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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