Friday, December 31, 2004

A Reunion.

Episode for Dec 30, 2004, Thursday. Dakila introduced the women-warriors thus: “This is Maningning, leader of the Taguba. Friends, I am proud to introduce to you this distinguished Mulawin, Aguiluz.” “It is an honor to meet you,” Aguiluz said to them, and they replied in kind. “According to the prophecy,” went on the sage, “the Mulawin who returns from the dead is a Sugo. Therefore, you are also a Sugo.” “So that means both Alwina and I are Sugo?” “Not everything is clear to me,” said Dakila. “I only know that you fit the definition of an emissary, based on what the Balasik told me.” Balasik had warned him of a great war that would transpire between the Mulawin and the rebels, the Ravena. “How can we prevent this?” Dakila had asked. “Order will be restored upon the arrival of the Sugo,” it replied. “Who is this?” “The Mulawin who returns from the dead is the Sugo.” Before the oracle-bird could give more specific information, Rasmus and his dark-feathered allies came to Avila and stole Balasik. “We never got it back,” Dakila told Aguiluz. “So that is all I know about the Sugo.” “Could this be what the Diwata in Encantadia were telling me about?” wondered Aguiluz. Dakila was surprised. “You remember your visit there?” he said. “That is unusual. Nobody else who goes there can recall their experience.” Aguiluz nodded, saying “I still have many things to do. My heart cries out for revenge for my mother who died Rasmus’ cruel hands. But I know that vengeance must not come first. I will fight the evil forces, not for revenge, but to help and save others.” “You remember now what happened?” “Yes. I remember everything clearly now. I saw what happened to my father as he died saving the Mulawin egg.” Aguiluz also disclosed the changes he had noticed in himself: how he retained his wings even in daytime; how he could fly all day without tiring, and how the memory of his past had been restored to him. “Now, waste no more time,” Dakila ordered. “Go and find Alwina. Together you must journey to the Mulawin tree. And for the first time, I ask you to forgive me for all the wrongs I have done to you in the past.” Aguiluz told him, “I never knew my mother, and my father died early. You were the only parent I ever knew. And since I lost my memory, it seems that we have not seen each other in a long time. There’s a lot that I wish to say to you. But like you said, we must not waste time.” He stretched out those magnificent wings and lifted himself up into the heavens. Like a weakened Samson deprived of his locks, Alwina now lay helpless on the ground without her most vital plume. But she remained defiant. “You’re not our friend!” she told her adversary. “Whoever you are taking possession of Aviona, you won’t succeed! I will never tell you where the Mulawin tree is!” “Is that so?” said the other Mulawin coolly. “All right. Say goodbye to your ugatpak then.” She swung her arm as if to cast away the feather. “No!” Alwina shouted. But she was only buying time. Daybreak arrived and still she had not divulged her secret. “Well?” said the demon in Aviona. “It’s morning and still you haven’t told me anything. I’m getting impatient. If you’re no use to me, I’ll just kill you!” She flung the ugatpak overhead amid Alwina’s despairing protests. Then she turned on the Sugo to strangle her since, unlike other bird-men, Alwina could survive longer without the plume. Now Aguiluz had been soaring all day and spotted them in the greenwood below. He saw the white ugatpak fly through the air into the distance, but decided to save Alwina first. Swift as the wind the Emissary came to the scene. Aviona turned and saw him. “Aviona?” he said. “You’re alive!” She touched his handsomely chiseled face. “And you, Aguiluz!” she exclaimed. “You’re alive too!” Whatever was all the fuss about Avila, Savannah noticed none of it. Paradise though it was to the bird-men, she could see nothing but rocky monuments and sweeping clouds where she was. “Hey, you!” she yelled at a Ravena officer. “Take me to the lowland now! Get me out of this place!” “Let’s wait for what the Queen has to say,” he told her. Then a Hunyango spy materialized, slithering as usual. “King Rasmus is busy,” said the Ravena. “Say what you want and I will report it to him…. What? Lowlanders are on the way here?” Savannah interrupted their conversation. “What lowlander?” she asked. “Who are you talking about?” Meanwhile, Vultra had seen the new Aguiluz in the pillar of black smoke. “Aguiluz is alive!” she cried with dismay. “But Rasmus already killed him! Lord Ravenum, how is this possible?” “This can mean only one thing,” Ravenum told her. “Aguiluz is also a Sugo. They are on the way to Avila. We must not waste time. I must take action. Give me the hiyas now!” So the queen removed the necklace and put forth her hand. The necklace was sucked into the smoke like in a vacuum, and disappeared. Ravenum was gone. Just at that moment, Rasmus entered the scene. “What is my queen up to now?” he asked in greeting. “Aguiluz is alive,” Vultra fumed. “Aguiluz is alive!” Rasmus saw the Mulawin’s profile in their monitor and paled with anger. He snuffed out the incense stick and angrily cast it aside. “How can that be?” he roared. “I already killed him! Ravenum’s poison is deadly! How did he come back to life? Why did he come back to life?” “Balasik said that the Mulawin who is resurrected is a Sugo.” “The next time I see him, I’ll make sure he follows his father, Aguilar, to the other world!” “When Alwina returned to life, she became much stronger than before. I wonder what new powers Aguiluz now brings with him.” One of their officers arrived with no better tidings. He regretted having to intrude, but it was an important matter. “A Hunyango reported to me that the lowlanders have joined forces with Bagwis and are now marching toward Avila,” he said. Rasmus felt as if his head would explode. “Now I don’t know which to deal with first!” the king snarled. “Anyway, Bagwis, I knew you’d come here to follow Lourdes and…” He cast a sideways glance at his wife and caught himself. Then he told the officer, “Go and lead the army against those people. I had long prepared one special Ravena who can finish off Aguiluz.” In this first surprise at seeing each other, the two Mulawin had forgotten Alwina. She had staggered off to safety and hid behind some trees. Aguiluz followed her and called out her name. Alwina might have wondered if she had died from the loss of her ugatpak. She was looking at a dead man after all. In her utter amazement, it took Alwina several moments to find her voice. Finally, she cried, “Aguiluz, you’re alive! I don’t want to think that this is only a dream!” “No, Alwina,” he replied calmly. “This isn’t a dream. I’m real. And we were meant to be together because we are one. I came back from the dead just like you, because I am also a Sugo. Now we will be together until the end of the mission. You and I are what the world needs. So be strong.” But this was a different Aguiluz from the one she had known. Even the reclusive Mulawin who had watched over her in Tierra Fuego was nothing like this. An aura of power now enveloped him, an awesome presence that could not be explained. Alwina wrapped her arms lovingly around him, even as a jealous Aviona looked on. Suddenly Alwina remembered her ugatpak and mentioned it to Aguiluz. “I saw where it fell,” he told her. “Let’s go get it.” Then a furious Aviona attacked him. Aguiluz blocked off her blows with his arms, and then held her down. “Aviona, this is your friend, Aguiluz!” he said, looking at her intently as if to persuade her with his gaze. “We grew up together. We learned to fly together. We dreamed together. I know that there’s an evil spirit trying to take control of you and ruin you. But I know you have true love within you. You have a noble heart, Aviona. Fight that being inside you! I know you can beat it!” Aviona struggled as he gripped her wrists, and then Perena’s fire glowed mysteriously. The girl fell unconscious into her friend’s arms. Alwina smiled at them, quite relieved. As night fell over the land, Bagwis paused at a clearing and turned to the crowd. “Let us rest here for a while,” he told them. Then he confided in his brother Habagat, “I don’t know if it was a good idea to take them with us. Then again, they would not have been safe anywhere if we left them behind.” Habagat, who had been quiet all along, said, “I don’t know either. I just know I’m glad to have the sympathy of these people.” Bagwis was deep in thought, and said, “I still haven’t forgotten that these people were the reason why we the Mulawin fought among ourselves, and the rebels became Ravena. I still remember that it was they who destroyed my friendship with Rasmus.” He was almost tearful as he reminisced about the past. Like his elder, Dakila, Bagwis still regretted the loss of an old friend, who now had become his sworn enemy. It was nothing short of a tragedy, not only for them, but for whole races of men and bird-men. “Friends became enemies,” he said. “The Mulawin and lowlanders used to be friends, but not anymore. Yet, I do not regret my decision. They may have become hostile to us. But I will still defend them with all my strength until I die.” Habagat replied, “I’ll be right behind you, Bagwis. Go on. I will keep watch over here.” But the hour for defense arrived just as he had uttered those words. Suddenly a barrage of gunfire startled them and threw the people into a panic. Ravena soldiers in the air were spraying them with a lethal rain of bullets.

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Return of an Emissary.

Episode for Dec 29, 2004, Wednesday. Reborn from the ashes, Aguiluz marveled at his new body, and the strength and power that came with it. The magical beings watched as he tried his new wings above them. When he had grown accustomed to his new frame, Aguiluz rejoined their company. The queens congratulated him and so did Mulagat. “You are a special individual with a mission,” he told the Mulawin. “It is only right for you to return to life.” “Thank you all so much,” Aguiluz said to them. “Thank God for bringing me back.” “Before you go to your destination,” said the Queen Mother, “you must see your past. You must know what happened to them.” She was alluding to his parents. “My father died defending our people,” he said. “And your mother died defending you.” Then the Queen Mother waved her hand and revealed the past to him. The scenes recalled to Aguiluz’s memory his father’s dying moments, when he had obtained a promise from his son to guard a Mulawin egg and the child that would be born from it. But what were wholly new to Aguiluz were the scenes showing his mother. Rasmus had come to Avila seeking plunder. “But why should I steal only the Balasik and green binhi?” he asked himself. “Why not the next generation of Mulawin as well?” He had found a nest where several un-hatched eggs were gathered together. With wicked glee, the Ravena king raised his arm and began cracking the shells with his talons. Before his bloody intentions could be carried out the fullest, however, one of the mothers arrived to defend the nest. Rasmus drove his claws into her stomach and thus slew her. Aguilar came to her rescue to late. As this scene faded from Aguiluz’s sight, the Queen Mother of the Diwata admitted to him that she had appeared to his parents once. When Aguiluz was still in his mother’s womb, the queen paid a visit to his expectant parents to foretell the good news. The Mulawin couple gazed wonderstruck at her radiant beauty. “I have to come to tell you brining a message from Bathala,” she told them. “You will have a son unique among others. His bravery will become known in a time of war and violence.” “That time has now come, Aguiluz,” said the queen. “Your parents knew that you were special, but they chose to hide it. You are very special Aguiluz. But danger is your twin." Aguiluz’s voice was barely audible. “My mother died because of me,” he said to himself. “If not, she would still be here.” Now the queen admonished him to return to his mission. As a parting gift, she presented him with an enchanted wand. “In times of need, you can use it,” she told him. “You may strike it upon the ground to bring salvation.” A keen observer of events, Vultra was very pleased to have Ravenum’s incense. Now Alwina materialized in the smoke, and she said, “At last, we meet again, Sugo.” The next scene startled her, however. Aviona’s milky white countenance filled the “screen” and her eyes were ablaze. Alwina had come to offer her friend some food, but Aviona spat at her face and said, “I don’t need that; I need Aguiluz!” “What!” Vultra exclaimed at the sight. “Aviona is alive?” “What about that girl, Vultra?” Ravenum asked her. “I know nothing about it.” “We asked for Perena’s help to take possession of her so that we could use her against the Sugo,” Vultra explained. “I thought she died. But here she is, fierce as ever and still has the flame of Perena. So I know she still has Perena’s evil within her.” “I do not think that Mulawin girl is of any use to us. I have a better plan for the Sugo. I know somebody who can surely bring her down!” “Who are you talking about, my lord?” “The time has come!” Ravenum cried triumphantly, and showed her the image of Gabriel Montenegro. Vultra – who had probably expected some kind of monster from the foulest pits of hell – found this quite ridiculous. “Him?” she said. “The son of a mere lowlander? My lord, I don’t see how this boy could help us at all! Please show me Aviona and at once!” How rude and stubborn she was. “It seems that we disagree in our plans once again,” said the spirit, “and…” “And what, Lord Ravenum?” “What is that shining object that you wear?” Vultra looked down on her bosom and realized that he was referring to her necklace. Her ordeal in the quicksand flashed back to her mind. Just when she had been suffocating in the loose soil, she had grasped that necklace quite by accident, and felt power return to her. “It’s a necklace,” she said. “I only know that it saved my life from the quicksand.” Ravenum was having a flashback of his own. He had seen a fragment of that gem in the Queen Mother’s hand before. It was known among the Diwata as a gem of power, healing and eternal youth. “We take with us a fragment of the Hiyas whenever we leave Encantadia so that we do not lose our strength,” she had told Dakila while Ravenum listened. “It can do many things. It can cure the sick, preserve youth, and lend a physical body to the dead, but only temporarily. But its powers are nothing compared to that of the Mulawin tree. So we choose to give the tree to you. Come, Dakila, let us plant the tree now.” “That gem can do a lot more,” Ravenum said to Vultra. “You should have told me sooner that you had it. Give it to me. I can use it to escape this form and assume a human form again temporarily. I will leave you the incense in return for it so you may observe whatever you wish to.” Aguiluz was very pleased with his newfound powers. He had been flying all day without tiring. And even when the sun rose, his wings stayed with him. “This only means that the red binhi has lost its effect on me,” he said to himself. Surveying the earth with the powerful scope of his eyes, Aguiluz espied Mayi lost in the forest. She had been sent to follow Gabriel, but somehow, the messenger had lost sight of him. Now the child wandered here and there not knowing where to go. Lourdes had a surprise visitor in her lonely cell, where she was holed up in together with Pagaspas and Lawiswis. Ravena guards ushered Rusing into the same cell. “Aling Rusing!” Lourdes cried, and the two women tearfully embraced. Rusing recognized Wis and Pagaspas. “Where is Gus?” she asked. “Gus and Pagaspas are the same,” Lourdes told her. “Gus and Wis become owls when they are apart.” It was not too strange to tell her that now; not with all the bizarre and tragic events that had happened in the past months. Rusing did not look amazed; only puzzled. “But they are not apart right now,” she said. Now that Tierra Fuego was no more, the surviving citizens fled to the woods where they met the unfortunate Yolly. So incensed were the crowd at this traitor they cried out for her blood. “She betrayed us!” they shouted. “It’s all her fault!” But they were not the only ones fleeing from the Ravena that night. Bagwis’ troop was there, and Lucio was with them. He stepped forward in Yolly’s defense. “Don’t hurt her!” said Lucio. “The Ravena are our enemies, not one another!” “She’s a traitor!” the people argued. “It’s her daughter who sucks up to the Ravena!” “Lowlander!” Bagwis shouted impatiently. “Nothing good will happen if we let distrust prevail among us. Time is running out. Now whoever among you wishes to join us, join us! Whoever does not want to, stay behind!” Old as he was, Dakila still had a good fight left in him. And nothing pleased the Taguba chieftain more than a good fighter. As they sparred with their quarterstaffs, Maningning was defeated. It was a close match, of course, and she good-naturedly acknowledged his superiority. “This is the first time I’ve been beaten,” she said. “Congratulations, Dakila! You’re a good warrior!” Their merry mood was interrupted by a most stunning phenomenon:. All eyes turned toward the sky as a bird-man approached. It was a Mulawin; his wings were lit with an unearthly glow, and he wore a splendid armor that told them he was a warrior. Dakila was speechless. Aguiluz folded his wings and set foot on the ground. Mayi appeared beside him. “Good thing he found me,” she told her friends. “Aguiluz, it’s you,” Dakila said. “You’re alive!” “Yes, Dakila. The Diwata brought me back.” “But you look stronger than before. If this is real, then Aguiluz, son of Aguilar, you too are a Sugo!” Eager as he was to take possession of the hiyas, the Ravena lord relented and let Vultra take over. She spoke to Aviona: “Now you cannot disobey me. Force Alwina to tell you where the Mulawin tree is.” Now Alwina was preparing to renew her journey. “I have to keep moving,” he told Aviona. “I know it’s hard, but I’ll take you with me.” Aviona had been discreetly loosening her bonds all this time. She felt the ropes come away as Alwina was busily stoking a fire. She sprang upon the Sugo and thus began a brutal wrestling match. But Vultra cautioned her medium not to be carried away. “Don’t kill her before you have obtained the information that we need,” she ordered. “Go for her ugatpak, and then force her to tell you where the tree is.” “Aviona, we’re friends!” Alwina shouted. “Stop this! Let’s not hurt each other!” As if obeying her word, Aviona did stop, and the bird-women stood there leery of each other. Aviona’s brows met as she watched for an opportunity to seize Alwina’s ugatpak. Then with blinding speed, she deftly yanked off the plume from Alwina’s back. The Sugo hollered in pain, and then collapsed powerless on the grass. “Tell me where the Mulawin tree is!” demanded Vultra.

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Phoenix Rising.

Episode for Dec 28, 2004, Tuesday. Seeing Aguiluz had firmly decided, the Devil acquiesced. He gestured toward the hero and bade him a scorching farewell. A searing pain tore through his soul, but when the hurt had left him, Aguiluz was in a beautiful garden like nothing else on earth. Everything was a lush green, the air was vibrant with the glow of anima, and colorful sparkles of light floated like stars. He then saw a familiar face waiting there for him. An aura of light surrounded her as before. “Congratulations, Aguiluz,” Linang said with a pleasant smile. “You have passed the test, and now you can be returned to life. What you endured was only a illusion.” Aguiluz looked at her, puzzled. “You’re saying all that I saw there… Angang, Sakmal…” “Do not fear for them. I assure you, your friends are doing well. They are now with Bathala.” The Mulawin sighed in relief and gave thanks. “But I’m still confused by what I’m going through,” he said. “Let the Queen Mother explain it all to you,” Linang replied. And it was then that Aguiluz became aware of another ethereal lady’s presence. Her look and bearing told him she was a semi-divine being of even higher distinction than Linang. But what startled him was the sight of a handsome young man in white next to her. It was Mulagat. “Is this real?” Aguiluz asked, running up to Mulagat. So the two queens explained the situation to him. By divine decree, Linang’s son had been returned for the special purpose of inspiring Habagat to mend his ways. With the father’s ugatpak, they revived the son. “Mysterious are the ways of God,” said Linang. “Everything happens according to His will although we may not always understand the reasons for them. So before Mulagat’s soul could leave forever, God sent him back to help bring about the change in his father. Now all Habagat needs to know is that his son is alive.” As Aguiluz marveled at these revelations, the Queen Mother said to him, “Greetings. You are the second Mulawin who was destined to visit Encantadia.” “Second? Who was the first?” “Alwina. She died and came back to life. But before she did, she stayed here with us. We can restore you to life as well, but there is a serious problem. Your friends cremated your body.” Aguiluz remembered Bagwis had explained the custom to him, and understood. All was not lost, however. Linang sent for Banayad, the Lady of the winds. “I asked her to guard your ashes well,” she said. “They are still intact.” Aguiluz could scarcely keep up with the successive apparitions of these divine maidens. But it was not the last of them. Soon, they were joined by a strange-looking female who was covered with vegetation from head to foot. The Queen Mother introduced her as “Florona, the Lady of the Diwatas of the earth. From them all beings borrow their earthly bodies when they are born into this world. And to them these are returned at the time of their deaths.” Florona regarded Aguiluz with wonder. “So this is the one you told me about, Queen Mother!” she exclaimed. “The one who is supposed to return from the dead!” Since the Mulawin and Taguba shared a common enemy, Maningning pledged her support to Dakila. “Our fighting tactics may differ from yours,” she said, “but when the time comes to fight the Ravena, you can rely on us.” Gabriel, meanwhile, made up his mind to follow Alwina. But Estrella argued with him. “Are you always going to follow Alwina?” she asked. “Hasn’t it occurred to you that she doesn’t want to be followed? Hasn’t it occurred to you that there are people here who need you more?” “Estrella, you know how I feel.” “I’m not talking about me,” she said indignantly. “What about Terong?” Gabriel stared at his friend’s petrified remains. “You never told me how you brought me back,” he said to her. “For my friend’s sake, tell me.” “But it won’t be easy for you.” “I’ve come a long way. Nothing could be too hard for me now.” So Estrella told him about the wondrous egg born from the love of Balasik and Haraya. “But those birds choose whom they will help,” she concluded. “And it was because of Haraya that you turned to stone. I don’t know how you can get around that. It’s in the place where people turn to stone.” The young man nodded. “I can’t waste any more time,” he told her. “I have to save Terong, and then follow Alwina.” “But what about me?” she asked. Gabriel touched her gently and said, “I’m sorry, but I’m not the right man for you. I wish you can accept that. You’re a friend to me and that’s as far as it goes.” Then he said goodbye to all of them, even to Dakila whom Gabriel implied was suspicious of him. “I have my own plans,” he said, “but remember that no matter what happens, I’m on your side even if you see me as an enemy.” Dakila scoffed at this when he was alone with Mayi. “I think I was right about him after all,” he said. “Go follow him and tell me what you see.” Although willing to believe Gabriel, Mayi obeyed. “You’re trying to steal him, aren’t you?” Aviona accused, brandishing her spear. Alwina looked on, dazed and confused. “Aviona, you’re alive!” said she. “What do you mean steal him? What are you talking about?” She quickly regained her footing even as confused thoughts flooded her mind. Now both armed with spears, the two warriors entered into a fierce duel. Aviona fought with astonishing strength, forcing her opponent back with her thrusts as well as swinging kicks. But Alwina was not to be subdued. She drove back Aviona once, and the latter with renewed fury hurled herself forward again. Alwina crossed her arms to shield from the blow and shoved her off. After further grappling, she grabbed Aviona and drove her knee into the latter’s stomach. Aviona crumpled to the ground unconscious. Alwina was stunned almost beyond belief at this sudden appearance, but she had to stay on top of the situation. She knelt beside Aviona and touched her cautiously. “She’s still being possessed,” Alwina reasoned. “What do I do with her now?” When Aviona came to, she was bound to a tree and unable to extricate herself. Writhing within her bounds, she shouted imprecations even as Alwina apologized to her for the inconvenience. “I’m sorry, but this is the only way to keep you from harming me as well as yourself,” Alwina explained. “I don’t understand, we thought you were dead!” Aviona blazed her red eyes at her and said in Perena’s voice, “No, I did not die. I followed you secretly while recovering from my wounds. Why did you burn Aguiluz? Why did you desecrate his body?” Alwina strove to keep her patience as she tightened the ropes. “If you’re no longer being possessed,” she argued, “you would know that the Mulawin cremate their soldiers when they die. We did not desecrate his body. We only gave him the honors he deserved.” “You’re trying to take him away from me!” Aviona repeated over and over. “But you will never take Aguiluz away from me!” “What are you talking about? And what’s that?” said Alwina. She noticed a small sack fastened to Aviona’s right side, and wrested it from her despite her protests. As Aviona struggled, the bag was torn, revealing its contents: ashes. Alwina’s face darkened as it dawned on her whose remains they were. “These are Aguiluz’s ashes!” she declared. “Is this what you meant that I wanted to steal from you? You stole Aguiluz’s ashes? How could you desecrate his body like this?” “I never dishonored him. You and your friends did!” High up on Avila’s towering peak, Lourdes stood between the Ravena monarchs. On Vultra’s neck was a necklace that would have looked familiar to Gus and Wis. But Lourdes did not notice it. She glanced from one Ravena to the other and denounced them: “You’re both so cruel! What are you going to do with Alwina?” “We’ve tried chasing her through the forest, the desert and even to the ends of the earth,” said Rasmus. “Enough! The chase stops here in Avila!” “And we want you to be here so you can watch her die,” Vultra said. Lourdes turned to Veronica with pleading eyes. “You mustn’t hurt Alwina!” she said. “Alwina is—” Rasmus clamped his hand over her blabbing mouth. “That’s enough!” he told her. “I’m sick of all your noise! I better take you to Ugod Pawin where no one will hear you!” But once more, Vultra used her reasoning ability to spare a life. “You cannot take her to Ugod Pawin,” she said. “Why not, my beloved queen? Are you getting soft again when it comes to the Emissary’s mother?” “She’s our best weapon against the Sugo. We can lure her easily if we keep that woman with us.” As so often was the case, Rasmus paid heed to her counsel. “You’re right,” he answered. “I’d better lock her up with the other prisoners.” The king hauled off their captive, and Vultra was left on her own. She looked up as flying white clouds sped across the blue sky. Suddenly a dark plume of smoke puffed and made a blot in the air above her. The black smoke grew denser and swirled around Ravenum’s bright eyes. Vultra hid her awe. “It is good that you are here, Lord Ravenum,” she said. “The Mulawin Emissary is on her way to Avila. Unfortunately, the fire Perena gave me has snuffed out. If not, we would be able to watch their every move.” Ravenum spoke thus: “There is still a way to monitor them. Accept the smoke of Ravenum.” And he gave her a stick of incense. Savannah, meanwhile, was not the least pleased at being whisked away to this unknown realm. “Bring me back to the plains after you’ve talked to my mom!” she shouted to a guard. “What for?” he asked mockingly. “So you can talk to that woman you call mother? Tell me: are you really Queen Vultra’s daughter?” “None of your business! Take me back there!” “Go ask Queen Vultra for wings so you can fly anytime you want!” Yolly was still alive and back with a few survivors of the inferno in Tierra Fuego. Lucio, to his dismay, woke up to find himself surrounded by specimens from different races of bird-men: Ravena, Mulawin and Perico. Bagwis discouraged him from going back to his mansion. “The Ravena have burnedseverything,” he told him, “your house, your hacienda, the whole town.” “If you are ready,” said the Queen Mother to Aguiluz, “let us begin our ritual.” Then the four queens of the four quarters gathered around him, hand in hand, forming a protective circle of power around Aguiluz. The Diwatas led by their Queen Mother began to chant: “By the union of water, air and earth, life is created. And by uniting my power as Queen Mother with these elements, your body shall rise again with greater strength and power than before! By the combined forces of north, east, south and west, come back to life, Aguiluz!" In the forest a strong wind arose. It blew open the sack where Aguiluz’s remains were stored. Aviona screamed for her beloved. Blinded by the force of the gale, Alwina could not close the bag. Soon, all the ashes were traveling through the air and came within the borders of Encantadia. Like iron drawn to a magnet, the dust was swept into Aguiluz’s form. The fire of life blazed forth, and a new Aguiluz rose from the flames like the Phoenix of legend, with gleaming armor and glorious feathers now crowning his head.

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Land of Fire.

Episode for Dec 27, 2004, Monday. As Rasmus was about to deliver the deathblow, Kuwak and Tuka came forth from the bushes and called out to their former king. Startled, Rasmus turned his open face to them, and as he did, they cast handfuls of soil into his eyes. Thus confounding him, the Ravena traitors bought enough time for Bagwis and Habagat to escape. Meanwhile, Lourdes waited for Bagwis from evening until morning. She was hiding behind some bushes on a slope with Wis and Gus the owl. Suddenly she noticed a formidable and majestic figure towering over them. “We meet again, lowlander,” Vultra said to her. “Vultra, remember you gave your word to protect us!” Lourdes cried. “I know I made such a promise. But you joined the rebel movement. The matter is out of my hands now.” Bagwis in his own company was also wondering about his friend. “I think something must’ve happened to Lourdes,” he said. “I’ve loved you since I first saw you,” Estrella told Gabriel. “Even when you were still a statue, I knew I loved you.” It was hard not to be touched by this maiden’s simplicity and honesty. Gabriel loathed to break her heart, but as with Paloma, he refused to lead her on or give her a false hope. “Alwina is the one I love,” he told her plainly. Hurt by this rebuff, she left him without a further word. Next morning, Gabriel watched over Terong’s body, regretting what had happened to the latter. He repeated to Alwina what he knew of the matter through Estrella. “Speaking of Estrella,” Alwina said, “she told me what happened last night.” “She admitted to me that she’s in love with me. But she’s no different from the other girls who came into my life: Savannah, Paloma… I feel nothing for them.” He walked over to Alwina and looked her in the eyes. “You’re still the one I love,” he told her. “Gabriel,” she said, “don’t make the same mistakes that you did with Paloma.” “Is it a mistake to be honest about how I feel? I can’t blame myself for what happened to Paloma.” Alwina seemed to grow cold even as she looked at him. “Then we’re the same,” she said. “Your heart is closed to others. So is mine. My only fear is that both of our hearts will turn to stone.” No need for Haraya. Alwina had changed so much since their innocent days in Tierra Fuego; at least, her attitude toward him had. Her gaze no longer had the fire of romance in them when she looked at him. She treated Gabriel now as a mere friend, almost like a brother. As Rasmus brooded over his failed encounter with his arch-enemies, Vultra entered the room with Lourdes and Wis in tow. Gus was in Lourdes’ hands. “My dear king, I have a present for you,” she said. Now that he had wiped the dust off his eyes, Rasmus could smile again. “Very good, my dear queen!” he said, and then ordered the soldiers, “Put them to the stake and burn them alive at the plaza!” Lawiswis tugged at Lourdes’ dress and began to cry loudly, and Vultra moved to change her consort’s mind. “Pardon me, my lord,” she said. “It might not be wise to act rashly in this kind of situation. This is the mother of the Sugo. We can use her as bait if we keep her alive.” Rasmus seemed to ignore her. “What were you and Bagwis talking about last night?” he asked Lourdes. “Nothing!” The king seized her by the throat and shouted, “Don’t make a fool out of me! I saw you two last night! Maybe you’d like to disembowel your pet!” He was stroking Pagaspas’ feathers with his claws, so Lourdes sobbing admitted that she had conversed with the Mulawin. “Are you going to look for Bagwis on your own?” asked his wife. His reply was negative, but before he could speak further, a soldier put another question to him: “Excuse me, but what shall we do with Tierra Fuego?” Rasmus grimaced at the mere mention of it. “This town has become a big headache for us,” he told them. “And with all the other territories we’ve conquered, it has lost its value. The people have rebelled against us, and they care nothing for this place anymore, or for their families, or their relatives.” Time for Tierra Fuego to live up to its name, he thought. But before issuing the order for what he had in mind, Rasmus set out one more time through the town with Lourdes’ owl in his grip. “Bagwis!” he called out when he espied the Mulawin. “I know you know where the Sugo is. Tell her, if she wants to see this thing and Lourdes, to go meet me in Avila!” The message loud and clear, he faded like a shadow into the darkness. Bagwis was about to pursue him, but his companions persuaded him to rescue the Perico instead. Dakdak had joined them after mourning for and burying the Scouts. Meanwhile, Rasmus issued the order to burn the whole town to the ground. His decree was no sooner given than carried out in full force. Days before the New Year, the Ravena celebrated it with a bloody feast of carnage and destruction, setting fires here and there and firing guns in the air. Tierra Fuego was being leveled to the ground, and soon, none but walls of flame would remain standing. In the commotion that ensued, Yolly and Savannah realized that this was their chance to flee together. But unfortunately for them, Vultra was not forgetful: she had sent a trooper to escort Savannah to Avila. “The Queen has sent me to fetch you,” he said. “I don’t know this woman,” Savannah aid of Yolly, disowning her again. But Yolly would not let go even as the Ravena took flight with Savannah in hand. The three of them struggled, and Savannah pleaded with her mother to let go. At last, Yolly’s grip slipped and she fell away and dashed her head below. Bagwis and Dakdak ventured into the Montenegro mansion without much trouble. There were no more guards stationed there, of course, as all the Ravena had abandoned the area. Small fires had been started here and there, and choking smoke billowed in the air. Bagwis stormed into the basement and there came upon Lucio and the two Perico. In a few minutes they were all safely out of the building. Now Alwina and Estrella were practice-fighting with their spears. Both were quite impressive, and Maningning applauded. However, the mood was interrupted when Dakila appeared and called Alwina over. “Alwina, we need to talk. Just the two of us,” he said. So leaving the others, he said to her: “I think we’ve reached the point where we must go our separate ways. Haraya will be one of your tests. I do not know how you will overcome that, but the Sugo must deal with those trials alone according to what the oracle said.” “What’s going on?” Gabriel said. “What are you doing here? This is between me and her.” “So long as it’s about Alwina, I will get involved whether you like it or not.” “Why?” asked Dakila angrily. “What happened when you went there? Would you help her if you turned into stone again?” Gabriel had no answer, while Alwina accepted this change without complain. Later, near the entrance of stones, she bade her first love a restrained farewell and told him not to be upset with himself. “All my life I have leaned on others,” she told him, “my mother, you, Aguiluz… A time comes in one’s life when one must go it alone.” That was as far as he could accompany her. He could not help her anymore, and was forced to stay behind with Dakila who met Hidalgo there. “Hidalgo! I never thought we would see each other again! Huh? You traveled with him?” “Hey, lucky you,” said Gabriel bitterly. “You found a friend while Alwina is out there on her own.” “The prophecy declared that the Sugo must go alone.” “Why don’t you show me that prophecy so I can tear it apart?” Dakila smirked at him and said, “Do you really want to help Alwina? Or is it that you just want to reach Avila?” Aguiluz continued to ply Alwina with questions. “You really don’t remember anything about the Mulawin and the Ravena?” he asked. Now Alwina managed to smile. “Well, there are still rumors of the Ravena advancing in the east and conquering more villages,” she told him. “But so long as they don’t bother us, why should we care about it?” What? Aguiluz could scarcely believe what he heard. She was smiling at him, but there was something very disturbing about this Alwina; something odd. “You don’t care about that at all?” he said. In the next scene he was aware of, Aguiluz was once again running after the little boy. “Stop!” he called. “Please, stay! Why do you run away from me?” The boy stopped and looked up at him. “Because you’re selfish,” he said. “You think only of yourself.” “Me? Selfish?” “You don’t want to make a decision. We’re both lost, neither here nor there because you refuse to decide. I’m a soul that hasn’t been born yet. I can only live if you will make the right choice: the world.” “But why do you leave it to me to decide?” asked Aguiluz. “What about Alwina? Doesn’t she have a right to be happy?” “Others must not pay the price for your happiness,” the boy argued. “And if Alwina were real, how come she has no wings?” This made Aguiluz stop and think. He had almost missed that detail. Where were her wings indeed? Aguiluz sprinted back to the hut where the strange Alwina was and said to her, “You don’t have your wings. Is that why you can’t remember a thing?” “What are you talking about?” asked this Alwina, still wearing that carefree smile. “Alwina, this isn’t you,” he tried to explain. “You must care about the world. You can’t just stand here and ignore what’s happening. There’s disaster coming!” “There’s a disaster coming,” she echoed matter-of-factly. At that, Aguiluz heard the devil’s voice summoning him. He went outside where black clouds enveloped him and transported him back to the Imperio, despite his protests. “What you experienced was only a foretaste of things to come if you choose Alwina,” Belzebuth reminded him. “But now it is time for you to make a decision. If you choose her, I will snatch her from where she is now so you two can live peacefully. Or you can be brought back to life, where there will be no certainty of Alwina either fulfilling her mission or being with you in the end.” The choice now was obvious to the hero. “The Alwina I saw there was not the Alwina I fell in love with,” he said mournfully. “I fell in love with her because she is compassionate, and because she doesn’t shirk from duty. If she will only lose their qualities, then I would rather not be with her.” “Are you sure?” “I surrender my love for Alwina,” said Aguiluz. “I choose the salvation of the world.” Armed with a spear given by the Taguba, Alwina began her trek alone toward the Gate of Avila, that place where men turned to statues. She had gone a considerable distance when her practiced senses warned her of danger. Somebody was following her. “Who goes there?” she called out, wielding her javelin. Glancing about here and there, she yet missed the enemy. A solid kick to her folded wings threw her down forward. Hurt, Alwina turned around on her knees and got a heart-stopping shock. It was Aviona.

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Saturday, December 25, 2004

Upsilon: a Temptation.

Episode for Dec 24, 2004, Friday. “Why do make me choose?” asked Aguiluz. “I have already died. There’s no way for me to get back with Alwina.” “No,” Belzebuth replied. “Everyone here in Hell had to choose. But they made the wrong choice, so they wound up here. Angang refused to let go of her ties to her loved ones. Sakmal clung to the memory of the nine lives he squandered.” “But why do you offer me Alwina?” Aguiluz asked bitterly. “I’m only a soul now. It’s too late for us to be together.” Belzebuth shook his awful head. “That is where you are wrong,” he told the young hero. “I have the power to snatch her away from where she is now, so you two could live happily together. But you need additional knowledge before you can come to the right decision,” he said. “What additional knowledge do you mean?” “Before you can reach the future, you must know your past.” Then Belzebuth showed the Mulawin his past, beginning with his father’s death onward. His whole life passed before him like a reel of film unwinding. Now Belzebuth dared Aguiluz, saying, “Why should you care about the world when it gave you nothing but grief? Choose Alwina and live happily as normal and obscure people!” “I don’t believe you can do that,” Aguiluz said, refusing to be swayed. Then Belzebuth told him, “If you do not believe me, I shall give you a taste of what you will have if you choose Alwina.” He raised his hand, and what seemed like a swirling portal emerged from his open palm. It grew greater and greater in size, enveloping Aguiluz’s whole attention. Calling up all the boldness they could muster, the Perico king and the Scouts headed to town. “What do we do if they find us?” asked the youngsters. “Well,” said Dakdak, “well, damn, do I have to worry about that too?”
Kuwak and Tuka Kuwak and Tuka went in search for Bagwis and the others, asking each other for the way. At the same time, Dakdak and the Scouts were preparing to rescue the other Perico. The two groups happened upon the same spot in the wood and startled one another. Once again, the Ravena were met with skepticism and fear as they sought to express the purity of their purpose. Pagaspas had been skimming the air all night on his own. Just then, he returned and flew straight into his mother’s arms. “It’s Pagaspas!” Dakdak exclaimed. “Good thing you’re here, son!” said Tuka happily. “Tell them we’re telling the truth!” So Gus hooted urgently. Dakdak interpreted his words for Bianca and Procopio. “He says this is his mother and that they can be trusted,” he said. Lourdes was sitting by herself when Bagwis approached. “May I sit beside you?” he asked, and she motioned for him to do so. “Thank you for helping my brother, Habagat,” he said. “If that’s all I can do for him, I’m glad,” she replied. “He has been badly wounded. At first, Wis objected, but she’s so curious about medicine that she’s okay with it now. Bagwis, have you had a chance to see Alwina?” Bagwis looked at her solemnly. “Yes, I have been with her. Lourdes, Alwina has an important mission. If she fulfills it, we will all be saved. You will be proud of her, and I will be proud of her too.” “I have always been proud of her,” Lourdes told him. “And so am I,” he said. “I know Alwina’s true identity now. I am her father.” Lourdes looked into his eyes. So he already knew. “And Vultra…” “… is her mother, I know,” said Bagwis grimly. “Dakila told me everything. But Alwina doesn’t have a clue. What would she feel if she found out that her mortal enemy is her own mother?” “But Vultra wants to kill Alwina!” Lourdes said. “Bagwis, do something. She mustn’t kill her own daughter. I may not be her real mother, but if that happened to Alwina, it would kill me!” Their conversation was interrupted by the appearance of their allies. Dakdak asked for assistance regarding the Perico, while Lourdes looked on suspiciously at Tuka and Kuwak. Bagwis knew what she was thinking. “It’s a long story,” he whispered in her ear, “but they can be trusted.” Behind the thicket, a Ravena sentinel was observing them. Aguiluz stood alone in a plain. It was not in the mountains. He was in the lowland. In the distance, he saw a flock of cattle grazing contentedly. The weather was fair, and everything seemed peaceful. This was not a dream; all of his senses were functioning. Everything was impressed upon them with acute realism. Yet, there was something very odd to it all. Then Alwina was calling for him. “Aguiluz!” she said. He turned to where the voice came from, and saw not Alwina the warrior in her combat gear, but a young and happy Alwina in plain house-clothes. She was standing outside a hut and minding her housework. Seeing her in the flesh once again, Aguiluz ran to her across the field and threw his arms around her. “I thought I’d never see you again,” he said. “What are you talking about?” she asked, puzzled. “You mean, since we saw each other earlier?” “Earlier?” “Yes! Before you left to drive cattle.” She then brought him inside the house and offered him some desert. Aguiluz watched her with disbelieving eyes. It was all so unreal, and yet he was there. “How long have we been here?” he asked. Alwina was thoughtful. “You know… I don’t remember,” she answered. “All I know is, we’ve always been like this.” He followed her outside where she was hanging clothes in the sun. “But don’t you miss our old friends, like Dakila and Bagwis?” he asked again. “Aguiluz, what’s happening to you?” she said. “Are you inventing names? We don’t know anyone with those names!” The hero frowned. She did not seem to remember anything about their former life. But he could. And as Aguiluz contemplated this mystery, he noticed a little boy standing beside him. The child stared at him with forlorn eyes. “Who are you?” asked Aguiluz. “Do you want some corn?” The boy ignored his offer. “I’m a lost soul,” he replied. “I don’t know where I’m going anymore.” Then he fled and Aguiluz ran after him. But the child disappeared. He told Alwina what he had seen, but she was as clueless about it as with everything else he had mentioned to her. Christmas Eve silently gave way to Christmas Day. While the rest of the population slept a troubled slumber at the holiest hour, Lourdes suddenly remembered the occasion. She was alone with little Wis in the forest. “We’ve been having so many problems that I forgot it’s Jesus’ birthday,” the woman said. “I wonder how Alwina is doing. I wish she’ll be happy this Christmas.” The child gave her a puzzled look. “What’s Christmas, Nanay Lourdes?” she asked. “Please tell me about it. Bird-men don’t have Christmas.” Indeed, the Mulawin still held the traditional beliefs of pagan natives in the archipelago, and God was still invoked by the name of Bathala among them. Dakila found Alwina by herself that night. “I’m just wishing on a star that I can complete my mission,” she said. “What star?” So she pointed it out to him. “No, that is not a star,” he told her. “That is the light coming from Avila. We will be there soon.” Alwina smiled. “Dakila, will you please tell me about Avila?” Bagwis and the bird-men were now gathered with Lourdes and the rebels. The latter solidly opposed her proposal to include the bird-men in their organization. “What, do you think we’re that stupid?” Rudy asked. “We may be stupid all right, but are we going to fall for that too? Don’t let those bird-men fool you, Lourdes!” She pleaded with them to listen to Bagwis, but it was in vain. Their argument was turning into a furious shouting match. All of a sudden, an array of red-feathered fiends was in the sky, firing away at them. The crowd fled in a panic as the Ravena sprayed them with bullets. Rudy was almost killed, but Bagwis defended him, then bade him lead the people to safety. Now, Procopio hurled a stone at a Ravena soldier, who then threw a punch across the lad’s face, and sank a blade into his abdomen. Bianca screamed as she watched her brother crumple on the grass, dying. The fragment from the Hiyas was not powerful enough to neutralize the blow. As if its power had left him, Procopio now transformed into the grown man that he really was. Bianca removed her own necklace and gave it to him, hoping that it would add to his failing strength if she did so. But it had no effect, and her own false youth left her. Dakdak saw them thus and rushed toward Bianca. “Why did you take off your necklace?” he cried. “Because I don’t want to live without my brother,” she told him weakly as her head fell back like a broken flower. The king cradled her in his arms and wept. “Don’t worry, Bianca,” he said. “You will live again when you reach the end of the rainbow, that place where the Perico go after death. There you will never grow old again!” Gabriel was alone once again in that familiar wood, facing the dark man. But this time, he could make out the stranger’s features more clearly. He had piercing round eyes, black streaks across his face, and red and black feathers. This was most certainly a Ravena; it could be no other. “When do you wish to go to Avila?’ asked Ravenum. The young man shook his head. “What do you want from me? You’re a Ravena!” Ravenum smiled faintly and raised his blackened hand as if to show him something. “Just make sure you reach Avila,” he replied, “then everything will be made plain to you… Sugo.” Gabriel woke from this recurring nightmare to see Estrella beside him. “I can’t sleep,” he told her. “I can’t sleep either while thinking of you,” she said sadly. He was perhaps the first man she had encountered for as long as she could recall since she was a girl. But Estrella was not afraid to come near him. She put her arms around Gabriel like a child seeking comfort. Gabriel reciprocated the gesture, still thinking on his dream and the mysterious personage summoning him. Bagwis turned to his wounded brother to put him out of harm’s way. Rasmus’ imposing figure turned up in their path. The Ravena king smelled blood. Here were the two main causes of his woes. With one he had competed for military supremacy; the other was his long-standing rival for the love of a woman. “The two biggest thorns in my chest,” he said to them. “It looks like I can pluck you out at the same time.” “Damn you, Rasmus,” Habagat said. “You’re the reason why this happened to me.” Rasmus smirked, saying, “That happened through your own fault, Habagat. It proves that your outward form is the same as the inner.” “You talk too much Rasmus,” Bagwis said, daring him to fight. Then the old rivals squared off and clashed arms. A fierce contest ensued, and neither seemed to have an edge over the other. Tuka and Kuwak were watching all the combat and debated whether to do something or not. Rasmus struck one more time upon Bagwis’ right hand, and the latter’s weapon came away. Then Rasmus let out a battle-cry and raised his arm to slay his rival.

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The Lord of the Damned.

Episode for Dec 23, 2004, Thursday. Nothing but ashes remained of Aguiluz’s funeral pile. The Mulawin had long since deserted that place and moved on. But a lonely figure kept vigil, mourning for him still. Her shadow fell upon the debris as she spoke: “How could they do this to you, Aguiluz? Do not worry. I will take care of you.” When the Ravena arrived at the scene, only Rudy and the other workers were there. The soldiers rounded them up and all was quiet once again. The citizens did not retire, however, but instead sought out Lourdes to inform her of what had happened. One could imagine their surprise when they found Bagwis and a wounded Habagat beside their new leader. “Hey, it’s them!” the people shouted. Bagwis unfolded his wings as if to intimidate them. “I’m ready to defend my brother,” he declared. Lourdes attempted to mediate between the two parties. “Don’t hurt them,” she pleaded. “It’s not our way to hurt a defenseless man. If we do that, then we’ll be just like the Ravena. Besides, the Ravena are our enemies, not one another!” “Have you also been fooled by those bird-men?” asked a furious Rudy. The woman turned to him and said sharply, “You put me in charge here because you think I’m sane enough. Now I will tell you without hesitation, Bagwis has had much experience fighting the Ravena. And most of all, I know he has a good heart.” It was her first command as their leader, but it was one they could not obey. The crowd led by Rudy chanted death for the Mulawin and his brother. They went on until Lawiswis appeared from nowhere, and came running into Lourdes’ arms. They had not seen each other since Alwina was thrown off that cliff by the angry townspeople. The woman joyfully picked up the child in her arms and asked how she was. “What are you doing here? Where’s Gus?” she asked. Then she rebuked the others: “Now a child is with us. I hope she serves as a reminder of what we are really fighting for, and stop quarreling among ourselves.” In Encantadia, Muyak came home satisfied to report that her mission had been accomplished. It had been no small task, as she told her friends. “Since the Ravena have no diplomatic ties with us Encantado, there is no portal in Halconia for us,” she said. She then turned to Linang who was holding a sable plume. It was Habagat’s ugatpak which Muyak had removed while he slept in his cell in Halconia. “Thank you,” said the queen. “This will help a lot.” “My pleasure to do your bidding,” replied the fairy. But do you think it will work as you hope? That ugatpak was taken from Habagat when he was already a Ravena.” “This comes from within him,” Linang argued. “I still believe that deep within Habagat, there is still some goodness left.” Habagat was now safe with Bagwis. “Thank you for saving my life,” he said. “I only did what I had to do,” Bagwis replied, stroking his head. “You’re my brother.” Habagat then asked forgiveness, but the older brother would hear none of it. “Let’s not talk about that now. What matters is that you recover first.” Savannah was back to cut-throat mode. Yolly wanted to leave Tierra Fuego with her. But the girl made it plain she was staying in the fray. “This isn’t a casino where you can quit when you’re bankrupt,” she snapped. “We have to kill Alwina. She mustn’t take my place beside Vultra.” Elsewhere, in the basement of his own mansion where Lucio was captive, the mood had turned very also. “I’m not going to die here!” Lucio told the Perico. “I’ll find a way out of here, and when I do, I won’t take you with me! I won’t help you!” Now, Procopio and Bianca retreated back to the forest and met with Dakdak. “Oh, thank God, you’re safe!” he exclaimed. “I thought you guys got caught!” “Not us,” said Procopio. “Ngasngas and Gadgad were captured by the Ravena.” “Oh, great!” Dakdak whined. “I haven’t even kept my promise to Dakila yet that I’d rescue Aviona. Now I have to worry about those two also?” The king’s heart drummed within him. The Perico were a fun-loving and innocent race. From their brightly painted feathers to their very brains, there was nothing in them that was designed for use in combat. Dakdak was clueless as to how to proceed and he was panicking. “Oh, I know,” said Procopio as Dakdak fretted about. “We’ll just go there at night when the guards are sleeping. Surely, you bird-men sleep at night too?” “Oh, I know!” Dakdak mimicked. “We’ll just go there at night when the guards are sleeping. Surely, you bird-men sleep at night too?” Upon hearing of Kuwak and Tuka’s reappearance, their queen sent for them. When they came to the meeting place, she greeted them in her customary manner. “How nice of you to accept my invitation,” she told them. “You didn’t even notify me of your return.” The two made excuses. “Sorry, Your Majesty,” they said. “We’re just eager to get back to work, you know.” “You were with the Mulawin for several days,” she said. “What did you learn about their plans? Where are they going?” But they denied any knowledge, perhaps over hastily. “Sorry, ma’am,” they said in chorus, “we didn’t notice anything.” Vultra continued to interrogate them, but they heaped denials upon her and yielded nothing useful. “I suppose,” she sighed at last. “You can’t even do what I tell you. Much less follow somebody else’s plans.” Thus frustrated, she terminated the interview and dismissed them. The duo congratulated themselves for what they deemed was a decent performance. But the queen knew better, and bade a soldier keep an eye on them. The Mulawin were traveling that night with Alwina and Dakila in the lead. They were nearing Avila now and looking forward to it, when Alwina stopped dead in her tracks. “I think we’re being followed,” she said. At this Gabriel likewise paused. His senses were as keen as hers, and his eyes discerned motion in the foliage. “I see somebody!” he exclaimed. “But they’re too fast!” Before the group could prepare in defense, Taguba warriors sprang from the thickets and surrounded them. They held the stunned Mulawin at bay with their spears until they recognized Gabriel. Estrella cried out his name and threw herself into his arms, much to Alwina’s bemusement. Maningning also recognized him. “Have you found answers for us about the disappearance of our men-folk?” she asked. “Better,” said Gabriel. “I’ve found the woman who can help you. This is Alwina. She gave me the green binhi.” Anger clouded Dakila’s eyes. “Did you bring us here to peddle Alwina?” he fumed. “Dakila, remember it was all an accident,” Gabriel retorted. “You and Alwina were in the lead. It just happened that we ran into the Taguba.” “Don’t worry, Dakila,” Alwina said. “This isn’t a diversion. I don’t mind if I can be of service to the Taguba.” Rasmus had just returned from Avila. He sought his wife and found her in one of the rooms of their mansion. She was quiet as usual. “My queen seems to be deep in thought,” he remarked. “Are you done sucking up to your father?” she asked. “What kind of a greeting is that?” “It just seems to me that some kind of trouble is waiting to happen here in Tierra Fuego. And what did you do about it? You left me here alone to go kiss the feet of your father.” Rasmus crossed his arms over his chest. It seemed that she really had the talent to insult him at the slightest opportunity. “Shall we have an exchange of words then?” he said. “All right. I will play along with you. Who was it who passed up the chance to kill the Sugo?” Reading the guilty look in her eyes, Rasmus smirked and left. He went outside where a Hunyango made its presence felt. “Speak if you wish to say something,” said the king. “My time is not to be wasted.” Hearing its report, he sent for Vultra and told her, “You were right. There are traitors in the ranks stationed here. Hunyango saw them fighting… on the side of Bagwis.” Vultra’s round eyes lit up. “You mean Kuwak and Tuka?” Maningning and the Taguba listened intently to the Mulawin’s story. “What will happen once Alwina reaches the tree?” she asked. “No one knows,” Dakila told her. “In the last century, it bore the green binhi.” “Then you cannot be sure of any of this. How can you promise that you can help us?” Gabriel spoke thus: “Certainty must have its limits. When I searched for Alwina, I was sure I would find her. But I don’t know what happens now. Where there can be no certainty, faith must prevail.” Estrella listened, admiring both him and Alwina, whom she had been curious about. “It’s an honor to meet you,” she told Alwina later when she offered her some food. “Now I’ve met the woman Gabriel admires. What am I compared to you, after all.” Alwina smiled kindly at her. “Are you in love with him?” There was no need for a verbal response. “Yes, you are,” concluded the Mulawin with a smile. “Well, I want Gabriel to find a girl who will give him what is his due. And if you’re the right girl for him, I won’t stand in your way.” “You cannot escape from here!” said the demon to Aguiluz in an unearthly tone. Then it lashed out its tail which had a flaming tip at him. Aguiluz fought with his bare hands, but seeing that further attempts at overcoming this being would be futile, he turned to run amidst the pillars and stalagmites. Believing that he had overtaken the enemy by a wide margin, he congratulated himself. “I think I’ve escaped,” he muttered. But the temperature had plunged drastically. A biting cold replaced the prickly heat. Soon, Aguiluz was shivering; his teeth and nose hurt, and his skin roughened with goose bumps. Snowflakes rained, and the environment was suffused with an icy blue color. He had reached a place where Hell had frozen over. There was nowhere to turn now but whence he had come; he could withstand the heat, but not the freezing chill. So defeated, Aguiluz retraced his steps to where the demon was waiting for him, expecting his return. “I give up,” Aguiluz told him. “I will go with you now. Take me to the hell waiting for me.” Thus the youthful hero followed his evil guide. The demon led him to his master, who, as Aguiluz now saw, was more fearsome in appearance than his servant. He had a face like a beast’s, and thick horns that curved tightly like a goat’s or a ram’s. “Pay homage,” said the guide, gesturing toward that entity. Aguiluz said to the master, “Who are you? Why am I here?” The demon conjured a ball in his right hand, in which Aguiluz beheld the lady he loved, and in his left hand another ball with a vision of the world. “I am Belzebuth,” the being replied. “I am the supreme demon of this realm. You were brought here to choose. Choose between Alwina and world-peace.”

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Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Inferno.

Episode for Dec 22, 2004, Wednesday. Summoning all his courage to his aid, Aguiluz stepped forward and entered the cave. As soon as he was inside, the atmosphere changed. Here in the cavern it was scorching hot, and the air was alive with the crackling sound of fire and the plaintive cries of tortured souls. He was now in the Imperio as the boatman had told him. So this was where it all led up to. Everything he had ever done in his life, all the hard toil and the sacrifice, had brought him here for some reason. Aguiluz felt as if he were on the brink of a second death, a death far worse than the first for in this instance, he really could not die anymore. His soul still existed, and here in Hell souls are perpetually dying, but never quite dead. But the hero clung to hope. Aguiluz closed his eyes and prayed, “Merciful God, if it is Your will that I endure this hell, I will do so. And for as long as I must, until I finally come to You and find rest in Your bosom.” Then as one resigned to his fate, he opened his eyes and proceeded cautiously. Chilling moans and screams would arrest his advance now and then, for here even the brave know fear. Aguiluz had not gone far when he spotted Angang the Perico, who had died in battle against the Ravena in the siege of Hayuhay. Angang was being tortured by arrows that perennially fired at her from afar. “Angang!” he cried. “What are you doing here?” “I am here in my own hell, Aguiluz,” she said amidst a ceaseless flow of tears. “I’m tortured by my own emotions and concerns, for our friends, for my old home, for Aviona and everyone else. Now here my feelings shoot at me like arrows breaking my heart.” “This is wrong!” said Aguiluz. “You were good to everyone! You were so good to me and to Aviona!” “There’s nothing you can do about it,” said the Perico. “Now please go away and save yourself, Aguiluz. Hide from him because if he finds you, he will take you to your own hell!” Hardly had she finished speaking when another arrow darted through the air into her chest. Angang groaned in pain and exhorted the Mulawin once more to escape. Aguiluz hesitated, unwilling to leave one who suffered so, but in the end he forced his legs to flee. The citizens gazed in awe at the unconscious man lying on the grass. How did the bird-man lose his feathers? Rudy refused to take any chances. “Maybe he has been punished,” he said. “But we must avoid him or they might even think we killed him.” So the consensus was to dump the body in a stream, and there they left Habagat for dead. But Habagat was still alive; the great fall had merely exhausted him. By next day, he was fully conscious and still had his wits about him. Habagat inspected the area and concluded that he was still in Tierra Fuego. With nowhere else to go, he lowered his head to hide his face and wended his way through the town. The Perico went a step further in their search for Aviona: they entered the Montenegro mansion. But their colorful plumage speedily betrayed them to patrolling Ravena guards who brought them to Vultra. She had her own worries so they hauled them off to the same cell Lucio was detained in. Lucio asked them who and what they were, and why they were in Tierra Fuego. The Perico only admitted that they were looking for a friend. In the course of their chat, the bird-men mentioned Gabriel whom they blamed. Lucio was startled. “Gabriel? You know him? What does this Gabriel look like?” So they told him. “Fair-skinned, of medium height.” “Handsome too.” A ray of hope shone through for Lucio. “That’s him, all right! But why do you say he betrayed you? My son is not like that!” “Well,” said the Perico, irritated, “we’re telling you, that was what he did!” Lucio was indignant. “My son is not a traitor!” he told them, nudging Gadgad angrily. “Take back what you said or I’ll roast you like a chicken1” Cunning as she was, or thought she was, Vultra was yet the most deceived character in this story. Who was she going to trust? Some inner hunch imploring her not to harm Alwina, or her own daughter in front of her? “I know you’re upset with me for not killing Alwina,” she told Savannah. “And I shouldn’t expect you to look into a matter that I ought to see clearly for myself.” “That’s the point,” said the petulant girl. “Why didn’t you do it?” “Let us not dwell on wasted opportunities,” replied the queen. “If Alwina tries to harm you, it is my duty as your mother to defend you. But you must help us. The eyes Perena gave me ran out a long time ago. Use your power to locate Alwina for us.” Perena’s absence was indeed sorely felt by the Ravena leaders. “Aren’t you worried,” Rasmus asked Ravenum, “that Alwina might come to Avila when you’re not here? What if she overcomes all the obstacles in her path and reaches the Mulawin tree?” Ravenum answered, “I admit that it would be easier if Perena had not left us. We would be able to monitor their every move. But we still have an ace left, a weapon we can use against them at the proper time.” His laughter echoed in the broad spaces of Avila’s peak. Rasmus smiled along. Dakila stroked Mayi gently on the head and sent her on the way to survey the land. When he turned around, Gabriel was there. Dakila’s heart almost gave way to the shock. He knew that it was a different Gabriel before him. He turned to the other side and saw a perfect clone of the same person. But his eyes were burning like coals and spelled death. “I knew it!” cried Dakila. Alwina now was repentant for her recent conduct. “I didn’t even to get to say sorry to her before she left for the way I treated her,” she told Gabriel. “Even when Aguiluz died, he and I weren’t on good terms. I’ve lost so much now. I just hope you never get tired of me.” Gabriel, of course, vowed never to tire of helping her. They came upon Dakila moaning in his sleep. Alwina jumped on him and rocked him awake. Dakila woke in shock. “Thank God you woke me up,” said the old bird-man, looking quite shaken. Alwina then apologized to him for their previous argument. “So, what was your dream about? Maybe I can help.” Gabriel was right beside them. “Oh, nothing,” Dakila answered. Tuka and Kuwak’s first assignment on the side of the Mulawin was to spy for Bagwis in the town. They returned with the owl Pagaspas under the pretext of having escaped. Takam and other soldiers welcomed them back. “Say, Takam,” began Tuka, “has Queen Vultra mentioned us by any chance? Is she asking about us?” “Huh?!” Takam laughed scornfully. “Nab. Queen Vultra wouldn’t waste her time on you two, you know.” Then the soldiers noticed the bird she held. “Hey, isn’t that an owl?” they said. “Mmm, yummy! Looks good to eat!” “NO!” Tuka almost shrieked, clasping her son tightly. “Oh, I mean… this is a present for Queen Vultra! So it’s not for you!” Kuwak grinned nervously. “Yeah! Let’s change topic!” he said. “So what’s the latest happening out here in Tierra Fuego?” Takam and the others then recounted to them the rumors about a rebel movement, and the explosions. So the Ravena duo went to investigate for themselves. They tried to solicit information about Lourdes, but the girls they met professed ignorance. They insisted, however, that the owl Tuka held was Alwina’s pet. “Why, all owls look alike!” said Kuwak and Tuka defensively. Later that night, they reported to Bagwis what little they knew. “I know Lourdes to be a bold-hearted woman,” he told them. “She would go even to Halconia. It’s not far-fetched for her to join such an organization.” Then Bagwis noticed people nearby, and bade the others hide themselves. Lourdes and the girls were in hiding when someone called out to her. “Lourdes!” Her heart leaped with joy and surprise at that voice. Lourdes turned around and could scarcely credit her own eyes. Bagwis was standing there a few meters away from them. “Don’t be scared of him,” she told her companions. “He’s a friend.” She rushed into his arms, saying, “I thought you’d never come back!” Habagat did his best to be innocuous as he walked along, but the men easily recognized him. “See?” they said to one another. “Isn’t that the Ravena we saw last night? Let’s kill him!” They started off in hot pursuit; Habagat swiftly turned in the other direction and fled. All thought of suicide was forgotten or else, he did not want to die at the hands of the lowlanders whom he had persecuted. Soon all the workers in that area were chasing after Habagat like hunting dogs after a wild stag. The noises reached Bagwis and Lourdes. “There’s a commotion going on,” she said. Bagwis scanned the area with his far-reaching eyes and zoomed in on a lowlander being mobbed by the population. He was a comely youth, wearing a dark red shirt, with raven-black hair tossed over his forehead. It was a far cry from the bird-man he had been, but for Bagwis there was no mistaking his little brother. “It’s Habagat!” he said. “He became a man?” The townspeople had outstripped Habagat and were about to kill him. “You’re a spy!” said Rudy. “They brought you here to pass off as one of us!” Hearing the clamor for his death, Habagat’s lips curved into a smile that was only too familiar to Bagwis. “You’re no different from the Ravena,” he told those men. “You have no pity.” Then Habagat turned on his captors and stunned them with a hail of punches. He darted off once again, but the furious mob pelted him with stones. Bagwis watched in horror as his brother collapsed bleeding on the ground. Ignoring Lourdes’ cries, he propelled himself through the air to where his brother lay and carried him off. Rudy and the others cursed the human eagle as he left. Still in the walls of the Imperio, Aguiluz was attacked by what seemed like a ravenous beast. He ducked and saw that it was Sakmal. “I ate to live,” snarled the cat-man. “I spent my nine lives stuffing myself up! I gave no thought to anything else! Now here I am!” “That’s not true!” Aguiluz told him. “You loved your child, Kuskos.” At that Sakmal paused, as if remembering something of his old life. He acknowledged the memory, but then he said, “Go away. You’re useless to me!” So Aguiluz moved on again, wondering about it all. Why were his friends here? What wrongs had they done to merit such punishment? And who was Angang talking about when she said, Hide yourself from him because if he finds you, he will take you to your own hell? As he pondered these matters, Aguiluz heard the beating of wings overhead. To his acquainted ear, it was not the wings of a Mulawin or Ravena or Perico. It was different. Carefully, he turned around and raised his eyes. His soul almost melted away in dismay at the sight. A great and terrible figure, with huge bat-wings and the rotting face of death, was looking down at him. It seemed every inch to belong to this infernal region. Or was it that this place belonged to it?

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The Living and the Damned.

Episode for Dec 21, 2004, Tuesday. In Halconia, sentries ushered Habagat behind bars. It was clear from their manners that he had lost all authority over them. “Sorry, Habagat,” they said. “Ravenum’s orders.” “You shouldn’t have stopped me,” he said to them. “I want to die. What could Ravenum want from me now? I’m useless to him.” “Who says he’s going to use you? Maybe he has other plans for you.” A tiny creature like a firefly buzzed inaudibly through the dusky passageways. It was Muyak whom Linang had dispatched to the Ravena’s lair. She entered Habagat’s cell where she found him slumped in a corner, asleep. “This place is really scary,” she said to herself. “I hope to make it on time. God help me!” Ravenum had sent a messenger to fetch his son. On their way to Avila, Rasmus asked him, “Why has Ravenum sent for me? Do you know anything?” “I’m not sure, sir,” was the reply. “I think there’s news about Kuwak and Tuka.” Rasmus found that ridiculous. “You’re telling me this is just about Kuwak and Tuka?” “Err… I’m not sure, Your Majesty,” the soldier said. Alwina and Gabriel were conversing amiably when Dakila came between them. He had something to tell her, he said. “Gabriel must leave us,” he said. “He must not come with us to the Mulawin tree.” Now Alwina was surprised. “Yeah, I don’t know why he hates me so much,” Gabriel said. “I cannot trust him,” Dakila told her. Then Alwina replied, “You must give some explanation for this, Dakila. I’ve known him since I was a child. If there’s anyone here I trust with my life, it’s Gabriel. “When you asked me to trust in Tuka and Kuwak, it was hard for me to do so. But I did because you asked. Now I ask you to trust in Gabriel for my sake.” It was a good argument, and the elder Mulawin had no rebuttal. All he could say, after all, was that he could see the blood in Gabriel’s veins and he did not like it. Gabriel later thanked Alwina for standing up for him. Savannah entered the master’s bedroom in the Montenegro mansion; her queen-mother had summoned her. “Do you have a problem?” she asked. “Why don’t you share it with me as a mother and daughter should?” Vultra turned slowly about, as was her way. “You’re right, Savannah,” she replied. “Since you are psychic, I need your insight.” Not again, the girl thought. “About what?” “Find out for me why I couldn’t bring myself to kill Alwina when we faced each other.” Anger distorted Savannah’s features, and she shouted, “You mean you ran into Alwina! Why the hell didn’t you kill her then?” “Since when did you learn to raise your voice at me?” replied the offended queen. “I asked you that because of your power, and I thought you could help me. Now, if you have no useful information to give me, then get out of my sight!” Savannah did so for the meantime, and consulted with her real mother. Yolly advised her to make something up. “I suppose,” said the girl. “That’s what I’m good at, anyway.” The Ravena queen was still in her chamber when Savannah burst into the room once again, this time in tears. “What’s wrong?” she asked, concerned. “I had a premonition!” cried Savannah. “I was shown that if you don’t kill Alwina, she will take my place! I was also shown that it is she who will try to kill me! No! I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!” Vultra’s face remained impassive. She stroked the girl gently. “Don’t cry,” she told her. The queen did not show it, but deep inside, she was sorely troubled. Bagwis’ team flew at full speed toward Tierra Fuego: he alone, Gus as an owl beside Tuka, and Wis in Kuwak’s arms (for some reason, she could not turn into a bird). When they alighted, three Hunyango spies were waiting in ambush for them. Setting aside their invisibility, they sprang forth from the bushes and attacked the intruders. Bagwis ordered the others to stand back while he fought them alone. “I can understand them,” he said to Tuka and Kuwak. “They were sent to look for you.” He hurled a mighty kick at the first of the three Hunyango, then another at the second, and one more at the third. Bagwis seized them and brought them all down single-handedly in a matter of minutes. When they had fallen, Bagwis led his companions to the wired fence surrounding Tierra Fuego. It did not occur to him that, since he had not slain the Hunyango, they could report back to their Ravena masters what they had witnessed. “We’re here,” said the Ravena. Bagwis observed his surroundings. He saw Ravena soldiers beating and harassing unarmed civilians with axes and other weapons he was not familiar with. “There is no hope for these people,” he exclaimed. “How could you have done such a thing?” “We regret what we did,” Kuwak told him. Meanwhile, Lourdes, the woman they had come for, was talking with her fellow rebels in hushed whispers. “I’m sure it’s Yolly,” Rudy told them. Someone told him, “Don’t say that unless you can prove it.” “Where do you think that cunning Savannah gets her attitude?” he replied. “Haven’t you noticed? Yolly is always missing? Now she’s here, now she isn’t. That means only one thing: She repots to her daughter.” “Well, the Ravena wouldn’t have known of our plans if Aling Yolly hadn’t told them about it,” a girl said. When he had set foot on Avila’s lofty peak, the facts became plain to Rasmus. It was quite unexpected. There was Habagat brought down to his knees before mighty Ravenum. “This is a surprise, Habagat,” commented Rasmus with a malevolent smile. “It turns out, you’re good only in the beginning.” “You are very stubborn Habagat,” Ravenum told him. “I made you a Ravena! I even made you commander of my Army!” “I tried what I could,” the former Mulawin answered. “I tried to forget what I did—” “But I can’t forget my son,” Rasmus finished for him. “You keep harping on the same thing!” Habagat was not the least perturbed by the notion of punishment. Indeed, he yearned for it now as an escape from the life he wished to quit. But he was foolish enough to make this desire known. “I’m tired, Ravenum,” he said. “Finish me off! Kill me now!” And Ravenum answered, “No. You will not die. That is not what I have in mind for you.” “Let me die!” Habagat insisted. “Don’t spare me!” “Do not think I am doing you a favor by sparing your life,” the spirit told him. “Death would be an easy way out for you. Instead, you will suffer the ultimate penalty for those who disobey Ravenum!” Then he spoke to his son, “Give him the red binhi, Rasmus.” Rasmus held out his palm; a sparkling ruby-colored seed was in it. Habagat’s eyes widened. “Red binhi?” Ravenum cackled with glee. “Yes, Habagat. You will drink a red binhi.” A just punishment, was it not, for someone like him? As the seed was forced down his throat, Habagat’s mind recalled his many sins, how grievous, how dishonorable. His first thought was of young Aguiluz, to whom he had given the red binhi so that he could lose his wings. He remembered when he imprisoned Dakila and took over Avila from within. He remembered the siege of Tierra Fuego. And, lastly, he recalled that fateful encounter with Mulagat. A searing pain burned him within and without, as the binhi purged away all his powers as a bird-man. This was true damnation for all winged men, to be stripped of his feathers and banished to the lowlands as a mere mortal. As Habagat was cast down, Rasmus called after him as one victorious over his rival. “Farewell, Habagat” he said. “You were useful to us for a while, but now you are inutile. Now you will pray that you had died!” In Tierra Fuego, the workers called one another’s attention to a distant object falling from the sky. As it neared land, they made out the contours of a bird-man, a Ravena. But he appeared to be shedding his feathers which were scattered in the wind. Habagat hit like a missile, and the peopled rushed to investigate. When the boat he was in reached the shore, Aguiluz got off and the ferryman said to him, “You cannot escape from the Imperio. Beyond that cave is the place of punishment for beings such as you.” So he was in Hell! “No!” Aguiluz said. “Why am I here? What have I done?” “It is not for me to make a list of your shortcomings,” said the boatman. “My duty is only to bring you here.” He left Aguiluz there still calling after him. Then the Mulawin turned to see what lay before him. There was a cave there. Its rocky surface seemed to be animated with the shapes and faces of the damned souls trapped within. He could already hear their faint cries echoing from inside the cave. Aguiluz looked about; he was in the dark wood of error where the sun never shone. He was on the threshold of hell itself. But Aguiluz could not accept this. “All my life I strove to live honorably,” he reasoned, “and now I’m here?” He attempted to escape by dashing into the opposite direction, but after a few minutes, he found himself before the cave again. “I got lost,” he said to himself, and ran bolted once more. Soon, however, he was back in the very same spot. Weary from his sprint, Aguiluz debated within himself over what to do. “If it is my fate to go to Hell, so be it,” he said aloud. “Better move forward than go in circles here.”

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Memories. (Flashback VII)

Episode for Dec 20, 2004, Monday. News of Lucio Montenegro’s capture spread like wildfire. “Is it true? Sir Lucio was caught by the Ravena?” the rebels said to one another. “Yes, and we must pray for him to be strong,” Lourdes told them. “I’m sure they will try to make him name his accomplices.” “Ah, whatever,” said Rudy. “I just know in my guts, one of us is a traitor.” Yolly was close beside him. “But who will lead us now?” asked the people. All eyes fell on one person. “Wait a minute,” said Lourdes. “Why are you all looking at me?” There arose a clamor for the witch-doctor to assume leadership. Rudy stepped forward. “You’re a brave woman, Lourdes, and we respect you,” he said. “We think you’ll make a good leader in Sir Lucio’s place.” “I learned about it from Lourdes when we met,” Dakila went on. “Rasmus had told her everything.” “Veronica and Vultra are one and the same,” Bagwis repeated as if to convince himself. “She’s a Ravena, our mortal enemy. And she has no idea that the Mulawin she has been hunting down all this time is our own daughter.” “Be grateful that, at least, you have your daughter with you now, alive and safe,” said Dakila. Bagwis assured him that he was, and after some deliberation, declared that he would make himself known to his daughter. “I will tell her the truth,” he told Dakila. “I am sorry, Bagwis, but you must not do that,” was the sage’s reply. “As soon as you tell her that you are her father, she will ask you about her mother. Imagine what her reaction would be if she found out that her mother is the Ravena queen. It will only distract her in her quest. I feel this is not yet the right time to tell her.” Discerning the soundness of this advice, Bagwis reconsidered. “You’re right, Dakila. It just hurts to have my daughter in front of me and not be able to make myself known to her.” Alwina, meanwhile, was still in an unpleasant mood. Unable to display weakness as the group’s leader, she vented her emotions through anger instead. She had become quite irritable, and even Lawiswis was not spared. “Just excuse her,” Gabriel said. “She’s still hurting over Aguiluz’s death, you know.” “You’re still jealous of him. Gabriel, he’s already dead.” The young man squatted beside the girl and explained, “It’s not that I’m jealous. But when Aguiluz died, it became clear to me that he’s the one she really loves. And now that he’s gone, I don’t know if it’s possible for Alwina to open up her heart for me again.” The Scouts hurried through the woods and were soon reunited with the Perico. “Have you seen Aviona?” asked the Scouts, but the reply was in the negative. “I guess this means she’s gone,” Bianca remarked sadly. “Say, isn’t Lourdes the name of Alwina’s mom?” said Procopio. “Yes, that’s the name she shouted at the bridge,” replied Dakdak. “She’s here!” the Scouts said. Habagat carried on his sorry monologue as usual, but this time, with a pistol in his hand. “I’m so tired of this,” he told himself. “I’m tired of taking orders from someone else. I’m tired of giving orders to kill people for no reason. My own life has become useless. What am I? A Mulawin that became a Ravena. A father that killed his own son. No one could be worse than what I am.” He raised the revolver to his temple; it should end right here and now. Linang screamed at him to stop: “No! Habagat, what are you doing?” she cried. But fate had not willed Habagat to die that hour. Sentinels led by Hasik came to arrest him as Ravenum had ordered. “Come with us, hurry!” they said rudely as they surrounded him. “Don’t stop me!” Habagat yelled at them. “I want to die! Hasik, you? What’s going on? Are you arresting me?” Muyak and Linang were likewise surprised. “What’s happening?” they asked each other. “Where are they taking him?” Both Lourdes and Bagwis could still recall the past, not vaguely like old photographs faded by time, but clearly and vividly as if it all happened yesterday. But although they were now reminiscing about the same events, each viewed it from a different perspective. For Bagwis, it brought back fond memories of a true love he had never quite forgotten. But to Lourdes’ mind, it recalled the pains of an unrequited love. She had been first to meet this strange being in the woods. Lourdes had come upon him sleeping on the forest-floor. Upon seeing her, Bagwis hesitated, wary of humans as all wild creatures are. But Lourdes spoke to him kindly. “You don’t look like an evil man,” she said. “Well, I mean, a bird-man.” Indeed, his appearance was awe-inspiring, but not frightening. He had wings like an angel’s; a heavy white and yellow plumage overlaid his head and broad shoulders; and he wore a splendid armor such as ancient warriors wore. Lourdes marveled at the sight, and very soon whispered to her best friend about it. Naturally, Veronica was skeptical. “What Mulawin are you talking about?” she asked. “You know those are just stories.” But there he was standing before them, a comic-book fantasy figure come to life. He smiled at the fair Veronica and it was love at first sigh between them. For someone with vision as keen as that, it should say a lot. One day, the two young women met, and Lourdes was carrying flowers. “Bagwis wants to meet with me,” she said happily. “He has something important to say to me.” She met the bird-man that day, hopeful for she was secretly in love with him. The triumphant look in his eyes, the glow on his face, and his self-assurance, all suggested he had found the Holy Grail. “It is unlawful for us Mulawin to fall in love with a lowlander,” he told her. “But I will break all rules, and risk all dangers, for the woman I love. Yes, Lourdes. I am in love with a woman. I am in love with your friend, Veronica.” Lourdes was crestfallen, but Bagwis’ distracted senses seemed to have missed that. He saw only Veronica in his mind’s eye, and the prospect of this new romance blinded him to everything else. Deep inside, Lourdes’ heart withered like a flower during a storm. But for the sake of her friends, she never showed it. “I’m happy for you,” she told Veronica later on. As a symbol of his loyal friendship, Bagwis gave Lourdes a plume from himself. “That is a token of our friendship,” he told her. “Keep it. If you need me, I will be there for you.” But it was to Veronica that he gave his love. “Now, since you’re friends, you know her best,” said Bagwis. “Tell me what she likes, tell me what makes her happy.” So Lourdes recounted to him, as well as she could, their childhood dreams. And they dreamed as normal girls do: for a handsome hero to come one day and sweep them away, a princely figure who would dance with them and swear undying love to them. Bagwis wanted to make all her dreams come true for Veronica, and for a while, he did. He showed her the rainbow as a reminder of their love and happiness. “Whenever you feel down or sad, look at it and remember that I love you,” he said to her. But their joy was short-lived. The last time he ever saw the Veronica he knew, she was standing on the brink of a precipice. Behind her was that loathsome fiend, Rasmus, who pushed her down into the ravine and killed her… or so Bagwis and Lourdes had believed. Lourdes still loved Bagwis; Bagwis, to that very day, still loved Veronica. Lucio was hung on the ceiling by his wrists as the Ravena soldiers flogged him. In that same house where he had once been master, and maltreated his subjects, Lucio now suffered the same torments. He saw the face of poor young Julian, whom he had beaten with a whip by himself until Gabriel took up for him. How like a Ravena he had been! “Who are your accomplices?” shouted the guards amidst the relentless whipping. “Kill me!” Lucio shouted back. “I will never tell you!” Outside the torture-chamber, none of the sounds reached Vultra’s ears. She was mulling the situation with the Mulawin Sugo. “Why didn’t I finish her off when I had the chance?” she asked herself. “Why can’t I bring myself to kill her?” A deep and introspective thinker, the queen was sensitive to her inner voice. It must be telling her something. Lawiswis was distributing their rations of food to the Ravena – to Tuka in particular – when Alwina caught her. “Don’t go near them!” she scolded the girl. “Even after I’ve heard the whole story, I still don’t trust you.” Gabriel sympathized with the Ravena, saying, “Bagwis would not have taken them along if he didn’t think they could be trusted.” “Shame on you, Alwina,” said Tuka. “You should understand me and Pagaspas since you yourself have been separated from your mother.” “Leave my mother out of this!” Alwina shouted, visibly upset at Lourdes being mentioned. But then there came a revelation from the Ravena. “Don’t you know that Lourdes is in Tierra Fuego?” they said. “She’s still alive.” “What?” said Alwina. “Mother is still alive?” Dakila saw another distraction coming. “Are you sure?” he asked. “Positive!” the Ravena chorused. “Then I’m going to Tierra Fuego to save her,” Alwina said with determination. “No, you may not,” Dakila told her. “You must not abandon your mission.” “But what about my mother? I’ve already lost Aguiluz. I don’t want to lose my mother. Before it’s too late, I’m going there to rescue her.” Bagwis spoke up. “I will go to Tierra Fuego for Lourdes. Let me do it.” Alwina’s face brightened. “Really, Bagwis? You’ll do that for Mother?” “Yes, I will do so for Lourdes’ sake and for yours as well.” Wis and the Ravena expressed their desire to join. “We can be spies,” said Kuwak and Tuka. “If they ask, we’ll tell them we escaped.” “Very well, then!” said Dakila. “Begin your journey at once as Tierra Fuego is a long way from here. We will resume the journey to the Mulawin tree: Alwina, myself, Laab, Hampas, Kuskos, Mayi…” “Don’t forget Gabriel,” Alwina reminded him. “He’s with us too.” Dakila frowned somewhat and made no reply. They were not the only ones on an important mission. Linang now dispatched Muyak to her mission. Her friends, Marikit and others, sent her their best wishes. Linang gave the fairy her blessing and bade farewell. Bagwis likewise had an emotional farewell with his daughter. He promised her in his heart that they would see each other again. But in Tierra Fuego, whether he knew it or not, Alwina’s mother was there.
Now the soul of Aguiluz found himself in a strange journey quite unlike theirs. He was on a small boat, and with him was the ferryman in a dark garb like death itself. The ferryman paddled quietly along the still waters. It was quite dark and foggy. Aguiluz could see no one and nothing else around him. “Where am I?” he asked. “Where are you taking me?” “Even if you can swim, you cannot escape these waters,” the man told him in a chilling tone. “No one ever escapes the place you are going to.”

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Sunday, December 19, 2004

Father and Daughter.

Episode for Dec 17, 2004, Friday. Alwina continued to ignore Gabriel; so full were her thoughts of Aguiluz. It seemed to Gabriel that he had no place beside her now. “I’m here if you need somebody to talk to,” he would tell her. She would answer him by leaving. Meanwhile, Bagwis advised the band to rest that night. “We should take a break and rest ourselves,” he said. “We’ve been traveling all day.” He turned to Alwina and told her the story of Pagaspas’ transformation. She was amazed to learn that Gus was the son of Ravena. But Bagwis’ account did not convince her of their new allies’ sincerity. “This wouldn’t have happened to Gus if not for Tuka!” Turning to the Ravena she said, “What kind of a mother are you? You deserve to be punished!” Alwina brandished her shawl and was about to strike the frightened Tuka when Gus spoke up. “She didn’t mean it, Alwina,” he told her. “I have forgiven her. I hope you can forgive her too.” So Alwina relented, folding back the cloth with an impatient gesture. The group retired for the night while she stayed awake. In her solitude, Alwina vowed to fulfill her mission for the sake of the lost Aguiluz. She must not be weak; she must be strong, if only for him. Her sorrow now became a fuel of energy driving her on forward. Alwina felt the urge to make haste, perhaps eager to dedicate her victory to Aguiluz. Or fearing that more lives would be lost if they did not hurry. The Ravena Army were in sore need of a leader. Rasmus had failed them before. Now it seemed Habagat was no better, and perhaps far worse. Rasmus, at least, was their king, and he still owned a loyal following in their armed forces. Habagat was only a recent convert, and he had changed. Hasik, one of the lower-ranked soldiers under Habagat, went to report directly to Ravenum in Avila. “You must find Kuwak and Tuka,” ordered the spirit. “They are with Bagwis’ group. Now, what is it you came to tell me, Hasik?” “Pardon me, Lord Ravenum,” answered he. “I’m not used to being in your presence. I don’t want to disturb you.” “Tell me what you came here to say.” “Lord, I don’t want to ruin Habagat’s reputation. But he is no longer dependable. We can’t look to him anymore for leadership. He has changed ever since his son died.” “I know what you mean to tell me,” said Ravenum. “Habagat has become useless. Bring him to me!” Meanwhile, Dakila had not forgotten about Gabriel, whom he met some time ago in Lourdes’ house. He had kept silence for Alwina’s sake and because of Aguiluz’s death. The sage remembered his first meeting with this young man. “Don’t think you can fool me,” he had told Gabriel. “I can see the blood running in your veins. You’re the last person I would tell what I know to.” What was this young fellow doing in their company? Lawiswis came to him and asked why Dakila was still up. Dakila answered in a rather harsh tone – he could not help it – “Right. I will do that. Wait a moment, Lawiswis. That youngster… is he a friend of Alwina’s?” “Yes, they are childhood friends. Why?” “Nothing. Go on and sleep.” In the midst of a softly snoring company, Alwina raised her voice, “Wake up, people! Time to get up! Come on!” She clapped her hands and was shoving everyone to get off the ground. The others looked at her through heavy eyelids. Hardly had they begun their trek into dreamland and now here she was, urging them on to resume their journey. “Look, you got to sleep, anyway,” she told them. “Do you still want to wait for sunrise?” “Um… yes, just as you say,” said Mayi as she fought back a yawn. “Look, we have no time to lose!” said Alwina. “The sooner we get there, the better. The less chances that someone else will die.” “Don’t push yourself,” said Bagwis. “Who says I’m forcing myself to do this?” she snapped. But she was; she had sworn to herself that she would complete this mission for Aguiluz, who had given his life for it. “There’s no more time for mourning. We’ll resume our journey after eating,” she told them conclusively. The matter was closed. As Gabriel was stoking a fire, Dakila approached him and spoke frankly. “Good evening, sir,” said Gabriel in a pleasant tone. Dakila then reminded him that they had met before, and he acknowledged it. “Yes, I remember…” “It is good that you do,” said Dakila. “So I do not have to explain. My companions are important to me. I will not compromise their safety by having you with us. I want this over and done with now. I am asking you to leave. Do not make it harder than it is. Go while Alwina is not here.” First Aguiluz, now this one? “You’re telling me to leave?” said Gabriel incredulously. “I cannot bring myself to trust you, young man,” said Dakila. “I don’t see why I should try to win your trust,” Gabriel answered. “Yes, Alwina respects you. But I won’t submit myself to your authority. I won’t leave just because you tell me to. I’ve come a long way, sir. It’s not a joke what I went through just for Alwina. If there’s anyone here who can tell me to go away, it’s her.” Alwina stumbled into the scene and noticed Gabriel and Dakila eyeing each other. “What’s going on?” she asked. “Your friend and I are just getting to know each other,” Dakila told her kindly. But he felt sure that he already knew what he needed to know about Gabriel. Bagwis went over to Alwina. The Mulawin chief had always liked this brave and noble young lady, and the way she was coping with her grief disturbed him. Bagwis, of course, was no stranger to loss. He had lost his parents and everyone else in his family, including his brother Habagat. He had lost the woman he loved and watched her die. And he had lost his home, Avila. But unlike Habagat (and Rasmus too), his private tragedies had not made Bagwis bitter and cruel. If anything, they had served to make him wiser, more tolerant, and more patient with others who suffered as he once had. “Alwina, do not be offended,” he started to say. “I know you still blame yourself for Aguiluz’s death. You think that, maybe if you’d only told Rasmus where to find the Mulawin tree…” She cut him off. “Stop it. Why do we have to go over this again and again? Aguiluz wouldn’t want us to stop if we could see us. He never liked seeing me losing hope. He wouldn’t want me to be a weakling.” “But don’t push yourself if you’re not ready to move on,” said Bagwis. “I know you loved Aguiluz. We all loved him. It is only right that we mourn for him.” “Then how long should we mourn for our loved ones?” “For as long as you are not ready to move on. There’s nothing wrong with mourning, and most certainly, there’s nothing wrong with crying.” Alwina shook her head in denial. “I have nothing to cry about,” she told him. “I don’t want to cry.” “It’s not wrong to cry,” he told her. The maiden listened with mounting anger. She could not understand why Bagwis would insist on mourning when he should be focused on their mission. “I don’t want to cry,” Alwina said over and over. “I don’t want to cry anymore!” She did not want to cry, or feel, or think about it anymore because what was the point? But Bagwis was older and wiser. He knew better than to deny sorrow its place. “There’s nothing wrong with crying,” he said to her again. He did not mind annoying her; he did want her to cry so that she could unburden her heart openly to him. “I don’t want to cry!” Alwina insisted. But even as she spoke her voice broke down; her eyes reddened; and the first teardrops drew wet streaks down her face. Soon, she was sobbing audibly as her father held her in his arms. Yolly had just enough time to betray the rebels’ latest plan to Savannah. “They’re planning to blow up the water-tank tonight,” she told her daughter. Just then, approaching footsteps warned them of company, and Savannah hid her mother. Vultra greeted Savannah dryly and the latter disclosed to her this latest “premonition.” “All right,” said the queen. “I will send for troops to investigate the matter.” Outside near the water-tank, Lucio retrieved the bag of dynamites from Rudy. “Go and hide yourself now,” said the master. “This is dangerous. Put out that torch too.” Rudy obeyed; he then took cover in the bushes with Lourdes. As Lucio was preparing the explosives, Ravena soldiers leapt forth from their hiding place and arrested him. Rudy wanted to help, but Lourdes dissuaded him. The sentries dragged Lucio to the mansion and threw him at the feet of their king and queen. Vultra grabbed him by the hair. “Punish him!” she said. “Beat him and don’t stop until he tells you who his cohorts are and where they are,” ordered Rasmus. Laab was the Musang chieftain. Like others of his species, he always welcomed a good fight. “I hear that you are a good fighter,” he said to Alwina. “Perhaps you would like to spar a little before we move on?” “Sure, why not,” she said with a smile. The two combatants squared off. Laab was swift and acrobatic; in other times, he might have intimidated the less experienced Alwina. But her many trials has hardened the warrior-maiden. She grappled fiercely with the cat-man until his sharp claws tore at her armor. Alwina’s shoulder-pad came off. Laab apologized profusely. “I’ll put it back on,” said Bagwis. As he replaced the pad, he noticed Alwina’s birthmark on her skin. Huh? A birthmark like mine! he thought. What could this mean? “What’s wrong?” asked Alwina. “Is it a deep wound?” Bagwis was too stunned to speak for a moment. “No,” he then said. “It’s okay.” Laab and Alwina resumed practice, but more gently this time. Alwina fought with renewed intensity and Laab soon conceded defeat. He was a gracious loser and readily acknowledged the superiority of the Mulawin. Among other virtues, Bagwis had the ability to think fast and come to the right conclusion, though not always. “That could mean only one thing,” he said to Dakila later that day. “She is my relative, or she could even be my daughter. I never guessed I had a child. No wonder I’ve always liked her. I want to hug and kiss her, Dakila.” “She’s half-human. Who could her mother be?” “Veronica. She was the only one I loved. That means she was already pregnant when Rasmus carried her off to Halconia. But she’s dead now.” Dakila looked at him; his eyes suggested there was something he wanted to say. “What is it?” asked the younger Mulawin. “I think it is time for you to know the truth about what happened to Veronica,” said Dakila. “She did not die like you thought.” Bagwis was stunned. “Impossible! I saw how Rasmus pushed her down the ravine.” “Yes, she fell,” replied the sage. “But she rose up again, and when she did, she had grown wings. The soul and memory of Veronica died, but she came back. She is now a Ravena. “Yes, Veronica and Vultra are one and the same.”

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