen as its finest chapter unfolds. Only a poet can do justice to a poet; only an artist can pay a fitting tribute to another artist. A legend of such sublime beauty as this one can only be retold by a worthy bard. Muses, lend us your gifts one last time or may we never pick up a quill again! The sun had begun its westerly descent in the sky. The day, like this story, was coming to an end. For as long as their tree had been standing, the Ravena forces had been unconquerable. But Aguiluz cut down the Ravena tree, and coinciding with its fall was the collapse of the whole red army. Now only a few pockets of resistance were left here and there, which were duly crushed by the Mulawin and Taguba. The walls of Halimhim itself were torn down as the rest of the Avilan militia marched confidently into the enemy stronghold. Savannah was aware of all this. Defeat was inevitable at this stage. Yet she could not suffer the thought of her enemies savoring victory after she was gone. Throughout her life, she had made it her occupation to wreak havoc and misery into the lives of others. She wasn’t going away now without adding one more trophy to her ignoble achievements. This was what she had had in mind. And so that arrow had made its tragic flight from her bow to Lourdes’ flesh. A purple glow flooded the woman’s body for a second, and then she fell into Alwina’s arms. “Mother!” Alwina cried frantically. “I’ll remove it, okay?” Lourdes nodded, and with trembling fingers the Sugo seized the arrow by its stem and plucked it off. Lourdes winced. “Who was it that hit you?” Alwina demanded, shaking her. “Who?” Her reply was not surprising. “Savannah. I saw her… she was aiming for you.” Then the Sugo’s countenance darkened with rage. Why didn’t I kill her before? “Time for me to finish this,” she whispered to herself with grim determination. Her archenemy was already waiting for her on a cold hilltop overlooking a mist-covered valley. From there arose hot steams that characterized Halimhim’s terrain. Alwina brandished her shawl and said, “You always work to harm my loved ones. It’s about time I put an end to that!” “And it’s about time I put an end to you!” her equally feisty opponent cried. Then Savannah charged forward with a hoarse battle cry. But the Mulawin deftly avoided her blows. Alwina was waving her shawl distractingly, like a skilled bullfighter taunting an angry bull. “Have you forgotten, Savannah?” she asked proudly. “Only a Sugo can kill a Sugo.” Savannah attacked her again, and this time Alwina quickly wound her shawl around the girl’s arm. She gave a twist and threw Savannah down, breaking one of her wings as well. “Damn, you broke my wing!” the Ravena princess whined. They were standing toe to toe near the edge of the hilltop now. Savannah flung herself at Alwina once more, but the latter shifted sideways and flew up. Then the Ravena fell headlong into the misty pit below, screaming as she did. Alwina would have descended for a closer look to ensure that the villain was really dead. But her anxiety over Lourdes and Veronica recalled her to their side at once. Meanwhile, another Sugo was likewise engaged in a final battle. Aguiluz and Ravenum were locked in an aerial duel that saw neither party ruling the fight. To his surprise, the Sugo was radiating a reddish light from his hands just like his father’s. He obviously was not inflicting any damage with it. “Your power is coming from the blood we share!” Ravenum laughed. “It shows what you really are! You cannot beat a power with power from the same source!” Undaunted, Aguiluz replied, “Then I’ll need a power contrary to this!” He had discovered long before that the vital force follows one’s mind, one’s thoughts. Now he focused his mind on the Mulawin tree and prayed for help. The force responded; green bolts of light began to discharge from his palms. Aguiluz gathered all these into a gigantic ball of energy, intending to blast Ravenum with it. But Ravenum formed his own ball of fire to counter it. Then each combatant hurled his load at the other. The impact was tremendous and sent off a dazzling glow. It sent Aguiluz reeling backwards, and then everything was darkness for him. “I can’t see!” he cried out. Ravenum saw his chance. “The Sugo has been blinded!” he said to himself. “I still have the last laugh!” He drew back his arm and aimed his sword, intending to give the death-blow. Then a hand passed over Aguiluz’s eyes as a voice said, “Open your eyes, my son.” His vision returned to the Sugo, and the first thing he saw was his mother, floating beside him on his right. “Mother!” he exclaimed. “You’re back!” “I am here to guide you,” she told him. “That is what I am here for.” She vanished from sight, and Aguiluz looked around him. “When will I see you again?” he asked. Salimbay reappeared on his left. “For as long as I am in your heart, I shall be here.” Those words renewed his courage and will to fight on. Now Ravenum was slithering quietly behind him, about to strike with sword in hand. Aguiluz did not have to look at him to know he was there. Then the Sugo swung his own weapon and drove it straight into Ravenum’s abdomen. Blood trickled from the father’s mouth. “For as long as you have love in your heart, you will have someone to guide you,” said the son. “That is what you cannot see… Father!” He gave the blade another push, and Ravenum plummeted to the earth below. Twilight. The last rays of the setting sun dimly illuminated the sky. Halimhim’s landscape itself was now just a sunset of red corpses strewn everywhere. The stench of blood and death was overwhelming. But the war was finally over. There was just one more work to do here and their business would be done. The Mulawin leaders were gathered in a dark, remote site deep in the woods. Here they dug a pit for Ravenum’s body. They spoke in hushed whispers feeling the gravity of this final ritual. “Why don’t we burn the body?” some asked. Dakila explained to them, “Cremation is reserved only for those warriors who are killed in battle. As the smoke from the pyre rises upwards, so the soul rises on its way to God. That is not Ravenum’s destination. Swear, all of you, never to disclose the whereabouts of his body.” “I promise,” Aramis said. “So do I,” said Habagat. “I shall take this secret to my grave,” Bagwis told them. Everyone else made the same vow. Then they rolled a huge stone over the grave. In closing, Dakila said, “Let us forget this accursed place. Come. We have loved ones we need us at their side.” So the Mulawin flew back to their camp: Bagwis carrying Veronica, and Lourdes in Aguiluz’s arms. Habagat also carried his lady, Linang, with him. They arrived at the Avilan army camp and were met by Dakdak and Haraya’s group. “They’re here!” the former cried. “Let’s hear the news!” “Good news!” Dakila announced. “The Ravena are gone! But we have wounded comrades here. Prepare beds for them to lie on.” This threw a wet blanket over Dakdak’s enthusiasm. He was even sorrier to see who the casualties were. “It’s Veronica!” he said, “And Lourdes! My goodness, make way for them!” Then Laab and the others received them and brought them to a small hut. Daragit, who was a physician, attended to both of them. Aguiluz watched the people go, and then he turned around and saw Alwina about to follow them. The look on her face was just pitiful, but he stopped her. “I know how you feel,” he said. “But we might only disturb them if we went there. Let them do their work. In the meantime, let’s pray to God.” Bagwis and Dakila were waiting outside the hut. After a time that seemed like an eternity, Daragit finally emerged. The expression on his face told Bagwis the doctor had bad news for them. He was right. “The poison is spreading fast in Lourdes’ body,” Daragit informed them. “It is the same with Veronica.” “What can we do for them?” asked Dakila. The doctor answered, “Wait… and pray.” Aguiluz found time alone with his brother, whom they had brought here with them. As they walked side by side, he asked, “Do you feel sorry for Father?” “Father chose his own path,” Gabriel replied. “I feel sorry for myself. I feel sorry for those I’ve hurt.” “You mustn’t blame yourself, Gabriel. We were all victims of what Father did.” Gabriel sighed. “You know, Aguiluz, it’s true what they say. It’s easy to forgive others. It’s hard to forgive oneself.” It would take a long time for him to heal, he thought. In fact, like poor Lourdes and Veronica, Gabriel did not know if the wounds in his soul could ever heal. When she came to, Veronica found herself lying in bed in a small room she did not recognize. The Mulawin queen was in great pain, and the loss of blood made her faint. Across the room just a few meters away was Lourdes, stretched out on another bed. The two friends had awakened at about the same time. “Veronica, is that you?” asked Lourdes. The Mulawin gave her a weary smile. “Yes, Lourdes, it’s me.” “You know, I had a dream,” the other woman said. “I was told that I did not leave my child in the forest. That none of this happened. That I was able to right all the wrongs that I did.” “Everything I did, caring for Alwina, for Pagaspas, and for Lawiswis… I did all that in an effort to make up for my sin. And now I can die without any regrets.” Veronica listened intently. The dream made sense; she knew there was truth to it. But she could tell in Lourdes’ eyes that the guilt and regret were still there. “There’s still time,” Veronica told her. “What if I were to tell you that your son is here?” A messenger told Aramis that the queen had sent for him. He went to the tent immediately. Lourdes asked him about himself. “When I was a Ravena, did we by any chance, meet in battle?” she asked. “Yes, ma’am,” he replied. “But you refused to fight me. You said you couldn’t hurt me.” Lourdes smiled tearfully. “So a mother’s love still prevails even upon a darkened heart!” “What do you mean by that?” “I am your mother,” she told him. “I abandoned you in the woods before the Diwata named Muyak found you.” The hunter’s face changed. “That’s impossible!” “It’s true!” she insisted. “I’m your mother!” Then hostility erupted from within him. The mother he had been longing to meet was now before him. But now that she was here, Aramis could only despise her. “After I was banished from Encantadia,” he said, “I wound up among the Ravena among whom I suffered for so long! All that because you left me! I didn’t choose to live. I wish I’d never been born! I wish I’d never known you either!” He stormed out of the hut in wounded fury. Lourdes broke down into quiet sobs. “Only a few hours are left of my life,” she lamented. “A few moments cannot make up for a lifetime of error.” Veronica had been watching all of this with the keen eyes of a hawk. Everything was noted, everything. It seemed unfair to poor Lourdes. Veronica felt for her; after all, she had gone through the same phase with Alwina before. She also knew that it would pass, if the mother and son were given enough time. But Lourdes did not have enough time. Why must this happen? The answer was coming. The two Sugo were outside keeping vigil. Alwina was standing with her weight thrown on one leg. She was tired, tired from fighting and from weeping. As she stood thus, her lower garment moved a little. A faint green light from her waist caught Aguiluz’s attention. “What’s that in your pocket?” he asked. Alwina looked down with tear-filled eyes. She reached down with her hand and retrieved the green seed that had been there all along. “The green binhi!” she exclaimed. “Thank God it didn’t fall off while I was flying and fighting earlier!” Dakila and Bagwis were there with them. The elder Mulawin spoke in a solemn voice. “The question is, whom will you give it to… Veronica or Lourdes?” When the four of them entered the hut, they found Lourdes fast asleep. Veronica, however, was awake. She smiled at her daughter when Alwina came to her bedside. Then they showed her the green binhi, which she knew must be the same one Rasmus had earlier found. (Goody old Rasmus! Where was that poor soul now? she wondered.) Then they explained to her the situation. “Time is running out for both of them,” Dakila said to Alwina. “You have to decide now whom to give the binhi to.” But it was too much for her. A girl can choose between two lovers, as she had; but can that same girl choose between two mothers? “Please don’t make me decide!” she cried, holding on to the life-giving seed. Then Veronica spoke in a fainting voice. “This is not a decision for you to bear, Alwina,” she said. “I myself will decide for you. Give the binhi to Lourdes.” “But Mother!” Alwina wailed. “She has only now found her son,” Veronica explained. “And God willing, she can now receive his love. I have already felt your love. I can go now knowing you will always have someone to love you.” She removed Alwina’s necklace from her neck and placed it on her daughter’s hand, and said, “I am giving you back this necklace you gave me, for I shall take your heart with me when I go.” Alwina closed her hand over the necklace and wept. Bagwis thought his heart would break when he heard those words. But he did not question her; she was their queen after all. Veronica watched contentedly as they administered the binhi to the sleeping Lourdes. Then she lay back on her pillow to reflect one last time on her life. So this was where it all led up to. She had been a warrior and a queen for so long, knowing only strife and struggle for the most part. Memories of her simple life in the lowlands prior to meeting the bird-men felt remote to her. It was the times as a Ravena and then a Mulawin that stood out in her mind. As she reviewed them, Veronica realized that she had never once had peace of mind in all those years. Not once. But now she finally got it. She felt strangely satisfied and at peace with herself. It was that inner contentment that had always eluded her as Vultra. The war – her war in particular – was over. The struggle ended here. But she would not live to relish in the victory. Had she really believed she could? Had she really believed in a “happily ever after” ending for herself and her family? Veronica believed that she had. But now that she knew it wasn’t going to happen, it did not come as a big surprise either. God had not forgotten her; He had not forsaken her. He had restored this woman to her humanity, and even graced her with some divinity through Dakila’s hands by making her a Mulawin. Most of all, He had given her such a noble and beautiful daughter. But the Almighty had not forgotten her sins either. Perhaps this was the last price she had to pay for all the sins. Yes, Hercules had been mad when he slew his wife and children, but the oracle had pronounced him guilty anyway and imposed on him the Labors to cleanse himself of his guilt. Veronica never expected to get away from Vultra’s crimes either. And she never hid from them either. Perhaps this was a way to atone for those crimes. And it wasn’t so bad. Not many could choose how and when to die. But Veronica had been given that choice, and it was a beautiful one. Who wouldn’t find it sweet to lay down one’s life for a dearest friend? Ah, poor Bagwis though! A widower for the second time, and losing the same woman! But Bagwis could cope; he had done it before. And Alwina would be there to console him…. Bagwis went to his wife’s bedside with tears in his eyes. Then he lifted her with both arms and carried her out of the hut. He wanted her to himself in the final moments of her life, and no one questioned this. They sat on a bench facing east to wait for the sunrise. Veronica was leaning on his shoulder. Her life was ebbing away, and her eyelids grew heavy. She wanted to sleep. The queen fell into a timeless dream-like state even as he spoke to her. In that state she was back in those early days of their romance, when they would spend the nights together in the forest. He would keep her warm with his wings, and together they would watch the sun rise. She had always hated the dawn, because it was a signaled the time of his departure. But this time, it was different. This time, she was the one who was leaving. “I always told you how sad each sunrise was for me,” she reminded him now, “because that was the time when you would leave.” “But now this morning is sad for me,” he replied, “because now you are the one who is leaving.” “And what would you tell me then?” “I’d promise you that I would return.” “Now it is my turn to promise you that,” she told him. “I promise I will come back for you. When the Mulawin and the humans have made peace, and you have fulfilled your duties. When you and I have both completed our trials in this world, we shall meet again. Only now, I am going home first to God.” “I will wait for you,” Bagwis said in a voice breaking with grief. “We shall see each other again.” Veronica did not live long enough to see this last sunrise. She passed away that night in quiet dignity. Ravenum’s poison (which had slain her as a dream had foretold Lourdes months ago) had not discolored her flesh. Even in death, she was regally beautiful. They viewed that beloved countenance one last time before covering her with a plain white shroud. Then they laid her body on a wooden raft. Aguiluz, Habagat and other chiefs carried it to the riverside. Bagwis led the funeral march with a torch in hand. Alwina and others guarded the rear. They laid the raft on the water and stood in line along the riverbank, throwing flowers at it as the river slowly carried it away. Veronica was gone. The funeral ended at dawn. Bagwis watched the sunrise with tears running down his cheeks in generous streams. By late morning, however, his unmanly sobbing had abated. He summoned the people to assembly and spoke to them. “Long live Bagwis our King!” they cheered. He smiled at them with eyes clear and sparkling. And he spoke in a strong voice, “Friends, let us be glad for now Ravenum is no longer here to threaten us! I do not deny that we had received much aid in the time of need. “From my queen, who did not regard her being a Ravena as a weakness. Instead, she used it to understand her enemies, and to open her heart to compassion and understanding. “Dakila, the voice of knowledge and experience. “Aviona, Aramis, Makisig, my brother Habagat, his son Mulagat…” Each man and woman bowed in turn as Bagwis named them all. Then he turned his eyes to Gabriel. “The Sugo,” he said, “first of who is Gabriel. His mind was enlightened during our darkest period. As your king, I ask you to treat him with respect that befits a hero.” Gabriel looked down shyly. “And lastly, his fellow Sugo: Aguiluz and Alwina. We all know the great sacrifices you have made. It would take too long to enumerate them all. But for all you have done, I am the one who should bow before you.” Bagwis bowed respectfully before them. After the assembly was disbanded, Alwina headed to Aviona’s dwelling. As expected, Aramis was there with her. “No one wants to take away from you the right to feel the way you do,” Alwina told him. “But as someone who had been raised by Lourdes herself, I can tell you that she is a really good woman, and a good mother.” Aramis replied, “Good mother? If she was good, then why did she leave me?” “Life has many questions,” Aviona said philosophically. “If we tried to find answers to them all, we would only be wasting time. Time that should be spent on forgiveness, and on forming relationships with those we ought to love.” Alwina seconded her. “Like me. I wasted so much time with my own mother. I’m just glad that we were able to make peace before she died.” She left him to think on that, and went to see Lourdes. Alwina was feeding her from a small bowl when Aramis appeared at the door. “Excuse me. May I come in?” he asked, and then said to Alwina, “Let me have that. I think I should be the one taking care of my mother.” They smiled at each other, and Alwina left them alone. “Here, Mother,” Aramis said affectionately as he put the spoon to her mouth. “Get well soon, okay? We still have a lot to talk about.” Then Lourdes smiled at him through fresh tears, and embraced him. True to her element, Florona was very down-to-earth indeed. Business-like and straightforward, she gave you the impression that she liked you, but not that much. When she spoke, it was always right on; no more, no less. She had come to Avila on an errand and went direct to the point. “I won’t be here for long,” she told Muyak and Linang. “I’m getting weak already. I’m here to bring a message from the Queen Mother. She asks if you two would still like to return to Encantadia.” Muyak and Linang exchanged glances. Muyak knew what she wanted to do; there was no reason to linger here on earth anyway. But as for Linang… “I’m having a hard time deciding,” she told Habagat. “On one hand, I want to go back to Encantadia. I’m not used to an earthly body. And I have felt only grief and suffering here on earth.” Habagat walked up to her. “Don’t worry about me,” he said. “If you want to go back to Encantadia, then do so. I won’t stop you.” “But Habagat—” “You already proved to me once your love for me,” he interrupted. “You gave up your divinity to save my life. Now let me be the one to prove my love for you. If I must bear with a life without you beside me, then I will do so for your sake.” He said it warmly and readily. Habagat had always been of a cheerful disposition; he could hide his pain well. Linang embraced him gratefully. Having recuperated, Lourdes went down to the riverbank to pay tribute to her friend. She sat down and cast rose-petals at the water. “I haven’t been able to thank you for the gift of life you have given me,” she spoke to Veronica through the water. “In our long friendship, we went through so much. We had to make difficult choices. We got separated. We were reunited. And now we have been separated again. But through it all our love for each other prevailed, didn’t it? Now I am a mother, and you of all people understand how eager a mother is to be with her child. Thank you so much for what you have given me. I shall never forget you.” Alwina’s reflection then appeared in the water’s mirror-like surface. She was standing beside Lourdes. “There you are,” she greeted softly. Lourdes stood up. “I’ve asked Aramis to come with me to the lowland.” “Has he agreed?” “Whether or not he does, I’m leaving Avila.” Alwina was taken aback. “I’ve already lost a mother…. Am I going to lose another one?” It was crying time once again. Lourdes slipped her arms around the Sugo. Alwina was, after all, Alwina to her. Not a heroine, not a Sugo, but her darling little girl. “You’re still the little Alwina I raised,” Lourdes sobbed. “You’re still that naughty girl who always wore out her slippers!” Aramis, in fact, had made up his mind to go with his mother. Expectedly, Aviona was unhappy over this development. “So this means we won’t see each other again?” she cried. “It doesn’t have to be that way either,” he told her. “Why don’t you come with me?” But she refused. “No, I’m not just leaving…. And when you go back to the lowland, you will lose all memory of us here in Avila.” It seemed that everybody was losing somebody. One could barely feel the triumph of yesterday’s battle now. She didn’t care about it either. Meanwhile, things were better now between the two Sugo brothers. Gabriel felt at peace with himself; not happy, but at peace knowing he had done the right thing. The animosity between him and Aguiluz was gone now, and both could feel the closing of this chapter of their lives behind them. “Now I see how beautiful Avila really is,” Gabriel said. “Why don’t you stay here?” suggested Aguiluz. “Are you serious?” “Of course! Here you will find people who are ready to accept you.” Gabriel shook his head skeptically. “You know, we’ve been rivals since the beginning, rivals for Alwina’s love.” He looked his brother in the eye and said, “We’re different in a lot of ways. This place is too small for the two of us.” “My invitation is a sincere one,” said Aguiluz. “We may differ in a lot of ways, but we have one thing in common: our love for Alwina. And that is the main reason why you refuse to stay here.” Gabriel’s silence confirmed what he had just said. Aguiluz smiled and spoke again. “You’re right, Gabriel. We differ in a lot of ways, but you cannot take away the fact that we are brothers.” The day she was to leave Avila, Lourdes bade farewell to Bagwis and all the others. “Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked. “I am,” she replied, hugging him. The way Veronica had died, Lourdes did not even entertain thoughts of a life with Bagwis now that he was free. Besides, she had Aramis. “We’re still waiting for…” Gabriel showed up on time. Alwina looked at him. “I don’t fit in here Alwina,” he said dismally. “Why must you all go away?” she complained. It broke his heart to see her like that. He put her arms around her tightly, and then let go. A few meters away, Linang was saying her goodbyes to her family. “I will be seeing you through the magic well,” she said to Habagat. “And I will be seeing you in my dreams,” he quipped wistfully. Mulagat had decided to stay in Avila. “It’s probably good for you to do so,” his mother said. “That way, your father won’t be so lonely. I love you both so much!” She wound her arms tightly around them both, and they returned her gesture. And so the Musang, Perico, Taguba and all the lowlanders descended from Avila to return to their lowland dwellings. As they waved their hands and looked back a final time, Dakila cast a spell of forgetfulness upon them. “You will remember no more of us when you reach the plains below,” he told them. “As a chapter closes, a new one begins. As we bid farewell to the past, we face the challenges of tomorrow. The wheel of life will continue to spin.” It happened like he promised. Like last night’s dream that is remembered but soon forgotten and buried in the subconscious, so the memory of Avila and the Mulawin and all their adventures faded from their minds. As in the beginning of this story, the Mulawin were a myth – a legend – once more. But our story is not yet concluded. One day, while Gus and Wis were playing at the foot of the new Mulawin tree, they noted that its aura seemed to be dancing. And then it was fading, dimming. “Uh-oh, what’s this now?” they asked one another. They reported at once to Dakila, who consulted the book of prophecies with Haraya. The tree’s powers have been depleted because of the battle, it explained. If this continues, the tree will die. “Where can the tree get power from then?” they asked. From the Sugo… from their ugatpak. It was Bagwis who had to break the news to his daughter. This no longer upset Alwina. She received the news with calm and poise befitting a queen. Then he told her, “If you must give up your ugatpak, it would be better for you to become a human being who doesn’t need an ugatpak, instead of a Mulawin weak and sickly.” “Sacrifice is nothing new to me, Father,” she told him. “Perhaps this is the last price I must pay for being a Sugo.” Bagwis took it harder than she did, in fact. She was all that was left to him, all that was left of the love he had shared with Veronica. Now he and his brother must suffer the same fate. Only faith saved the king’s sanity now. As for Aguiluz: it was Dakila who conveyed the oracle’s message to him. Like his counterpart, Alwina, Aguiluz expressed his willingness to make the sacrifice. He, too, would have to become human and lose his memory. “Are you ready to give up everything?” Dakila asked to make sure. “Your powers of a Mulawin? Your memories of Avila? Even your memories of Alwina?” Aguiluz nodded. He had been through this before; he had swallowed the red binhi to lose his wings so he could live among men. Dakila had punished him then with memory-loss. Had he not found his way home in the end? Had he not found his way to Alwina? Another flashback came to him: His vision of hell, where Belzebo had given him a choice. The Devil had said he must choose between Alwina and world-peace. Aguiluz had chosen the world. He and Alwina had saved the world. Aguiluz no longer wondered. He had no second thoughts, no bitterness or regret. Instead there that indomitable faith in his God, the God who had spoken to him from the burning tree. And there was hope, hope in the future. He would find her; he would find Alwina again; he would find and fight his way to her if it took him a thousand years or as many incarnations to do so. Like Dakila said, he thought, with the closing of every chapter, a new one begins. So they knelt side by side, with their backs turned to the Mulawin tree. It was a surreal experience, almost a religious experience. Dakila pulled off each Sugo’s ugatpak as quickly and as painlessly as possible, and then handed the quills to Bagwis. One last cry from each Sugo, and then no more. The last thing we are told about them, Aguiluz was leading Alwina by the hand down Mount Avila. They were now in human form, wingless and powerless. He was a handsome, ordinary young man; she was a comely, ordinary young woman. Carefully they descended over the rocky steps toward the lowland that was waiting for them. But they weren’t in a hurry, for as soon as they went their separate ways and touched the plain, they would forget each other. They would be entering a strange new world without even the memory of each other’s love to comfort them. They stopped by a nearby stream to listen to the water’s flow. The tide carried away the water swiftly, like the spell that would soon cast away their memories of everything they had gone through. Aguiluz and Alwina savored this moment; they savored the fresh mountain air suffused with the heroic spirits of all the champions of Avila. Perhaps they also hoped to breathe in that same courage to bring with them to the lowlands. They were taking nothing else with them… except a promise. Before they had gone to the Mulawin tree for their final sacrifice, the Sugo had made a vow to each other. Their words will live on in legend and in each other’s hearts, if not in their memories. “Promise me, Aguiluz…” “I promise…” “I will always be close to your heart.” “I promise, for as long as this heart beats, and for as long there is a soul in this body…” “We will see each other again, won’t we?” “We have been separated so many times, Alwina. We will see each other again. I promise that will happen.” “You are where my heart belongs.” “And my heart will always come home to you.” And this covenant of love they sealed with a kiss. So this heroic story ends. Now no one remembers seeing any Mulawin or Ravena. They are mythical creatures, and the Sugo are legend. Even Aguiluz and Alwina remember none of it. Yet they are said to have gone to the world of men to live among them. Who knows, the next hero you see wielding his sword could be Aguiluz. And the next heroine to soar in the sky could be Alwina.

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Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Feather and the Arrow.

Episode for Mar 17, 2005, Thursday. The Mulawin chiefs had penetrated deep into enemy territory when the tide of battle began to turn against their favor. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the heroic chain was now quite weakened. Aguiluz was gone, Bagwis and Aviona had been taken hostage, Rasmus was dead, and others were injured. Seeing this, the Ravena army barred all exits from Halimhim and surrounded the Mulawin. They rounded up every single one of the chiefs there and brought them before Ravenum, who had a surprise for them. When the Ravena patriarch emerged from his house, he faced the crowd and proclaimed in a loud voice, “Meet the Sugo you boast of!” A young Ravena warrior was ushered into the scene in shining red armor. He was Aguiluz. Close behind him were Gabriel and Alwina. The red forces cheered noisily while the white grieved. “What did you do to him?” Dakila cried. Ravenum laughed. “You should have seen it when I turned him into a Ravena. He LOVED it. He kept saying, ‘Go on, Ravenum! Make me a Ravena! Make me powerful!’” “You bastard!” Bagwis cursed and charged at him, but a sentry him back into his place. Then the father ordered, “Round up the captives and put them behind bars!” Then everyone was ushered into different cells, about two or three in each unit, as if to give everybody a suitable companion in his or her misery. Nicely enough, father went with son, husband with wife, and lover with lover. Mulagat paced irately back and forth in one cell. Habagat was cooler and advised him to calm down. “Keep quiet in there,” Linang scolded them. Meanwhile in another cage, Bagwis knelt beside Veronica who was seated on a bench. “You’ve been seriously wounded,” he said worriedly. But Veronica had been unaware of it until he mentioned it. “That’s nothing compared to seeing our daughter like that,” she replied, adding in a plaintive tone, “Why does this have to happen to us just when our family has been reunited? I can’t imagine Alwina going through the same hell that I did!” She wept bitterly, and her husband did not know how to console her. To add insult to injury, Lourdes showed up and peered through the bars of their cage. “Why are you crying?” she asked. “Don’t worry. I’m bringing in more prisoners to keep you company!” Then Aramis and Aviona were thrown into the same cell. Veronica eyed the young man curiously. Now there was nothing for them to do but talk, or sit in numb silence. So Aviona spoke softly to her about Aramis. “Muyak, a Diwata, found him abandoned in the woods and adopted him,” she narrated. “He looked like his mother had left him there.” She further described the time and circumstances in which Aramis had been discovered. “Left in the woods by his mother?” Veronica repeated thoughtfully. Could it be possible? The notion danced evasively along the edges of her mind. It seemed too incredible to be true. Veronica, a sensible and highly intelligent woman, was slow to entertain such fantastic ideas. Yet still… “I want to talk to you about what happened earlier.” They were in Alwina’s chamber. Gabriel kept his distance from her, but he was closely scrutinizing her face as they talked. “I’m sorry,” she told him. “I was just distracted so I mentioned the wrong name. I shouldn’t have.” Gabriel answered skeptically, “I don’t know, but no matter how confused or distracted I got, I doubt I would ever forget the name of the one I’m going to marry. “Listen,” he continued. “It’s been a long day and I have been through a lot. Don’t add to what’s already on me by lying to me. Answer me truthfully: Do you still have any feelings for Aguiluz?” The princess regarded him silently, fearfully. She nodded very slightly. One could have easily missed it. But Gabriel did not, and it was enough answer for him. He withdrew to his own room without a word, and sat staring into the darkness. And in that darkness, he was enlightened. His father’s words had blinded him; he had been misled all along. Even the Balasik, the book of prophecy, had lied to him it seemed. She did not love him, period. I thought that if Alwina became a Ravena, she would love me, he said to himself. But that hasn’t happened yet. This place… this place is nothing but rubble, dead trees and old buildings. Ruins. Just like my hopes and dreams. Just like my life. The dead silence was broken by Savannah’s rude voice calling him. Gabriel looked up and saw her near him. “Who gave you permission to enter my room?” he barked. Savannah ignored this and dared to approach him. She hugged his knees and said, “Gabriel, I love you. Can’t you see where meant for each other?” The prince pushed her away from him with derision. “Savannah,” he said testily, “I’m starting to realize that Alwina will never love me. So I hope you can realize that I will never love you either! It disgusts me just thinking we are of the same feather!” Back in the dungeons, Lino cussed loudly in the company of Dakila and Pagaspas. “What am I doing here? Why did we have to get involved in this mess, anyway? My grandma and I should’ve gone back to the plains!” The Mulawin elder said to him, “Lino, you are here because sometimes, a man does not choose his fate. His fate chooses him.” “What do you mean?” asked Gus. “Well, like us Mulawin,” Dakila explained. “God graced us with wings. We can fly. We can do things that other beings can only dream of. We go farther, we can do more. At the same time, we see more, we perceive more than ordinary mortals can. That is why we get so angry when we see the wickedness in the world, the greed, the violence against nature and one’s fellow creatures. “With such gifts as we are given, comes responsibility,” he reminded the boy. “We must be strong and not let fear overtake us.” Just then a jail guard announced Ravenum was coming to visit. “Good evening, Dakila,” said his erstwhile friend on a mocking note. “How are you doing there?” Dakila answered in like manner, “Still up, Ravenum? Does the thought of all your sins make you sleepless tonight?” “I may be sleepless, but at least my bed is comfortable unlike yours. And I assure you, things will get even worse if you give me the wrong answer to my question.” “What’s that?” “I am giving you a choice,” Ravenum told him, “lest you think there is no pity left in my heart.” “And what goodness would come to us from the darkness of your heart?” Dakila asked. “You must choose: Become a Ravena… or die.” Dakila grinned proudly. “What an easy question!” he responded. “Of course… I will choose death!” Wrath smoldered in the Ravena’s breast. “You yourself have sentenced your people to death!” he told the old man. “You are all going to die!” Aguiluz was strolling outside in the cool of the evening. His brother soon joined him, and they started talking. Aguiluz was marveling at his brand-new powers as a Ravena. “I feel so powerful,” he said to Gabriel. “I never felt such power in my body before. Now I want to conquer the world for our father.” Indeed, he was so grateful to Ravenum that Aguiluz was ready to lay kingdoms at his feet. Gabriel could see himself in his sibling’s remote eyes. “I felt the same way at first,” he said. “But you know what I saw? I saw my own selfishness and blindness. I saw how base my life had become. “And in case you forget, I’ll remind you that all the power in the world is in vain if you have no love in your heart. And of all things he can do, that is what Father is incapable of. He cannot create love in a heart that doesn’t know how to love or refuses to.” When the sun rose next morning, guards herded the prisoners-of-war to the execution site. All the Mulawin chieftains were lined up before Ravenum and his family. “You shall all be beheaded!” he told them. “Dakila is first!” As a guard pulled him by the arm, Dakila growled at him, “Don’t touch me!” There was no need to drag him under the executioner’s axe. He came forward on his own, merely casting a final contemptuous glance at his enemies. Ravenum handed a silver axe to Aguiluz and said, “As the newest member of the Ravena clan, you are hereby ordered to carry out the execution.” Gus began to sob audibly. Aguiluz stared at the blade. “If that is your pleasure, Father,” he replied. He went over to Dakila, who was kneeling on the ground with his head bent over a block of wood. Gabriel cleared his throat. “Father, if you don’t mind,” he said, “I’d like to stand beside my brother when he performs the execution.” Ravenum smilingly gave his permission. Now was the moment. Aguiluz raised the axe; all eyes were on it. No one saw Gabriel draw out a golden ugatpak from his belt. He moved swiftly and stabbed his brother on the spine with it. Aguiluz bellowed out loud; the crowd gasped. A brilliant light permeated his whole being, and his white and yellow feathers returned. He was a Mulawin again. Ravenum was caught utterly by surprise. “Gabriel, how could you do this to me?” he asked. “I only did what I should have done sooner,” he replied. “Seize him!” Ravenum commanded. Then Gabriel discharged fire from his mouth to ward off the Ravena soldiers. By doing so, he covered for the prisoners as well as they made their escape. Alwina screamed in fury as the traitor retreated with them. Then Gabriel handed his brother the axe and said, “Go on now. Take this with you.” “What do I do with this?” “You know what that’s for. And you know where you should go.” So Aguiluz sailed through the air and headed straight for the Ravena tree. He hit it repeatedly with the axe, at first with no effect. But soon the earth began to quake, and the tree shuddered. Its light grew dim. Ravenum sensed from afar what the Sugo was up to and bade his men go stop him. But it was too late. The triumphant light of the Mulawin tree then spread over the land. The Ravena women – those who had been forcefully converted – fell before its power. The light healed them and restored their souls to them. Alwina, at last, was herself once more. She led the Mulawin and their allies against the remaining Ravena forces. In the chaos that ensued, Ravenum was able to seize a weary Gabriel and carry him off to an isolated area. He threw his son into a corner and pulled out his ugatpak. “You are a weakling just like Rasmus!” the father said. “Now you will know the punishment for those who defy me!” He hit Gabriel with his sword, but the blade met with the edge of Aguiluz’s weapon. “You will have to fight me first, Father,” he said. Then father and son engaged in a bloody swordfight. Their weapons made rapid, swishing sounds as they did. Aguiluz chased Ravenum everywhere, up and down the stairways, across the hallways and through the rooms. Sensing defeat, Ravenum turned his back on his adversary and flew away. Aguiluz pursued him. Back with the others, Lourdes was human again. The first thing she was Veronica crouching on the ground, bleeding copiously from her abdomen. She had been that way since yesterday, it was a wonder she was even alive still. Lourdes ran to her side. “Who did this to you?” she asked. “Was it me?” ‘That doesn’t matter now,” Veronica replied weakly. “What matters is you are again the friend I know and love.” Alwina saw them together. She hurried to them and embraced both women. “She’s terribly wounded,” Lourdes said of the Mulawin queen. Someone else had spotted them: Savannah. The Ravena were going to lose, she knew it. But she wasn’t going out just like that. If she had to go, she must leave them a souvenir they would never forget. The Ravena princess dipped an arrow in a cup of noxious green liquid. Then she aimed it with her bow. Lourdes saw her and pushed Alwina out of the way. Savannah let go; the arrow flew through the air like a bullet and hit Lourdes on her left arm. Alwina’s heart fell to pieces. “MOTHER!" she shrieked.

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The Siege of Halimhim.

Episode for Mar 16, 2005, Wednesday. Then Jesus said to his disciples:” If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it. For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?” - Mat 16:24-26 Finally, brethren, be strengthened in the Lord and in the might of his power. Put you on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. Therefore, take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day and to stand in all things perfect. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth and having on the breastplate of justice: And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God). - Eph 6:10-17 Later that night, the Ravena prince and princess returned to their apartment. Gabriel settled into a chair in a corner, wearing a thoughtful expression on his face. He was unusually quiet, not showing any signs of excitement at all over their imminent wedding. Alwina stood by the doorway looking at him. “Are you all right?” she asked. “We should get some rest now. Tomorrow is our wedding day.” “Go on ahead,” he told her. “I’ll be there shortly.” Not in the least suspicious, she then left her groom and retired to her royal quarters. When he was sure that he was alone, Gabriel rose from his seat and headed straight to his father’s room. No one was there. Then Gabriel knelt down and opened a trapdoor on the floor that only he and Ravenum knew of. Inside was a small wooden box. Gabriel lifted out the box and raised its lid. You’re right, Terong, he thought. There’s still time. Aguiluz’s timing was perfect. True, the Avilans were still exhausted from their last battle. But he had to spur them on while the momentum was still there. Tonight, faith and good leadership had helped them overcome their fears. Now they were charged, he knew they had to make the most of it. For the chance might not come again. As Terong had said, there was still time… but not much. “Attack!” the Sugo cried. And in response, the crowd surged forward. The Mulawin and Perico propelled themselves into the night-sky with Aguiluz leading the way. The flightless Musang, Taguba and humans followed closely on foot. Like an angry bull charging towards the matador that had tormented it for so long, so the Avilans now made their offensive against the Ravena. All night they journeyed. By dawn of the next day, they were within sight of the enemy lair. At this point, a curious phenomenon seized the Mulawin’s attention. Red and green electric bolts from opposite directions were clashing in the sky, causing giant sparks. The green was originating in the direction of Avila; the red was coming from Halimhim. “The red and green lights are fighting,” Dakila observed. Aguiluz soon discovered why. “Look!” he pointed out. “They have their own tree now!” He was seeing the new Ravena tree, glowing from below like a burning bush. Savannah did not possess a Sugo’s sixth sense, but her own cool logic told her that, after liberating Avila, the Mulawin would be heading for Halimhim anytime. She was right, of course. But Ravenum was ready for them. “We have the tree of the Ravena to counter the Mulawin tree’s powers now,” he assured her. Meanwhile, all the women were busy preparing for the royal wedding. The younger ladies gathered around the Princess Alwina to congratulate her. “Say, how did you and Prince Gabriel meet?” one of them asked. Alwina searched within herself for an answer, but she could not find any. “I don’t remember,” she replied. “Oh? How come? He has known you for a long time!” The princess frowned. The face of that Aguiluz flashed before her mind out of the blue. Disturbed, she told the girls, “Please leave me alone for a while.” They only stared at her in bewilderment, so she raised her voice a few notches higher and said, “I said LEAVE ME ALONE!” This time they obeyed. Something loomed in the horizon. Something big was about to happen. No prophet had to warn the women of Halimhim; they all felt it. Yet somehow, they were unafraid. They whispered among themselves about their hunches, and all agreed something was afoot. “Hey,” Savannah scolded them. “Go get yourselves ready!” “Right,” they answered. “The Prince’s wedding.” “Bah!” she spat. “If it’s just that, forget it. You aren’t preparing for a wedding. Prepare for battle! The Mulawin are coming!” Elsewhere, Gabriel and his father were making final arrangements. “I want the place secured,” the former told the latter. “I don’t want those Mulawin interrupting my wedding.” “Don’t worry,” Ravenum answered, and then issued a search-and-destroy order to his army: “If you see a Mulawin, kill him or her at once.” So Gabriel took his bride with him and gave final instructions. Lourdes was standing nearby, gazing at Alwina and wondering. This feels wrong to me, she thought. Soon the Mulawin forces arrived within striking distance. Rasmus knew this place well; he had founded it after all. Aguiluz, Pagaspas and Mulagat were likewise familiar with it. To the others it was quite new: a dreadful realm bearing the gloom of a cemetery, and maybe the God-forsakenness of hell itself. Now the red army of Ravenum met them on the way. It was like a sea of red pouring out of Halimhim’s caverns. The final and bloodiest campaign of them all had begun. Habagat and Bagwis signaled to Aguiluz, “Go find Ravenum. We’ll handle them.” So Aguiluz went on ahead as the others covered for him. Meanwhile, in the building, the wedding ceremony had started. Ravenum was the officiating priest who read the vows to the bride and groom. But the sounds of combat blared in his mind, and he grabbed his head in pain. He turned to the women and said, “Go. You have to welcome some people at the gate of Halimhim.” Then he returned to the couple. “Don’t worry. I alone can stand as witness. Do you, Gabriel, take Alwina as your lawfully wedded wife for better or for worse, in plenty and in poverty, in times of joy and in times sorrow…” Gabriel repeated every word after him, and said, “I do.” Outside, the warriors clashed with a savage fury, impelled by the gods of battle. Kinsmen were pitted against kinsmen, and cherished friends shed each other’s blood. A lover fought his lover, a brother opposed his sister, and a woman faced her best friend. Lino stood facing his grandmother. “I’m not going to fight you,” he told her. “You’re right,” she agreed as other Ravena attacked him. “I’m too old to fight. So I’ll let someone else kill you!” Mulagat and Habagat encountered Linang. “Go,” the father admonished his son. “I don’t want you to see this.” Gus had a rather easier time defeating Lawiswis. He wound a rope around her and said, “Now you can’t get away anymore.” He stole a kiss on her cheek and then ran off. “Yuck,” she said with disgust. “I’m already dizzy. Do you want me to puke also?” Savannah also figured in the combat zone… against Rasmus. She taunted the rather slow warrior, “You’re getting old!” He looked at her calmly. “There’s something better than big weapons like you have there, Savannah,” he warned her, “and that is experience.” Then he sent her rolling over the dust and went on his way towards Ravenum’s headquarters, for he knew where it was. Now the Ravena mother squared off against her bitter opponent, the Queen of the Mulawin. “Don’t you ever get tired of being good?” she asked. “It’s more fun to be evil!” Easy to be evil all right. Veronica knew that too well. But wait until your conscience comes back for a bite! The Mulawin was tired from last night’s struggle, whereas Lourdes was fresh. She lunged forward and gored Veronica with her sword. Veronica mouth fell open and she crumpled to the ground. Aramis saw this. He ran to her side and dared Lourdes to fight him. As they grappled, their eyes met and Lourdes froze. “Why can’t I hurt you?” she asked aloud. But it was a fleeting sensation, and her hostility soon returned. Lourdes wounded Aramis and he fell beside Veronica. “Do you Alwina, take Gabriel as your lawfully wedded husband, for better or for worse, in plenty and in poverty, in times of joy and in times sorrow…” “I do take you…” she said, “… Aguiluz.” The word was out of her mouth before she knew it. Alwina looked terrified into Gabriel’s eyes. But even before he could react, Aguiluz appeared at the doorway. “Alwina, please don’t do this!” he cried. “Kill him!” Ravenum ordered. Gabriel drew his sword and their duel began. The swords of the Sugo clashed, when Aguiluz said to him, “We’re brothers! We should be fighting on the same side instead of against each other!” “You’re right,” the Ravena prince replied. “The question is: On whose side are we going to fight?” After further dueling, Aguiluz was able to seize Gabriel’s sword. He threw this away and his as well, and fought bare-handed. Soon, Aguiluz floored Gabriel. “You know what the oracle said,” Gabriel spoke. “Only one of us Sugo will survive; the other will be killed by the other. So kill me now lest I kill you.” “I am not a Ravena,” Aguiluz answered. “I will not kill my own brother.” Bagwis and Aviona advanced through the enemy ranks into the same building they had seen Aguiluz enter. “You are like pesky insects,” Ravenum said. “Swat one and two take its place!” He bade Alwina dispose of them, and she dutifully obeyed. Aviona tried to remind her that they were friends, but Alwina scorned the thought. “I have no friends among your people! I hate you all!” she declared, tossing Aviona to the floor and turning on Bagwis. “I’m your father!” he told her. But Alwina did not believe him, and instead pinned him to the wall and held a large dagger to his open throat. She noticed something in his belt. “What’s that you’re hiding in there?” she asked, taking out the green binhi. She grinned wickedly. “Stop!” a voice cried out. Ravenum turned to see it was Rasmus. “So my prodigal son has returned!” he said mockingly. Rasmus looked at him. “Have you forgotten, Ravenum? It was you who said I was not your son.” “You’re right. You are not my son. So I won’t be sorry to kill you!” Then Rasmus assailed him, swiping blows here and there but missing narrowly. But now Ravenum was about to show the power that hade made him the father of an evil race. He held out an open palm toward Rasmus, who was suddenly paralyzed. He could not move, and Ravenum was draining away his strength. “If only you hadn’t been a weakling!” he said. “You would be beside me now conquering the world!” Rasmus knew that the end had come for him. His body had no more fight left in it, but his spirit did. He uttered his final words with difficulty. “If the price of the world is my soul, then I’m happy to tell you this: You cannot have my soul in exchange for ruling the world!” This last act of defiance angered Ravenum exceedingly. He drove his other hand into Rasmus’ belly and ripped it apart. The Mulawin fell lifeless. Aguiluz had witnessed it. “Bastard!” he shouted at Ravenum, running towards them on impulse. But Ravenum seized him by the neck. “Why do you feel sorry for Rasmus’ death? He was a weakling! He was useless to everyone!” “He wanted to change!” Aguiluz groaned. “He was our ally and he wanted to start a new life!” His father tightened his hold. “Don’t forget that you’re in MY territory, Sugo. This is where I draw power from. And do not be a hypocrite, Aguiluz. Do not hide the darkness inside you. There is no difference between the blood in your veins and that in mine. You are meant to be a Ravena just like me! You cannot fight your own destiny!” Then he sucked his son’s soul out of him, and blew an evil spirit into its place. Aguiluz’s eyes glowed red, and then he fell unconscious at Ravenum’s feet. “Now I will end this battle,” declared the victor, raising his arm above him.

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Friday, April 01, 2005

The Liberation of Souls.

Episode for Mar 15, 2005, Tuesday. Freedom that is hard-won is often taken for granted, and thus is easily lost. Life, the common property of all, is cheap. Death is every man’s lot. And the soul that is God’s gift to all is redeemed from evil at a high price. In days of darkness and oppression, we recall the saints and martyrs who had once paid for our deliverance with their own ruin. But in the summertime of our lives, when the pastures are a lush green, and the meadows are fragrant with blooming flowers, are we still mindful of them? Who then remembers the dried and powdered bones lying buried in a forgotten valley of death? Who then visits with his memory those unmarked grave sites of fallen heroes where the sun never shines and only a mourning darkness looms? By these sacrifices, some are moved, and inspired to change their ways. The rest only marvel for a time, and soon forget. But just as long as there are souls to save from the iron-grip of evil, there will always be heroes, saints and prophets… although there will never be many of them. Now Gabriel was filled with fear and foreboding, and his extra-sensory perception did not mislead him. Beneath the thick forest canopy he discerned the shape of a man lying on the ground. Even in the darkness, he could see clearly who it was. It was Terong, and his shirt was dyed crimson with his own blood. The Ravena prince alighted swiftly to his friend’s side and gathered him in his arms. “Who did this to you?” he cried. Terong struggled to raise his head and look up at him. “Ravena did this to me,” he replied with effort. Miles away, Ravenum was interrogating Savannah about the sudden disappearance of the Ravena women. “They wouldn’t tell me where they went,” he said. “They told me to ask you. What are you up to?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Suddenly his mental radar picked up a signal. It was coming from Gabriel, and he was in pain. Ravenum could feel his pain… and anger. “You have angered Gabriel!” he growled at Savannah. “What did you do?” Without waiting for an answer, the father sped away from there to the outskirts of Halimhim. His heart guided him straight to his son’s presence. Having arrived at the crime-scene, it dawned on him what had happened. Someone had hurt Gabriel’s friend. Looking over, Ravenum could see and smell death hastening on its way. “Terong, don’t leave me,” Gabriel pleaded. He had never thought that Terong could leave him; he had been at his side all his life. But now the very real possibility of losing him was here. He noticed Ravenum standing beside him. “Father, help him!” he said. “He is already on the brink of death, my son,” his sire observed. “The only way to save him now is to turn him into a Ravena.” “No!” Terong groaned. “I don’t want to become a Ravena, Gabriel! I’d rather die!” “But that’s the only way you can live,” the prince argued. Terong replied, “Live? You call that a life? Where all goodness and beauty is lost? I don’t want that kind of life, Gabriel. I’d rather die.” Gabriel held him close to his breast, not talking. His bird’s eyes were wide open, harsh and yellowish, with tiny black dots for pupils. A storm of grief and fury was raging quietly inside them. After a few moments, Terong spoke again. “It won’t be long now, and I’ll be gone…” “Don’t be afraid,” said the prince. “I’m here for you.” “You’re the one who should be afraid, Gabriel. I’m on my way home to God. But what about you? There’s still time. You can still change. You can still go back to being the Gabriel I know and love. The Gabriel I would follow to the ends of the earth.” And he breathed his last. Gabriel’s vision narrowed. “Father, are you responsible for this?” he asked angrily. “What nonsense are you talking about?” was the retort. “I’m here to help you, and you have the nerve to accuse me?” “Are you behind this? You’re the one who wanted to make him a Ravena. You were annoyed at having a lowlander around.” “What? Is he a good soldier?” Ravenum asked. “Is he intelligent? What special qualities does he have that I’d be in a hurry to convert him into a Ravena? “Stop this foolishness. Your friend chose his death; I did not choose it for him. This matter is closed! You still have a wedding to attend!” He stomped off angrily. Gabriel shouted after him, “Don’t rush me! I still have a friend to bury!” Avila was like the soul of man; it was the battleground in the war of good versus evil. Now for the first time Aguiluz was leading the renegade troops in a war of liberation to free their homeland. He had not been with them the first time. This time, they were far fewer in number, but the new Mulawin tree had endowed them with a divine spirit that multiplied their strength many times over. They reached Avila under cover of darkness. Habagat saw Dakdak, being harassed by Ravena soldiers. While the Perico king distracted them with his chatter, Habagat moved stealthily from behind and stabbed each soldier in turn. This same strategy they repeated many times throughout the night. On the way, they opened cages and set the prisoners free. Before the Ravena knew it, they were being attacked from within the territory instead of without. “We’re being attacked!” they shouted, and so the warning was sent throughout the land. When the people realized what was going on, a surge of hope swept through them. “Avilans, this is the liberation you have been waiting for!” Lino announced, seizing an axe and turning on his oppressors. Dakila went to open cage after cage, and soon came upon the cell holding Daragit and Lumbas. “You’ve come to free us!” Daragit exclaimed with glee. “You’re right,” he answered sullenly, unlocking the door and letting them out. Aguiluz caught sight of a few cowardly troops fleeing the battle-scene. He flew in and stood on their way. “You came here uninvited,” he told them. “Now you are leaving without permission?” Then the Sugo raised his hands and emitted a blast of energy at them. The two soldiers were thrown back, dead. Elsewhere, everyone was geared into action. Freed from prison, the Musang somersaulted into the scene with deadly finesse. Alongside them were the leaders of the liberation: Bagwis, Dakila, Rasmus and Mulagat. Their show of unparalleled valor inspired the normally lackadaisical majority. Poorly equipped though they were, they nevertheless overwhelmed the Ravena forces with an insane display of courage. It was as if a divine frenzy had come upon the heroes and the citizens. And the uninspired and outnumbered Ravena were soon signally defeated. Now the land was cleared of those banes. Amid the roaring chants of victory, Dakila openly declared, “Friends and comrades, for the second time, Avila is ours!” “And the dark clouds have gone!” Veronica announced. “All this thanks to Aguiluz, our Sugo,” Dakila reminded the crowd. “Daragit and Lumbas, you should ask forgiveness from him. You were wrong about him.” Then the traitors knelt before the Sugo. “Forgive us,” said Daragit. “We have sinned against you.” Laab, likewise, got down on his knees. So did Lino. And Dakila And Bagwis followed by Veronica. And Rasmus. Soon all of Avila was kneeling before its savior. Only Aramis, a few Perico and the Taguba men were left in Lagaslaw. It was a perfect setting for one Ravena woman who decided to go back there for a return-bout. She came into the scene wielding the sword with a curved blade, looking for Aramis. He was lying down on a wooden bench; the parrot-men were attending to him. “Ravena!” the timid Perico cried when they saw the intruder. Aviona sent them away with one wicked look, like a wolf scattering sheep. She turned to Aramis. “Looks like you’re going to have to face me alone! Get up!” Aramis stood up but kept his distance even as she was swinging her weapon at him. “I can’t hurt the woman I love,” he told her. Then Aviona thrust the sword forward and cut him on the right side of his neck. The stroke went deep enough to pierce a vein; Aramis fell on his knees. “What a worthless opponent you are!” she said. “I haven’t even broken a sweat yet! Fight me!” But help was on the way… for both of them. Muyak in her moth-like shape came buzzing nearby. Aviona turned and saw a little fairy with glowing wings that looked like a butterfly’s. “What the…! Get away from me!” she cried, waving her arms to shoo the annoying little creature. “You’re the one who should stay away from him!” Muyak piped in her tiny voice. Then she aimed both of her hands at the Ravena, releasing a powerful jade-colored light. Aviona screamed, and in a matter of moments, regained her true nature. She became a Mulawin again. Aviona looked around with a bewildered expression. “What happened?” she cried. “Aramis, what happened to you? Who hit you?” She couldn’t remember anything. She ran to his side to examine his wound. “Please help him!” she pleaded with Muyak. “Now I know what Linang went through to save a loved one,” Muyak remarked almost to herself. “He has been seriously injured. I would have to use up all my anima reserves to help him.” Aviona was not looking at her; her attention was trained on the gaping wound on Aramis’ neck. Then a heavenly light passed over it, and the cut faded; the blood disappeared without a trace. “What happened?” Aramis asked. “The Diwata helped you,” Aviona replied. But when they turned to look at their benefactor, the fairy was gone. They saw only a young woman clad in white, with a sable belt wound around her simple garment. She had a Mona Lisa smile on her face as she gazed back at them. “Thank you for helping us,” the grateful lovers said. “Are you a Diwata?” “I was,” she answered truthfully. “I was also the Diwata who brought you to Encantadia and raised you, Aramis.” Aramis’ eyes widened, then he drew near this lady and hugged her. Muyak embraced him in return, but very lightly, like one not used to physical contact. “Are you behind what happened to Gabriel’s friend?” Ravenum asked Savannah. “How should I know anything about that?” she replied, feigning ignorance. Ravenum became very angry now. “Don’t lie to the liar,” he warned her. “So what if I had him killed? He was just confusing Gabriel all the time!” “But don’t you see? Now after what you’ve done, he’s more confused than before!” Their argument was broken by the report of a sentry. “You won’t believe what happened,” he told Ravenum. “The Mulawin have regained Avila. I saw Aguiluz there. He has wings again! Not only that. I saw a new Mulawin tree!” “Impossible!” he roared. “It’s true,” insisted the soldier. “I saw it for myself. I almost got my wings burned by it when I passed by.” So Ravenum consulted the book of prophecies. The book explained to him, You must counter its power with a tree of your own. “The last tree we had lies buried in the ruins of Halconia,” Ravenum answered with sarcasm. Then Balasik advised him to plant a new tree. Plant it with a red binhi. And mix it with the blood of a Sugo. Since Gabriel was not home yet, it was obvious from whom they must procure the precious blood. Ravenum went to a certain spot outside their headquarters, and bade Savannah plant a red seed there. Savannah obeyed. Now Ravenum dragged Alwina to the site and stretched out her arm. He cut a slit through her skin, and her blood trickled down to the earth and covered the binhi. Gabriel heard Alwina screaming. “What are you doing?” he shouted. “Wasn’t it enough that you killed my friend? Now you will violate the woman I love too?” Ravenum glared at him. “Don’t be so quick to judge! Look at what is about to happen and see why we’ve committed the violation you speak of!” Then a giant epiphyte tree sprang up from the earth fully grown. It was just like the Mulawin tree, only its light had a reddish glow. “Behold the new Ravena tree!” Ravenum said to them. Aviona was welcomed warmly by her old friends. “Now my happiness is almost complete,” Aguiluz told her, “since you are here. If only Alwina were here too.” “Speaking of Alwina,” said the Perico. “We heard some bad news about her.” “Whatever that is, tell me at once,” Aguiluz said. They told him, “We heard that she and Gabriel are getting married soon.” The Sugo made no comment on this, but instead prepared the Avilans for battle. He delivered a speech before them: “Friends and comrades, we are now heading into battle for the second time. But friends, this time we are not going into Avila. We are taking the war to Halimhim! “It is not in the Mulawin’s nature to bring war into another place or tribe. But neither is it in the Mulawin’s nature, nor in yours who are our allies, to let evil and corruption prevail in the world! “We Sugo had thought that when we reached the Mulawin tree, the struggle ended there. We have learned from that mistake at a great price. And the price for that mistake was the blood of our loved ones. May we never let their sacrifice be in vain. And let us not forget that while goodness slumbers, evil rises!” He threw his sword into the air, as if reaching for God’s grace, and caught it again with his hand. He pointed his sword towards the direction of Halimhim and cried, “We are now going to Halimhim to make sure that evil can never rise again! Let us head for Halimhim, friends and comrades, guided by the Almighty God! Let us march forward into battle!”

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Death and Rebirth.

Episode for Mar 14, 2005, Monday. In Halimhim, thunderbolts clapped in the air like demon-gods in a heated discussion. Ravenum was so accustomed to those sounds that he no longer heard them. Now his ears picked up the sounds of flapping wings overhead. Someone was coming. It was Lourdes, and she looked anything but happy. “You’re smoldering with anger,” he told her. “I can tell from your eyes you have yet to avenge yourself on those two.” Lourdes darted her sharp eyes at him. “Not only that,” she replied. “There is something you need to know, Ravenum. Rasmus has joined forces with Bagwis and Veronica!” This came as a surprise, but he should have expected it. “Damn that Rasmus!” he cursed. “Traitor! I myself will crush him!” He walked off in anger. “Hey, Ravenum!” Savannah called out as she caught him passing by. “That lowlander up there is useless to us. Why don’t we turn him into a Ravena so we can make use of him?” She was referring to Terong. Ravenum grinned. “I’m not that hard to talk to when it comes to that. Go on and have him brought to me then.” But Gabriel shouted, “No!” He ran to his father and said, “I don’t want Terong to become a Ravena.” “But…” Savannah began. “NO!” Gabriel put his foot down and it was final. His father nodded his head. “If that is your desire, my son,” he answered, and the matter was closed. “What is this? Am I useless here now?” Savannah grumbled. “I’m the princess here!” Gabriel shot her an angry look. “No, you aren’t! Alwina is the new princess, and soon, everyone will know that!” What exactly he meant by that, they would soon learn. Gabriel entered his lady’s chamber to tell her what he had in mind. He knelt down on one knee and said to her, “I have waited a long time for this moment. A very long time. Now I won’t let you slip away from me again. Let’s get married.” The Ravena lovers rose to their feet and wrapped their arms around each other. Let’s get married, Gabriel thought, before my brother gets a chance to take you away. Bagwis’ group was now within the vicinity of Lagaslaw, flying overhead. He gazed intently at the seed in his hand. “We better be careful with this green binhi,” he told the others. “I never thought I’d say this,” Veronica said, turning to Rasmus. “But I’m glad you’re the one who found the binhi. And I’m happy to see the change in you.” Rasmus cut her off gently. “That is enough. Look, I see something.” What he saw from afar was the Taguba camp. Aguiluz returned that same evening, utterly silent. But his face no longer wore the look of hostility he had displayed earlier. He staggered towards Dakila, and weakly embraced him. Dakila caught him in his arms. “Thank you, Aguiluz,” the old bird-man said. Nothing else had to be added. The Sugo then sat among the heroes and recounted his experience. That he had had an audience with the Highest Power was quite amazing to hear, yet they believed him. Asked if he saw the face of God, Aguiluz replied, “No, I did not see Him. Do we not see the face of God only when we die? But He talked to me.” “Aguiluz is a Sugo,” Dakila told them. “He is special and that is why God spoke to him and made His will known to him.” “What did He say?” they then asked. “What should we do with the fruit?” Aguiluz answered, “He told me we must bring it to Avila.” Niwalum was silent; he already knew what had to be done. Now Dakila gathered the Mulawin and told them to get ready, for they must reach Avila that same evening. They had to leave the lowlanders (except Kuwak) behind to make the journey easier. Aramis, still recuperating from his wounds, was lying on a bench. “Go on and do what you must,” he told them. “Friend, are you sure you don’t want me to stay behind and watch over you?” asked Mulagat. Aramis reassured him of this, so Dakila announced, “Once we reach Avila, we must go directly to where the Mulawin tree once stood.” “Bagwis!’ Habagat called out. The trio of Bagwis, Veronica and Rasmus came into view. The men immediately drew up arms at the sight of the Ravena. But Bagwis stepped forward and shouted, “No! Don’t hurt him! He’s one of us now!” Those on the opposite side groaned in disbelief. “Bagwis, have you forgotten the many crimes he has committed against our people?” Habagat asked. “No, I have not,” Bagwis replied. “But he has already asked forgiveness, and I have forgiven him. He has turned his back on being Ravena, and he wants to change.” “What proof do you have that he is sincere?” the others demanded. “How do we know he isn’t fooling us?” Rasmus cast his glance about and noticed a young boy among the Mulawin. He recognized the child, who was staring back at him. Niwalum probed into the Ravena’s reddish brown eyes; he could see all the pain and remorse in them. “I can read his eyes,” the boy declared. “He has been through many things that led the way to his soul’s salvation. Bagwis is right. Rasmus can be trusted.” Aguiluz softened then. This was the criminal who had murdered his mother and Aguilar. But having been granted a supernatural meeting with his Maker, the Sugo could no longer take matters personally. He believed Niwalum’s words, and took this as a divine sign. “This is what the Lord God meant,” he told the others, “when He said that He would take our tragedies and create peace. He would use our trials to pave the way for salvation.” Muyak had already decided. I’ve already explained it all to you, she thought. But you still won’t listen. But I have made up my mind. I won’t just stand here in Encantadia doing nothing. She had seen what had befallen Linang; but like her former mistress, Muyak was ready to pay the price of disobedience. In the war of good versus evil, no one should be neutral. No one can be neutral. To not do good is to do evil. Outside Encantadia, the air felt warm and dry and polluted. No creature can endure for long outside its own element. Muyak now felt like fish put out of water. She was looking for Aramis now. Where do I find him before my strength runs out? she wondered. The Mulawin fellowship traveled on foot towards Avila. Rasmus then suggested, “Why don’t we fly? Then we’d get there faster.” Bagwis answered, “Because our strength is almost gone. It’s because of the fall of the Mulawin tree. He and Veronica were supporting a limp Aguiluz, who was moaning over the loss of his wings and ugatpak. “Push on,” Dakila urged. “We’re quite near now.” Some time elapsed. Just when everyone was ready to collapse, Gus announced, “We’re here!” Dakila confirmed it, but no sooner had they set foot on the land than Ravena soldiers welcomed them. “Now you won’t get away from us anymore!” they cried and fell upon the Mulawin. Steel weapons clashed in the air. Veronica led the injured Aguiluz away to safety, while the bird-men covered for them. But not only were they outnumbered; their energies were now depleted. Bagwis, Habagat and Dakila barely had any fight left in them, and soon the Ravena overpowered them. Then Mulagat attacked the red ranks. The prince displayed remarkable prowess in battle despite having been deprived of the anima for so long. At the same time, Rasmus unleashed his fury at his former allies. One Ravena after another met the point of his dagger and died on the spot. As the last of the enemy crumpled before him, the Mulawin cheered. “Wow, Rasmus that was great!” Kuwak said. “You knocked them all down!” Rasmus looked around and picked up a tiny makahiya or touch-me-not from the ground. “I ask you humbly to forgive me,” he said to Dakila. “And as a symbol of my desire to become a Mulawin again, here…” He offered it to Dakila, who received it. “Welcome back with us, Rasmus,” he said. Everyone applauded. Rasmus then took turns clasping the hand of all who were present there. One lost sheep had returned to the fold. Gabriel sent for the other high-ranking Ravena to hear his announcement. Ravenum arrived with Lourdes; Savannah came alone. “What’s up?” the latter asked. The prince presented Alwina to them. “I sent for you to announce that our wedding will take place… very soon!” This was too much for Savannah. She no longer stood a chance with Gabriel now that Alwina was here. Damned love, she thought. But if Gabriel did not want her love, she could always give him pain instead. As if in response to her brooding, the Ravena women came home to report to her. Their mission was unsuccessful, but they promised to finish what they had began next time. “Now we wish to rest,” they said. “Not so fast,” Savannah told them. “You still have a job to do for me.” Maningning replied, “What might that be?” Savannah pointed with her lips. “Him,” she said. The others noticed a lowlander cutting wood in the distance. “Kill him for me,” she ordered. “Then dispose of the body and make sure Gabriel doesn’t find out about it.” My due apologies, Terong, she said smilingly herself. I’m just itching to get even with your friend. The women obeyed, and waited in ambush that evening. As Terong walked by calling for Gabriel, Maningning and her sisters attacked and cornered him. They stabbed him several times on the abdomen, and when he seemed good as dead, they carried the body and dumped it in the woods outside Halimhim. All the other women were now busy preparing for the wedding feast. Aviona had other ideas. “Since when did it become a custom among the Ravena to celebrate a wedding?” she asked. “Do what you want. But as for me, I have someone to kill.” She picked up a sword with a curved blade like a crescent, and departed. Now Alwina was alone in her room once again. “Something’s bothering you,” Gabriel told her. “If you don’t tell me, I can read your mind anyway. So you might as well admit it.” And she said, “Is that Aguiluz really your brother?” “That’s what Father said. Why?” The princess looked very thoughtful. “Maybe that’s why he talked to me like that.” “That’s just a tactic of warriors when they meet in battle.” “But he seemed to believe what he was saying,” she argued. “He said it’s him I love and not you.” Gabriel was getting impatient – and worried. “Don’t mind that anymore,” he told her. “And…” Gabriel, help me… help me… Something was up with Terong. The voice was unmistakable. The prince hesitated, and then excused himself and left. He journeyed all night, relying on his sixth sense to lead him to his friend. Terong was bleeding profusely, but he was still alive and calling out to Gabriel to rescue him. When the Mulawin fellowship reached the hallowed site of their fallen tree, Aguiluz was almost dead. The others had taken turns carrying him; now, supported by Rasmus and Bagwis, the Sugo slumped to the ground like a withered flower. “My strength is almost gone,” he sighed. Veronica was holding the torch to guide the way. “Isn’t there anything we can do for him?” she asked. “I know what to do,” Niwalum replied. “Unless his ugatpak is returned to him, Aguiluz will grow weaker and weaker, until his strength is totally snuffed out. I must give my life for him.” “What do you mean by that?” she asked again. Niwalum’s eyes never left the Sugo. “I am the fruit of the tree. And I am the atonement for sins. You must plant me. When you do, a new Mulawin tree will grow. It will drive away the dark clouds.” “Plant?” Rasmus wondered, but soon his question was answered. Niwalum stretched forth his hand and touched the half-conscious Aguiluz. He now passed on all his healing energy to the Sugo. A neon-green light wrapped around them both. As the last of his powers went to Aguiluz, the boy died. Aguiluz woke up and caught him in his arms. But Niwalum’s body dissolved into a magical green mist that now danced in the air. Bagwis followed it with his eyes and, to his amazement… “Look!” he pointed out. Before them rose a new Mulawin tree. It glowed so brightly that its trunk was like a pillar of light, and boughs of gold hang overhead. Then a voice that only Aguiluz had heard before thundered form above: “Witness the power of the new Mulawin tree!” Like a dove, a holy light descended on them from the tree’s top. As the first rays touched Rasmus, his transformation began. Bagwis knew what was happening. “You’re becoming a Mulawin again!” he cried. “I feel my strength returning to me!” Veronica exclaimed, and so did every other Mulawin there. Habagat said, “The Sugo!” Mighty wings sprouted from Aguiluz’s back, and he flexed them proudly. The feathers on his head disappeared. “I still don’t have my ugatpak,” he explained. There was jubilation among them, but Aguiluz’s happiness was tinged with sorrow. “It saddens me that Niwalum had to pay with his life for this,” he said. “That is why we must not waste this second chance given us,” Dakila replied. “Let us not waste his sacrifice. Let us not waste time. We must free those who are still oppressed by the darkness. Now it is time for the liberation of Avila!” Nine heroes they were, the last hope of Avila and of the world: Aguiluz, Bagwis, Veronica, Rasmus, Dakila, Habagat, Mulagat, Pagaspas and Kuwak. They stood united, armed with faith and hope, ready to do battle for the sake of the light and the One who sent it to them. Tonight, one lost Mulawin had returned to Avila, like a wild ram back into the fold, a prodigal son reconciled with his true family. His return coincided with the ultimate sacrifice of a boy-savior, from whose death sprang new hope and new life for the Mulawin, and for the entire world. Now the stage was set for the final great battle between good and evil… at least, in this story.

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Monday, March 14, 2005

The Father and the Son.

Episode for Mar 11, 2005, Friday. One might not have chosen one’s biological parents, but the spirit is the true man, the true identity. The true father, therefore, is the father of the spirit, not of the body. And the soul that seeks the Light and walks in the Light is a Son of the Light. The one who treads the path of Darkness is a Son of Darkness. “You can go ask Dakila if you want,” Ravenum dared Aguiluz. “He would only tell you the same thing.” The Sugo staggered to his feet, bleeding profusely from behind. His spine hurt unbelievably and he could barely stand up straight. The body was utterly broken, and the spirit was not far behind. Everything about Aguiluz now lay in ruins. Even his identity was shattered, like the walls and pillars his magic sword had reduced to powder earlier. Niwalum and Pagaspas had witnessed and heard everything from afar. He dispatched his kite to the Sugo’s rescue. At once it obeyed and flew to Aguiluz’s feet. The Mulawin stepped on it as if it were a surfboard, and the kite whisked him away to safety while Ravena soldiers chased him. The two boys followed him, with Gus carrying the fruit, who said, “Now I’m losing strength also. I must give you my power and use it on the enemy.” He transmitted a dense mass of energy into Gus’ hand, who asked, “How do I use it?” “Point it at them.” Gus did so; he pointed his fingers at their pursuers so that a laser-beam hit them. The Ravena were blown to bits. “I was right to take off his ugatpak,” Ravenum insisted. “Who is he to refuse me? Who is he to say no to me, his own father? Even if he is my son, if he will only be a hindrance to my plans, it would be better for him to be gone!” Gabriel could have easily applied those words to himself. He was now beginning to realize what it had taken Rasmus ages to see: Ravenum cared for no one but himself and his own crazy ambition of world dominance. Everything and everyone else was a means to that end. He would use everyone; he would lie to everyone; he would kill anyone who got in his way. “Was what you told him true?” he asked. Ravenum nodded. “Yes, it is true. You are brothers. Forgive me for not telling you. If the book of prophecy had not told me, I wouldn’t have known either.” “I’ve known him since our days in Tierra Fuego,” Gabriel said, reminiscing. “I never even felt anything. We were always rivals, as men, as bird-men, as Sugo. We were always being pitted against each other. But I never felt anything.” “Do not let this affect you,” his father warned. “Think of Alwina. Who has her now? Isn’t it you? And she is a Ravena now like you!” Such was Ravenum. Before he did not even want her around, but now he could see she had her uses. In Lagaslaw, Habagat and his son had rejoined the others to report their encounter with Linang, only to find that the men there had likewise been attacked by their women. But there were more arrivals. The kite had very wisely brought Aguiluz to their camp, or perhaps it had followed Pagaspas and Niwalum. “Look, the Sugo!” Habagat cried. “The Sugo has been hit!” The others hurried to receive Aguiluz and lay him down on a makeshift bed. Gus did the narration while Niwalum rested in a corner. A stuttering Gus recounted the day’s battle then, but stopped short of telling them what Ravenum had said. “It would be better if Aguiluz said it himself,” he argued. While Aguiluz lay on the stretcher, the others gathered around him. “When you get better, we’ll go look for Bagwis and the others,” Habagat told him. But Aguiluz replied, “My wings are gone. My ugatpak is gone. And you still expect me to recover? You still expect me to join your search? I’m so tired of fighting and everything else. There comes a time when a man simply has had enough and he gives up. I’m there now.” “Don’t lose hope,” Dakila said. “You’ve already come this far.” Aguiluz cast a sideways glance at him. What a hypocrite and a liar. All of a sudden, Aguiluz hated him. “That’s easy for you to say because you aren’t in my shoes,” he said. Then he gestured weakly towards Niwalum. “He is the fruit of the tree.” Every man’s jaw dropped. Dakila, too, was startled. “The Sugo’s mission was successful! He was able to recover the fruit of the Mulawin tree!” “What do we do with it then?” inquired Habagat. No answer from Aguiluz only silence. “Is something bothering you?” asked Dakila. “I can see it. Let it out, Aguiluz, so you will feel better. What is bothering you?” The Sugo heaved a sigh. “My life. My identity. We need to talk about my life, Dakila.” It was a moment the elder Mulawin thought would never come. With the battle over, Alwina was about to retire to her quarters when she ran into Savannah who began to harass her. “Some nerve you’ve got claiming to be the new princess around here!” said the latter. Alwina retorted, “It was Gabriel who said that, not me. So don’t blame me for it. If you want, then talk to him about it!” “I was here before you were! I was the first female Ravena in Halimhim!” A snicker. “Ha! If Gabriel paid no attention to you back when you were the only female Ravena here, what more now that I am here?” “What’s that supposed to mean? You think you’re more beautiful than me?” “Why, compared to you, yes! By far!” Bitch! Savannah then threw her whole body weight at her rival. But Alwina dodged her blows with skill. She put forth her arm behind Savannah and swung it backwards, so that it hit the latter’s shoulder-blades. Savannah fell face first on the ground. Now their prince entered the scene. He pushed Alwina behind him protectively and rebuked Savannah. “Don’t be angry with me,” she pleaded. “You know it was Alwina who started the fight!” Gabriel knew better. “If I ever see you hurting Alwina again,” he told her, “I won’t just make you human again. I’ll throw you out and leave your body for the vultures to eat!” Aguiluz was now on his feet. “So is it true?” he asked. “Is it true that Ravenum is my father? Tell me it’s not true!” But the crestfallen look on Dakila’s face told him otherwise. And his reply was devastating. “I can’t imagine how they found out about it,” he replied. The Sugo came to him and fell at his feet. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he cried. “Is it true?” “I will tell you everything from the beginning,” said Dakila. “An oracle had declared that a son of a High Council elder would one day become ruler of Avila. I had a child, but it was a girl, Paloma. Daragit and Lumbas were unmarried. The only other member of the Council who was married was Ravenum. So it was likely that the son would be his. “But Ravenum and his wife could not have children. So he involved himself in extramarital affairs in the hope of having a son. He took advantage of Salimbay too, his wife’s lady-in-waiting. Salimbay became pregnant and confided in me what had happened. But by then, Ravenum had become very wicked, selfish and ambitious. So I decided to hide the fact from him. “To save Salimbay’s honor, I decided to create a father for the child. With the help of the fairies, I was able to see the future likeness of the child, and formed a Mulawin in his image: Aguilar who would stand as husband and father to the woman and her son.” Aguiluz then gathered himself up – with effort – and drew away. “How could you have done this to me?” he asked. “Every single day, you saw me in Avila. How were you able to keep silent when you knew the truth all along? If you had told me the truth sooner, I might have been able to accept it. But you, someone I trusted and respected so much, did this? Now I feel I have been lied to all along. Everything about my life has been a lie! “I do not belong here in Avila,” he told them. “My place is not here. I have no more wings, no more ugatpak, no more Alwina. Don’t expect any more from me.” He turned and limped away, looking back only once to say, “Don’t you dare follow me.” But he wouldn’t be gone for long. The trio of Bagwis, Rasmus and Veronica were now only a day’s walk away from Lagaslaw. But they did not know it yet. They were talking on the way that evening. “I have done you both so much wrong,” Rasmus told the couple. “Come to think of it, what I’ve done is unforgivable.” “That’s in the past now,” Veronica answered. “Don’t dwell on it.” Bagwis then asked, “If you don’t mind… what made you decide to turn your back on your father?” A pause. “I am not the son of Ravenum,” Rasmus answered. “I am not a son of darkness. So there is no reason for me not to turn and seek the light.” But did he really want to find the light? Half dozen Ravena soldiers patrolling the area spotted them. “There you are!” they shouted, rushing toward Bagwis and Veronica. Rasmus sprang to the fugitives’ defense. “You’ll have to come through me first!” he told the soldiers. Then his claws flew across the air, cutting down red guards here and there until all lay dead at his feet. The Mulawin couple thanked him, but it was nothing to him. Killing was just a matter of routine for such a hardened and brutal warrior. Something else caught his eye. A shimmering green glow farther away from there. Only Rasmus had noticed it. Walking over, he picked up the object and realized that it was a shining green binhi. A full century ago, the Mulawin tree had yielded green binhi as its fruit. Rasmus had stolen it along with the Balasik. Now, a hundred years later, only one of it remained. It was the last of the four seeds he had given Lourdes so long ago in exchange for his ugatpak. Because of that, Lourdes had forsaken Veronica who then became the Ravena queen. The first binhi had restored Bagwis’ sight; the second saved Pagaspas from death, and the third: Gabriel. The fourth and last one had gone into a river, found its way to Terong, and then to Gabriel, who lost it in the waterfall. Now, by luck or fate or destiny, it was back in the hands of the thief who had first stolen it. The seed’s emerald glow looked so enticing, as if beckoning Rasmus to claim it for himself. Very powerful, he thought. I could use this for… “Rasmus?” Bagwis called. A moment’s hesitation. The call of darkness made one last attempt to get his attention. But its voice was failing. Rasmus walked back towards his companions and showed them what he had found. “You are the ones who should keep it,” he told them. Bagwis took it from his hand. “The green binhi!” he and Veronica exclaimed. “I am a son of darkness,” Aguiluz lamented. He had gone to another part of the forest to pray. The Sugo was on his knees, weeping and bewailing his fate. “Aguiluz,” a voice from above called to him. Aguiluz looked around to see who was calling him. Before him stood a tree that was aglow as if by fire. Yet neither its branches nor its leaves were catching fire. Perhaps he was dreaming. “Is that the Lord calling me?” he asked. And the voice answered, “Yes, Aguiluz. It is I. You do not need to see Me to know it. You only need to believe.” “Forgive me,” the Sugo said. “Forgive me for everything. I have always tried to do what is asked of me But in spite of that, I get nothing in return and everything I love has been taken away from me. What should I do now? What do you want me to do?” “Nothing that has happened escapes Me,” said the voice. “Nothing comes to pass without My blessing. Now I will use these tragedies to make the way for peace; every trial as a path to salvation. I will turn your sorrows into joys. I wile take your weakness and turn it into strength. I will take the hatred you feel and turn it into love. “ But like an unwilling Biblical prophet, Aguiluz protested, “I no longer feel worthy of being your emissary. I am a son of Ravenum, a son of darkness!” “No, you are not,” answered the voice of the Father. ”You are not a son of darkness, Aguiluz. You were brought up in love. The blood of an ally of darkness may run through your veins, but I can see that your heart is pure. Therefore, more than anyone else’s, you are MY SON. “Now, it is up to you whether to linger in your state of hopelessness, or to rise up again and be strong.” Aguiluz bowed in awe before his Almighty Father. “Forgive me for my weakness and lack of faith.” And God replied, “You must forgive, Aguiluz, and you must complete your mission. For now, more than ever, the world needs you… Sugo.” “The fruit!” Aguiluz cried. “What should be done with the fruit?” “Avila,” was the reply. “You must all return to Avila.”

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