Sunday, January 30, 2005

Lost Children.

Episode for Jan 28, 2005, Sunday. Some of them lost a mother or a father, or both. Some had them but did not want them. Some were running away from them. Some did know for sure who their parents were. If the Ravena triumvirate had expected their prince to make a show of his powers, they were disappointed. Gabriel leashed his wrath as best he could, and turned and walked away. Rasmus wished to follow him, but Ravenum held him back. “Let him be for now. But he cannot run away from the truth forever!” So the Ravena quitted that place and parted ways for the time being. Savannah decided to test her wings and skim the air alone. As she did, the fledgling Ravena proudly reflected on her own achievements. “Look at you!” she marveled. “Who would’ve thought that you’d have wings, Savannah? Looks like what the Balasik said to me is coming true. I can get anything I want. Hmm. I need to win Gabriel’s trust soon. If he’s the Prince of the Ravena, I’m the Princess! We ought to get married soon!” She snapped out her daydreaming when her bird’s eyes espied a flying kite. Following the kite, Savannah beheld a young boy playing alone in the forest. He drew the kite back toward himself and laid it upon the ground. Then, to the Ravena’s amazement, Niwalum transformed into a piece of wood that floated over the kite. Just as suddenly, he reverted back to his human form, picked up his toy, and ran off. Next day, Gabriel hurried aimlessly through the forest-paths. He was not thinking of where he was going, but of what he had seen the night before. “Do you believe what that Ravena said to you?” Terong asked. Gabriel replied, “I’ve met him before.” He disclosed to his friend the dreams had had of Ravenum, his meeting with the Mulawin near Avila, and the things they had discussed. “No wonder I felt such a warm liking for him,” the young man now said. “He’s my father. But that can’t be!” “But it’s possible. Why else do you have wings? Either one or both of your parents must be Ravena.” The two friends paused when they noticed a sign overhead> It read: WELCOME TO CARIG. Taking note of this, they walked on ahead. Then a weary Gabriel collapsed as Terong urged him to stand up again. “We can’t stop. They could be following us.” “I don’t know how long I can run away like this,” sighed Gabriel. “It’s not Ravenum who’s chasing me hardest. It’s myself.” For the first time, Gabriel showed signs of weakening resolve. And how could he go on? How far and for how long? He himself – his true identity – was his most ardent pursuer. Sure, he could flee from the other Ravena; he could even fight them. But how could he do battle with himself? How could he win? Since the triumph of the Sugo and the end of the war, Linang had been monitoring events less frequently. And when she did, the queen’s attention centered on her son and his father. She was very pleased to see the two growing close together. “Now, only one thing is missing in Mulagat’s family,” she reckoned. “Me.” Presently, the prince and his sire were practicing with quarterstaffs in the open grounds of Avila. Then, Mulagat asked, “Why do I have to practice with these weapons? I can always use my powers.” “But you’ve been hit before, son,” argued Habagat. “And I, of all people, was the one who…” He trailed off. “If you’re thinking about that again, then know that I forgave you a long time ago,” his son told him. “It’s easier to forgive others than oneself. That’s why I’m only too happy to give up my ugatpak for you.” Mulagat then lowered his voice. “Is that why you tire so quickly now? Because you don’t have your ugatpak anymore?” “No big deal,” Habagat said with a smile. “It’s a small price to pay for all my sins.” Aramis the hunter certainly did not appreciate Mulagat’s meddling between him and Aviona. He sincerely liked Aviona; he did not care for anyone or anything else in Avila. The night before, he had made up his mind to report the Encantado to Rasmus. Today, he met with the wicked Ravena in secret. “At last, you showed up,” said Rasmus. “If this is about Habagat, forget it. You’re too slow. Maybe I was wrong to put you here.” “Don’t insult me so much. I didn’t come here for that.” Then the hunter narrated the story about the Encantado and his interference. “Is this the son of Habagat?” inquired Rasmus. “If you mean Mulagat, then yes, I think it’s the same one.” “There’s only one thing you have to do. Kill him.” Aramis nodded. “I’ve been toying with the idea. But I’m hesitant to kill him because you may still need him.” “I have no more use for him. You may get rid of him.” This pleased the archer. He was about to leave when he remembered something. “By the way, you may be interested in this. There was a wedding here recently. Bagwis married a certain Veronica.” He was looking into Rasmus’ eyes, and noticed an immediate change in them. “Veronica got married?” Rasmus asked, startled. “Yes, and after the wedding, she became a Mulawin.” Rasmus looked like a man who had been hit by a massive earthquake from the inside. “She’s a Mulawin now?” he roared. “That can’t be!” Gabriel and Terong were not the only newcomers to Carig. Lourdes’ wandering led her to the same town. Pamela and Tonyang recognized her and ran to her as one would to a beloved mother. The three women cried in one another’s arms. Lourdes had been their wall of support during those most trying times in Tierra Fuego when the Ravena enslaved them. Now after Tata’s death, she was here again. The girls brought her to their new home and told Lourdes the circumstances of Tata’s murder. “But why assume that a bird-man killed her?” asked the witch-doctor. “It could have been just a man who put on claws. Maybe someone wants to cause trouble between men and Mulawin again.” “True,” they replied. “That’s why we’d like it if you would tell the people. Who are we that they should believe us? We’re thankful that you’re here again for us.” It seemed fate had willed her to be everyone’s mother to the very end. Lourdes smiled at their appreciation and hugged them both. Dark clouds of sorrow and bitterness now covered Rasmus like a shroud. With heart as heavy as lead, he went back to his father. Ravenum read his son’s eyes like an open book and guessed what was up. “You’re still grieving over Veronica,” he said. And the unabashed reply was, “I still love her.” “Wretched love!” Ravenum cursed. “Stop that foolishness! Forget about Vultra!” Bury your dead, Rasmus! Bury your dead! At that moment, Savannah crash-landed into their midst. Brushing the dust off her feathers, she told them, “You won’t believe what I saw earlier. I saw a boy. He looked like an ordinary kid, but he had unusual powers. I saw him change into a piece of wood, and then back to a child again!” Ravenum sensed at once a possible advantage. “Go back and get that child!” he ordered. “He could be useful to us.” Savannah did not like taking orders; what kind of a princess was she then? But even as she grumbled to herself over this injustice, three small children came into view: two Mulawin and that boy she had seen earlier. Savannah flew over to them and snatched Niwalum away. Gus and Wis then grabbed hold of each of her legs, thus adding to her burden. They struggled one against three, until Savannah’s limbs grew tired and she was forced to land. Then a laughing Rasmus seized him from behind. “You promised us one child,” Ravenum scolded the girl. “What are you doing with three?” They put away their little captives in a small cage like chicken waiting to be slaughtered. Ravenum stood and waited for the boy to perform his miracles, but in vain. “Where are the unusual powers you spoke of?” he asked Savannah and left. Later, Gus asked Niwalum, “Is that true what she’s saying? You have powers?” “She’s just nuts,” Niwalum claimed. Aguiluz had earlier been watching the children at play. “What do you know about Niwalum’s past?” he then asked Alwina. But she could tell him nothing, and he explained the reason for his curiosity: “I’ve seen him before. When I was on the other side before my resurrection, I saw him in a vision. He told me he could be born only if I made the right choice. I chose to return to the world.” Curious, Alwina turned to look back at the children. But they were gone. Alarmed, the two warriors went outside and sought them everywhere, calling after their names. They asked their neighbors if they had seen the threesome, but even Tuka had not seen them all day. Soon, they passed by Dakila’s house where Bagwis overheard them. “Why are you calling for the children?” he inquired. “Has something happened to them?” The Sugo admitted that the youngsters had vanished under their care. Bagwis asked to speak alone with his daughter. “I am sorry for hitting you earlier,” he told her. No problem. “Any man would be angry if his wife was insulted.” “Alwina,” he said earnestly, “I married Veronica to show you how much I love her. I want you to accept her because that’s what would make me happy.” But Alwina merely restated her past arguments, and insisted that she could not accept her real mother. Then she rejoined Aguiluz and continued their search. Perhaps, they had just slipped into some hole, as mischievous as they were. “I remember when Aviona and I were young,” Aguiluz said with a smile. “We’d be running here and there! Dakila scolded us often!” “I envy you,” Alwina told him. “You were free to run and play, without fear of being mocked or shunned because you were different. I wish I’d grown up with you guys.” Aguiluz glanced at her. He had politely kept his distance earlier and had said nothing. But now he said, “It wasn’t so important that we could run and play freely. What mattered was that we had our loved ones at our side. Just as you do now. You were able to spend time with Mother Lourdes. And there’s your father. Alwina, don’t waste the short time God has given you to spend with your loved ones.” Night had fallen. Mulagat seated himself comfortably under the shelter Aramis had built. “I was hurt by the things you said to my father,” he told Aviona. “You shouldn’t have said that. He’s trying so hard to change and make up for what he did. He even gave up his ugatpak so that I could live. And because of that, he has become so weak.” But she answered, “It’s touching that a father would go so far for his son. But what about the others? If he had not betrayed us in the first place, there would never have been a war. The lives of so many would have been spared.” Aramis grinned to himself. One point deduction for that pest! The hunter stole away from sight to gather some leaves. He knew the plants and shrubs as well as he knew his own body. Some herbs could heal… others could kill or greatly weaken a man. Aramis took out several arrows from his quiver and rubbed some leaves on them. The tips of the arrows then burned with a faint green glow. Your meddling is coming to an end, Mulagat, he thought confidently. I know you Mulawin live long because you age slowly. What would happen if it were speeded up? Under the shade of the towering Mulawin tree, two Musang were play-fighting. Laab, their chief, was the audience. One of the contestants was Hampas the great warrior. As usual, he dominated the sparring match. “I’m hurt,” said the other cat-man. “Say, rather, that you’re just a sloppy fighter!” Hampas teased. Then a soft touch like a feather’s alighted on his head. A falling leaf like in autumn. Then another, and another… and another. The Musang looked about and realized that the falling leaves were coming from the Mulawin tree. “The leaves of the tree are falling!” they exclaimed in horror. Brown leaves lay thick upon the earth. Dense clouds hid the sun from view, and darkness descended upon the land.

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Friday, January 28, 2005

Royal Families.

Episode for Jan 27, 2005, Thursday. They were heroes and villains, men and bird-men, kings and queens, princes and heirs. The Royal House of the Mulawin was to rise tonight. Therefore, the House of Ravenum must also return if it would not be annihilated completely, and the key to this was their Prince. Between these two warring clans and their allies, were the Mulawin tree and its mysterious fruit. When the cheering had rather subsided, Dakila spoke anew. “I have an announcement to make,” he said. “I feel that this is the proper occasion for it. I have thought the matter over, and I realize that I have led you and served you for a very long time. It is time for a new leadership. And no one is more worthy of being your leader than this Mulawin now standing before me.” Then he turned to Bagwis and bade him kneel. Uneasy as he was at what he had just heard, the warrior obeyed. Then Dakila took a sword and touched both of Bagwis’ shoulders with it. “Bagwis, I now declare you as the new King of the Mulawin!” A thunderous applause was the crowd’s response. Bagwis looked up into Dakila’s eyes and stood up, utterly speechless. Dakila placed the sword in his hands. Then everyone present bowed before their new ruler, even Veronica. Bagwis realized that they were paying homage to him. He urged the people, “Friends, rise to your feet! I am only a humble warrior. But I give you my word that I will do my utmost to serve you, and to defend Avila!” “This is not the end of our celebration,” Dakila told them. He shifted his attention to the bride, Veronica. She was wearing a plain white gown and a wreath of flowers upon her head, and in her hand were more flowers given by well-wishers. “By the power of God,” Dakila continued, “who has given certain abilities to a few chosen Mulawin, such as me, and such as Bagwis, I now declare you, Veronica, a Mulawin!” He stretched out both of his hands over her. A white beam issued forth and descended on Veronica. It enveloped her in a glowing mantle of light. When the light disappeared, a Mulawin Queen was standing in its place, beautiful and radiant. Among the awestruck witnesses of this transformation was Habagat, who was perhaps, thinking of Linang. Bagwis could scarcely contain his joy at this miracle. He smiled at his bride and kissed her. Their wings spread open and flapped forward, wrapping the couple in a winged embrace like two angels in love. Then all the people hailed the new King and Queen of the Mulawin. As expected, their daughter snubbed the wedding. While everyone else was rejoicing, Alwina tarried at home and brooded over her sorrows. Then Niwalum, the boy-child her family had recently adopted, arrived and sat beside her. “Don’t cry,” he told her. “I’m here for you.” Niwalum folded his arm behind his back, and when he put it out again, there was a bouquet of white flowers in his hand. Alwina accepted his gift and hugged him. “Am I wrong to feel this way about Veronica?” she asked aloud. “Maybe I should forgive her, but something in my heart tells me not to.” She was not the only one who did not attend the wedding feast. But Aguiluz was having second thoughts now. “Bagwis is like a father to you,” Aviona had said. Like a father… His train of thought was distracted by a passerby, a little boy. Aguiluz looked over his shoulder and called out, “Hey, I recognize you.” The boy stopped and looked back at him. “But I can’t remember you,” he replied. Aguiluz bent on his knees and examined the child’s features. “Yes!” he exclaimed. “I can’t be wrong. You’re that boy I saw in my vision! What are you doing here? Who are you? And why do I feel like you are close to my heart?” “That’s good,” said the boy smiling. “You seem to be a nice person!” “What could be your connection to me and to Alwina? Why are you here? Who do you know here in Avila?” “I don’t know anyone here. But I’m staying at Alwina’s.” Aguiluz’s eyes lit up. “You know her? Will you take me to her?” A few hours passed; the silence in the house was broken by the flapping of two pairs of wings. Alwina assumed that this was Gus and Wis. She went out to meet them, and found instead her father and a Mulawin woman. What the…! How did THAT happen? But she was not going to ask. The maiden turned away at once, and Bagwis said to her, “I was hurt when you did not attend our wedding. I would be more hurt if you ignore your mother now.” Then Veronica spoke in a gentle tone. “Alwina, I’m not asking you anymore to accept me as your mother. Only accept me as your father’s wife. Especially now that I have become a Mulawin.” Alwina’s eyes rolled in their sockets. “Sure,” she said. “Your feathers are a Mulawin’s. But beneath that, you’re still a Ravena through and through!” Then Bagwis whipped his daughter on the face with a rock-solid slap. Alwina felt a crack in her jawbone; her cheek burned from the pain. She stared at her father in hurt and disbelief, and then ran into the house and locked the door. Veronica signed to her husband to let her be. But a furious Bagwis knocked heavily on the door and demanded to be let inside. Such was the wedding night of this royal couple… locked out of their own house by their own daughter. Dakila had expected this, so he came with Mayi and told them, “Let Alwina be for a while. You can stay with us tonight.” “Haven’t you noticed?” Terong said to Gabriel. “You turn into a Ravena only when you feel some strong emotion. Extreme anger, extreme sadness…” “What I fear is when I will lose control of myself again,” Gabriel answered. “Aren’t you afraid of me? I could hurt you too eventually.” But Terong did not see that coming. “Why should I be afraid of you? That won’t happen, as strong as our friendship is,” he said. Now, unknown to them, Gabriel had been shedding a little of his plumage on the way. This gave the other Ravena an idea where to locate him. That night, they finally caught up with him. That night, after the feast, Aramis brought Aviona with him for a surprise. He showed her a new shed which he had built with his own hands. “I made it for you,” he told her. “You shouldn’t have bothered,” she replied. “We’re used to sleeping out in the open.” They noticed a man in white standing by: Mulagat. “May I speak with you for a while, Aviona?” he asked. “Just the two of us?” Once alone with her, Mulagat reiterated his earlier warnings about her new friend. “You’re not telling me anything you haven’t said before,” she answered defensively. “And who gave you the right to tell me what to do, and who to make friends with?” She made use of her new shelter that night and slept soundly. Mulagat kept watch, to Aramis’ evident displeasure. “Why don’t you just go back to where you came from?” the Encantado suggested. “Your companions must be waiting for you.” “I have nowhere else to go. No one is waiting home for me.” “Oh?” said Mulagat with obvious contempt. “Is that why you’re forcing yourself here in Avila?” Alwina sat moping in a chair when someone came knocking at the door. Don’t they just get it? she wondered to herself. “Go away, Veronica!” she shouted testily. “GO AWAY!” Niwalum’s tiny voice piped, “Alwina, it’s me!” Then the Sugo forced herself off her seat and went to open the door. In the dark, she could see the tall figure of a Mulawin soldier standing there. She threw her arms around him, while Niwalum fetched his kite and left to give them privacy. Alwina gave voice to her sorrows. “I still can’t accept Veronica, and my father can’t understand me. I feel like this is all my fault and they’re all suffering because of me. And you left the Mulawin tree because of me.” “Stop that,” Aguiluz told her. “You haven’t done anything wrong.” “I feel so alone. It’s like I can’t do anything right.” He held her close to him and said, “I’m here for you. I’m not going to leave you.” And if only I could prove that Gabriel wants to hurt you, you’d understand why I left the tree. There they were, alone and friendless apart from each other, it seemed. Once the heroes and saviors of the world now blamed and hated and alienated. It’s a round globe indeed. Gabriel and Terong froze in horror as the three Ravena approached them. “We’re here because Father Ravenum wishes to say something to you, Gabriel,” Rasmus informed him. “You want answers, Gabriel,” said Ravenum. “You will understand it all if you let me explain to you.” Savannah then said, “We know your secret!” Terong recognized her then. “Savannah! You’re a Ravena now? You look even uglier than before!’ The insulted Savannah walked up to him and said, “Don’t screw with me, Terong! I could finish you off with one stroke of my claws!” “How did this happen?” Gabriel asked. Ravenum told him, “It is time for you to know your true origin. You are a Ravena because your father is a Ravena. I am your true father. And Rasmus is your brother.” Say that isn’t so! “No!” Gabriel shouted. “Lucio is my father, and Gisela is my mother!” “You’re right,” Rasmus said. “Gisela is your mother, but Ravenum is your father.” “Allow me to explain it all to you,” Ravenum went on calmly. “Let me tell you about the powers you have, and the powers you have yet to discover.” He stretched out his hairy arms and said, “Take my hands. Embrace your father.” “No!” Gabriel roared. His very soul revolted in fear and loathing. Then his temper bolted out of control, and he assumed his true form once again. Red eyes burned in their sockets, and hot sweat ran down his angry face. “No matter what, you cannot deny what you really are!” his father told him. Gabriel shook his head defiantly at them. He was determined to resist this evil power that was claiming him. After all, he had nothing to lose; they did. “My blood may be a Ravena’s, but not my heart! I will never join forces with you! You’ll have to kill me first!” And he meant it as a blood-oath.

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A Mulawin Wedding.

Episode for Jan 26, 2005, Wednesday.
“Mother,” asked Alwina as Lourdes was combing her hair, “why does it rain sometimes even when it’s not the rainy season?” Lourdes smiled. “Well, they say that when it happens, two birds are being wedded.” Ha! What superstition! And they both laughed. That night, Alwina quietly turned towards home, home to a father who did not understand her, and to a mother whom she detested. Was this life after the quest of the Mulawin tree? Avila was free, but what was there for her now? The Sugo had won the deliverance of many including Veronica, but for what? She had done nothing but bring sorrow to this house. So far, Alwina had yet to receive a personal award that she was aware of. Poor Aguiluz was now ostracized, Gabriel was nowhere to be found, and Alwina herself had a mother she did not need being forced on her. And the only mother she acknowledged had left her. The Sugo found the three children sitting on a bench outside the house. Alwina went over them and sat with Lawiswis on her lap, while the boys huddled close to her. “Mother is gone,” she told them in a defeated tone. “She left us because of Veronica.” Meanwhile, Veronica pondered the situation with increasing hopelessness. Had Lourdes really done them a favor by leaving? It only gave Alwina one more reason to despise her. “I don’t think Alwina will ever forgive me,” she said to Bagwis. “Don’t leave me. It’s just her and me now in the house and she won’t be happy about it. Why don’t you take me with you? I’d go anywhere with you.” “You’re not a bird-woman anymore. You’d get sick if you were exposed.” Bagwis, like other bird-men, were used to residing outdoors with only their wings for protection against the weather. “See, that’s the problem,” said Veronica “We have found one another again, but we can’t be together.” Bagwis smiled at her despite all his own worries. “Who says we can’t be together?” he asked, his eyes glittering. “I have something to ask of you.” By now, the news of Tata’s death had spread throughout the land. Aguiluz pondered the killing of the young lowlander. “No Mulawin would do such a thing,” he argued to himself. He felt in his bones that he had to find Gabriel and discover his secret. This senseless murder, the conversation between Dakila and Habagat, as well as his own visions of the future… all these whispered to him that something was afoot. And Gabriel surely was involved. Where on earth was he hiding? What and why was he hiding? A few meters away, Terong was hiding behind a tree. “Aguiluz is here,” he told Gabriel. “Hide yourself.” Gabriel did not hear him, but his own senses warned him of this. “Somebody’s coming,” he said, his eyes ablaze. Aguiluz noticed a young fellow under a nearby tree. It was the cowardly Terong, and Gabriel’s loyal servant. Aguiluz went to him and asked, “Where’s Gabriel?” “Good question… where is he?” Now the Sugo grabbed him by the neck of his shirt. “Don’t answer me like that!” he said. “Go tell him we will face each other soon.” Gabriel’s fury raged in his breast at those words. In Encantadia, Mulagat decided that he had gathered enough power to venture out once again into the world of men. So he took leave of his mother. “I want to be with my father,” he explained. Then Linang gave him her blessing, and the prince was on his way. The spirit-portal took him to a deserted part of Avila where nobody saw him coming. Mulagat surveyed the environment and spied a man armed with bow and quiver – evidently a hunter – in the distance. It was Aramis, who just then, was contemplating his budding love for the bird-woman, Aviona. Old habits died hard in him; although he had promised her to honor life before, Aramis reverted to his old ways tonight. Bored, he aimed his bow in the air and unhesitatingly shot down a little bird. It fell on the grass like a rock, dead. He did not feel sorry; such small things were nothing but moving targets to him. With utter coldness, Aramis left the bird where it was and went on his way. Mulagat went over to the site and held the slain creature in his hands. Such a cruel man, he thought. Who could he be? Later, Mulagat met with his old friends including his father. To his surprise, the same cold-blooded hunter he had seen earlier was now having a merry talk with Aviona. The two youths were introduced, and then Aramis excused himself. Mulagat asked Aviona in a cautious tone, “Where did you meet that man?” “He was another victim of Haraya’s song.” “I cannot be mistaken. He is the man I saw earlier who mercilessly shot a bird.” Aviona became angry, and said, “Aramis won’t do such a thing! Don’t judge him. You don’t know him!” “That is the point. We do not know him.” Habagat showed up beside them and echoed his son’s concerns. “I have the same feeling about Aramis. I don’t trust him either.” “You too?” said Aviona. “Maybe it’s because you were once a traitor yourself, you expect everyone else to be like you!” She stomped out of that corner and rejoined Aramis. Father and son let the matter be for the time being. Habagat brought some fruits to his boy, when Mulagat voiced his sentiments. “You are here, and Mother is there in Encantadia,” he said. “If only you could be together so that our family would be reunited.” Early the next day, Bagwis called the people to assembly; he had an announcement to make. Veronica was beside him; in the distance, Alwina was there, too, listening. The warrior began by greeting the crowd and reminding them of their victory. “Now, I know that the present situation is not yet perfect,” he told them. “Especially since we all know that the fruit of the Mulawin tree is still missing. But there is nothing wrong with moving on with our lives. And I wish to do that beside the woman I love. So I wish to make known to all of you, that in two days our wedding will take place! And you are all invited to celebrate the occasion with us!” The crowd roared in applause, but the feathers on Alwina’s head could have fallen off. She withdrew from the scene heartbroken anew. Bagwis called out and ran after her, unmindful of the friends and neighbors who were looking on. He caught up with his daughter and made her face him. “Believe it or not, it hurts us too that Lourdes has left,” he said to her. “But life goes on. We’re doing this for you!” Bagwis waited for her to speak, but she did not. “Talk to me,” he begged. “Tell me how you feel. I’m your father. I want us to understand each other.” Talk to me, damn it! But she maintained her silence in spite of his pleadings. Her eyes looked as cold and remote as the icebergs of the poles. Her gaze spelled out unalloyed contempt, bitterness and hatred. Veronica was nearby; Alwina’s heart froze shut at the mere sight of her. “Alwina, you cannot deny that Veronica is your true mother!” Bagwis finally screamed at her. “Do you understand that?” Unshaken by his outburst, the Sugo told them, “I don’t see a mother’s face when I look at her. I see the face of the Queen of the Ravena. And you know what? No matter what you do, you can’t change my heart and mind about that!” Aguiluz was roaming the forest as usual when a stranger fell on him and put a thrust a hunter’s knife to his throat. The Mulawin did not recognize him. He looked like an ordinary lowlander who was a huntsman. Each demanded to know who the other was. The lowlander challenged Aguiluz to a duel, so the hero struck his flute upon the ground and produced his sword. In the course of their fighting, Aramis took a mighty leap over him that amazed Aguiluz. It would not have been possible for an ordinary man to manage such a feat. Then Aviona came running and cried out, “Aguiluz! Aramis! Stop it!” She introduced one to the other as a friend, so the two men sheathed their weapons. “I was only protecting Aviona,” said Aramis. “Forgive me.” After the matter was clarified, Aviona said to her childhood friend, “Have you heard that Bagwis and Veronica are getting married? Everyone’s invited!” “Except me,” he said sullenly. “Nonsense! You should come! Bagwis is like a father to you.” Aguiluz thought she was joking. “After what I did? And how they’ve treated me? I have lost face, Aviona. I can’t face you people anymore.” The people of Avila had welcomed the wedding announcement with cheers, but this had been more of a show for Bagwis than actual happiness. As they prepared for the feast, Rosing told the others, “I don’t blame Alwina for how she feels. If I were her, I’d feel the same way too.” Laab then said wisely, “We should accept the marriage. When we do, maybe it will be easier for Alwina to accept her mother.” So, despite some reservations, everyone agreed to make haste and prepare for the big day. Perhaps, more than anything, they were grateful to Bagwis for giving them a reason to celebrate. Laab certainly was! Two days later, at the foot of the Mulawin tree, the most sacred site for all the Mulawin, the wedding took place as scheduled. The aura of the tree itself extended to the whole area and surrounded the bride and groom with its divine, golden light. Dakila presided over the ceremony, reciting to the two their wedding vows. “… for better or for worse, in times of war, and in times of peace, in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow…” As Bagwis kissed his wife, the sky let fall the first drops of an off-season rain. Far away from there, in a solitary part of the woods, Lourdes took shelter under a tree. She was thinking of the Mulawin she loved, and what little comfort it gave her now that she had confessed the truth to him. She never heard the jubilant shouts of the Avilans congratulating the newlyweds. But heaven’s tears must have told her the news.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A Strained Parting.

Episode for Jan 25, 2005, Tuesday. As soon as the awful deed was done, Gabriel’s reason returned to him, and with it came the grim realization of what had happened. Then loyal Terong arrived at the scene. The servant saw the bloody corpse lying on the grass and recognized Tata. He knew without asking who had slain her. “What did you do to Tata?” he cried. But before his master could answer, they heard the voice of another girl calling out to the victim. It was Pamela. “Hurry,” Terong advised. “Somebody’s coming! They mustn’t find you here!” But terror had frozen Gabriel’s limbs; he could not tear his eyes away from the girl he had just killed. The last thing he could remember, he had shouted to her to run away. Then Terong grabbed him by the arm and led him away before Pamela could see them. She screamed in horror at the sight of the dead Tata, whom she had seen alive only a few minutes earlier. From a safe hiding place, Gabriel stared at the scene in dumb silence. Rumor would spread fast. Soon, everyone would know… and soon, he would probably kill again. Alwina’s house was about to gain a new resident. And very soon after that, another would leave. But she did not know this yet. Pagaspas and Lawiswis went home bringing their new friend with them. “We have a new playmate!” they happily reported to Alwina and Lourdes. “His name is Niwalum and he is alone. Can’t we let him stay with us?” Then the Sugo hugged her adopted mother from behind and made the same appeal. She saw no harm in doing so, and Lourdes put no resistance to the idea. “Why not?” she said cheerfully. “If he’s alone and has no relatives, he can stay with us! What is his name, by the way?” “Niwalum,” the children said. “Niwalum,” Alwina and Lourdes chorused. “Such a strange name!” All three youngsters cheered now that Niwalum had been accepted into the family-fold. But the laughter was short-lived, and quite soon, tears would be flooding in the boy’s new home. Before anything else, Alwina made it her business to clean their new resident up. He did not smell good, of course. But he was so charming and lovable that she did not mind caring for him. For sure, she preferred Niwalum to the other new resident. “Don’t you have any relatives at all?” she asked as she wiped his dirty arms with a wet cloth. “No uncle or aunt? No brother or sister?” “None, none, Alwina,” the boy told her. “You keep saying nothing and no one,” she sighed, and observed that her basin of water was now empty. “Now I have no more water either. Let me go fetch some water.” A few seconds after she had done, Niwalum turned to the basin and pointed his fingers at it. At once, the container was refilled. “Hey!” he called out to Alwina. “Why should you go get water from the well when there’s still some left here?” So Alwina came back and examined the basin. “Huh?” she muttered to herself. “But I was sure…. never mind. I guess I was mistaken.” Niwalum smiled, and patiently let himself by washed again. Men and women – it mattered not whether they had wings or horns or cat-paws or none of these. The ways of courtship were fundamentally the same among the different species in Avila, at least, between lowlanders and the Mulawin. Pleasant talk, flattering compliments, stolen glances with hidden messages in them, and so on. Thoughtful little gestures spoke volumes about how each felt about the other. And whenever the admirer procured a smile from his beloved, it felt like the sun shining on him for an eternity. I would have to be a better writer to describe it, but to go on with the story… “You must be a good warrior,” Aramis told his new friend, “and very beautiful too.” Aviona replied smiling, “You don’t have to be beautiful to be a good soldier.” “You’re wrong. If I happened to be your enemy, and I saw such a beautiful opponent, I would surrender.” Her cheeks turned a rosy pink. “You’re playing with me now,” she said. But she sure liked it, and she smiled to herself. Habagat and Dakila were strode together on the grassy plains of Avila and talked about Gabriel. Aguiluz was eavesdropping on them, though he could not tell for sure who they were discussing. “Terong and Gabriel have not been seen for days,” said Bagwis’ younger brother. “That is good,” said Dakila. “It could be that he hates himself for what he is now, and wants to go away.” “But Alwina will not believe you if you tell her.” Aguiluz pricked his ears, straining to catch every word. “It seems to be Gabriel they’re talking about,” he said to himself. “I have to find out his secret. I have to prove that he intends to do her harm.” He sought an audience with Dakila soon afterwards, but Laab informed him, “He has attended a meeting of the High Council to discuss what our next move should be. He will be there for a while. Use this time to look for the fruit.” But Aguiluz was unyielding. As heavily as guilt weighed upon him, he was less concerned with finding the fruit than with proving Gabriel a villain who planned to kill Alwina. He was not the only one determined to find Gabriel; so were the Ravena. Savannah, the inexperienced flyer, came tumbling down to earth with a solid thud. She started whining, and Rasmus began cackling with glee. “You complain too much, Savannah,” he told her. ‘Don’t mock me, Rasmus. We’re equals now!” Ravenum scolded them, “Stop your bickering! If you keep acting like that, it would be better for me to go on alone.” Rasmus sobered up, and said, “Father, if you don’t mind me asking about my brother… he grew up as an ordinary mortal. Didn’t he notice that he was different?” And his father explained, “I’ve watched Gabriel all his life. I knew that, come his seventh birthday, his wings would sprout. I waited long for that day so that I could have my revenge against the Montenegro clan. One day, Gisela saw Gabriel’s ugatpak. Fearing he would be feared and shunned by the townspeople, she took it off. As a result, Gabriel lost his ability to walk. His mother thought he had been stricken by polio, but this was only an effect of the ugatpak’s loss. “I pitied Gabriel,” he went on. “He was only a victim of circumstances. Thankfully, the green binhi that Alwina gave him when he drowned was so powerful. It not only revived him, it also let him walk again. When I met Gabriel on the way to Avila, I was able to re-attach his ugatpak to his back again. Then his powers re-emerged. And at the same time that the Sugo reached the Mulawin tree, Gabriel transformation as a Ravena was fulfilled.” Niwalum could look at a situation, see a problem, and fix it as he wished. He noticed that the citizens of Avila lacked any form of entertainment, so he gathered them – Musang, Mulawin, Perico, human – around him and amused them with funny stories. Gus and Wis found him preoccupied in this business and called out to him. “I’m done,” Niwalum said to the crowd. “Go home now!” The crowd laughed with pleasure. “More tomorrow!” they told him. Niwalum turned to his friends. “So this is what you’ve been doing!” they said, and the boy obediently returned home with them. The two children then told him about the missing fruit of the Mulawin tree. Niwalum was completely silent on this. “I wonder what the fruit looks like,” Wis said to herself. “An apple, maybe? An orange? Grapes?” Niwalum looked up and said nothing. Elsewhere in the house, things were not as pleasant. Lourdes overheard Veronica attempting to start a conversation with her daughter. As usual, Alwina gave her the cold shoulder. Lourdes had seen the same thing happen over and over on a daily basis. How long must this go on? Then it dawned on her to do the only thing that she could do, for Veronica, for Alwina, for Bagwis… and for herself. What was the use of lingering in a place where she was not needed? Bagwis and Veronica had each other now, and it was their family, not hers. Alwina needed her, or thought she did. But her true mother was here now and still awaiting acceptance. Lourdes packed her things into a bag before she could change her mind. “You can’t be doing this!” Veronica said. “Bagwis, tell her not to go.” But Lourdes had had enough of it all. She turned and looked at her friend. That poor, innocent soul who had suffered so much; and yet through her, Lourdes was suffering too. They were the truest of friends, yet fate had woven their lives in such a manner that each stood in the way of the other’s happiness. It must not go on like this, Lourdes thought. It must end. “You’re Alwina’s mother, not me,” she told Veronica. “But for as long as I am here, she will love me and not you. It’s best that I leave.” Bagwis had now arrived beside Veronica. “Lourdes, no one is asking you to do this,” he said. “I know that. It’s the right thing to do.” She picked up her bag and made for the door, but Bagwis tried to stop her. Then Lourdes raised her powerful voice at him: “Don’t try to stop me! Don’t make it harder for me, Bagwis! I’m not needed here anymore. There’s your beloved Veronica! You don’t need me now she’s here! There’s no more room in your heart for me!” A dead silence fell on Bagwis. “What do you mean by that?” Oh, for someone with hawk’s eyes, he was so blind! So Lourdes confessed her love for him. “I’ve always loved you. Even when we first met, I couldn’t deny it to myself. I dared to hope that someday you would love me, even though I was just a mere mortal and you a Mulawin. “But all those hopes were dashed when you met Veronica. It hurt me when you told me you were in love a woman, yes an ordinary person, but not me. It was Veronica, my friend. You said that to my face. I never thought I would get hurt like that again, but here it is.” Bagwis listened in stunned silence. Veronica could only look down on the floor, with hand on her mouth. So Lourdes resumed packing. “I feel this is the last time we will ever see each other,” she told Bagwis. “You have your family now.” A few minutes later, Veronica hugged her friend for the last time. Bagwis looked on awkwardly. “I will always remember your great sacrifice, Lourdes,” he told her. Only Lourdes knew if those words of his meant anything to her. Far away, Alwina pondered on the things Lourdes had said to her during one of their recent conversations. “I don’t blame Gabriel if he’s hurt by what’s going on. I know what it’s like to love someone who won’t love you in return… A heart that loves… sooner or later will want to run away from the truth.” What did she mean by that? Alwina wondered. Was Mother trying to tell me something? A vague fear seized the Sugo, a fear, not about Gabriel or Aguiluz or the Mulawin tree, but the woman she loved as her mother. The only mother there was in her heart. Swift as the wind, the fleet-footed warrior headed for home. Bagwis and Veronica were outside the house. She ignored them and called out to Lourdes. Then Alwina spied her in the distance, walking away with her belongings. She’s leaving! Oh, my God, why is she leaving? Forgetting everything else in the world, Alwina sprinted after her, crying, “Mother! Don’t leave me!” She was tugging at Lourdes like a little girl. Lourdes hardly looked back – she wasn’t looking back now – and said, “I’m not your mother. There is your mother. Go to her. I’m leaving now. You don’t need me anymore. And don’t you dare follow me! Let go of me! Bagwis, keep her off me!” Bagwis alighted beside his daughter and gently pried her off Lourdes. “Let her go,” he said. Alwina struggled in his arms, crying and wailing. She was still crying for Lourdes long after the latter disappeared from view.

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Dark Angel.

Episode for Jan 24, 2005, Monday. “The world is round,” goes a saying. The same sun rises and sets on everyone. Aviona was beginning to discover that for herself. Having gone through her fair share of hell and heartbreak, the young Mulawin was ready to move on. In fact, she had put her sad episode with Aguiluz behind her long ago. But only now was the happy Aviona of old starting to return. Since her solo homecoming to Avila a few days ago, she had been smiling as she had not done so in forever, it seemed. And she could see life smiling back at her in Aramis’ face. “Are you sure your friend wouldn’t mind about me?” the hunter asked as Aviona led him to where her friends were gathered. The cat-man, Hampas, somersaulted into their presence and hissed, “Who goes there? Who is that?” Dakila and Laab were with him, and the former asked, “Aviona, who is that man and where does he come from?” “He’s okay,” she told them. “His name is Aramis.” Dakila examined the stranger for himself. “Where are you from, young man?” So Aramis introduced himself like before. “Can’t he live with us, please?” Aviona pleaded with her foster-father. The old bird-man hesitated but, unable to resist her, finally nodded in approval. Who could resist such a sweet girl, after all? She was not the only one who had made a new friend. Pagaspas and Lawiswis were frolicking merrily with Niwalum, their newfound playmate. The three children chased the latter’s kite all day until it got caught in the branches of a tall tree. Gus and Wis waited while little Niwalum went out to fetch it. When he knew he was out of sight, the child stretched forth his hand toward the toy. A rainbow of colors issued from his open palm and wrapped the kite in its light. No sooner had he done this, than the kite came loose from the tree. He returned to his playmates who had no idea what had happened. Ravenum’s eyes flew open. He had seen in his mind’s eye that Gabriel intended to forfeit his life. Gabriel, indeed, wanted to die rather than harm others. But Ravenum was determined to save his son. “Wait for me,” he whispered. “I will come for you.” Then he called the other Ravena to his side and told them, “Before we go after Aguiluz, then is something else we need to do. We have to find my son.” Judging from the dim light that prevailed in Halconia, one could not tell if Rasmus’ face changed color. “Son?” he said. “But I’m your only child.” “Besides you, Rasmus, I have another child,” his father told him. “Who? By whom? When did this happen?” “I had a child by a lowlander. Do you remember that day when we invaded the lowland-villages?” “How can I forget that? That was when Bagwis deserted us… and when you were killed by the people.” Ravenum nodded, and said, “Yes. I was shot down by men who worked for the most powerful man in Tierra Fuego. Lucio Montenegro’s ancestors. Even though I became a spirit by virtue of the green binhi and the power of Perena, I still could not find peace until I’d had my revenge. So I took possession of Gisela’s old lover, Egilberto, and she conceived. “Lucio fully believed that the child she was carrying was his. But the moment the baby was born, he sensed that it was not. So he treated the boy with such cruelty. It eventually came to his knowledge who his wife’s lover was. But up until her death, Gisela never admitted that Lucio was not the child’s father.” Rasmus was silent; Savannah spoke up. “If Gabriel is your son, then he is also a Ravena?” “Yes,” Ravenum declared. “He is the first and only one to be a Ravena since birth. Because of that, he is more powerful and dangerous than the rest. Gabriel is the Prince of the Ravena. So we must find him.” Aguiluz was now wandering through the Avilan forests like a homeless vagabond. Deep inside, he was still holding on to his belief that he had forsaken the Mulawin tree for a just cause (at least, if weighed in his scales). Yet still, it pained him that he had let all those people down, most especially his old friends who had expected so much of him. He met Dakila in the wood and spoke to him with sadness in his voice. “I’m afraid to ask for your forgiveness. I’m afraid you won’t be able to forgive me, Dakila. I know how much the fruit of the tree means to you.” Then Dakila turned to him and answered, “As always, I am concerned with the welfare of all. It’s not just me that you have let down, Aguiluz. You have let down everyone and the whole world. If the fruit ends up in the wrong hands, you are right. I am sorry, but I won’t be able to forgive that.” So Aguiluz moved on, his eyes never leaving the forest-floor, it seemed. He soon passed by the Musang engaged in practice-fighting. How swift and agile they were, especially Laab’s lieutenant, Hampas. “Imagine, Lord Laab,” he marveled, “not long ago, we bled ourselves almost to death in endless fighting. Now, see how we lead such peaceful lives in Avila!” But Laab knew better. “Don’t be so sure,” he said. “Thanks to the negligence of one person, all this is only temporary. So watch out.” His gleaming cat-eyes then shot a look at Aguiluz, who was walking by with head down. But as the Musang began to reproach him, Alwina became aware of the commotion and rushed to stand between them and Aguiluz. “Aguiluz left his post because of me,” she told them. “If there’s anyone you should blame, it’s me.” Having dismissed them, she turned to leave. “Are you still angry with me?” asked the other Sugo. “I still don’t know what the fruit is all about, but I can understand how Dakila feels.” “And nobody can understand me,” Aguiluz lamented. Behind some trees, two pairs of eyes were spying on them. “She’s still with Aguiluz?” asked Terong. It was a stupid question for Gabriel. Of course, Alwina was with Aguiluz. Gabriel retreated from the scene like a witness horrified by the sight of a gruesome murder. If there was a crime there, he felt like the victim. He never heard anything else that Terong said. The bare and brutal truth suddenly became so plain to him. And like Lourdes, Gabriel now wished he could run away from this painful reality. The young Ravena flung away from his companion and duly transformed into his true shape. Then Gabriel fled to the sky as if he would find solace in the open heavens. I did everything for you! his soul cried. But it’s still Aguiluz in your heart! Alwina returned for home to see Lourdes. Earlier, Bagwis had, as usual, tried to persuade her to open up to Veronica. Veronica loved gardening, which Alwina was also familiar with. But the young woman was not interested in having anything to do with her. Instead, she confided her thoughts to Lourdes. God forgive me, Alwina thought, I’d still pick her as my mother. “I’m worried about Gabriel,” she told her adopted mother. “He hasn’t shown up since Aguiluz came back. Now, Terong is also missing.” Lourdes was observing Veronica and Bagwis outside the window, but Alwina never noticed. “I don’t blame Gabriel if he’s hurt by what’s going on,” she told Alwina. “I know how it feels to love someone who feels nothing for you. A heart in love will endure pain while it can. But a time will come when he will want to run away from the truth.” “You mean, you think Gabriel may never show himself to me again?” Lourdes turned her eyes to the young warrior. “You worry about him because he’s your friend,” she said. “But let me ask you, whom would you rather be with? The one you love, or the one you love only as a friend?” “But I love Gabriel too… though only as a friend.” Exactly the point, Lourdes must have thought. Ravenum knew that the revelation about another son would have an effect on Rasmus, whether he admitted it or not. He knew his boy too well. “You seem to be deep in thought, Rasmus,” he observed. He was not mistaken. “I still can’t believe what you told me, Father,” Rasmus admitted, “that I have a brother. Gabriel. I saw him a number of times in Tierra Fuego, but I never thought that there was a connection between us.” “I understand how you feel. Forgive me for keeping this secret from you. I thought it might not help our plans if you found out about it too soon.” Rasmus nodded. “I understand, Father.” “Are you ready to meet your brother now?” The older brother never answered this question, but they set out for Avila nevertheless. Ravenum led the way while Rasmus took a reluctant Savannah by the arm and brought her along. Bitter resentment, anger, self-pity, jealousy, a sense of betrayal, loneliness, helplessness - these emotions whirled inside Gabriel creating a violent storm beyond his control. It was a hell-born disturbance; its clouds were red, and its burden was blood. Pamela and Tata, the two erstwhile friends of Savannah who were among the survivors of Tierra Fuego, were now looking for a new home. They came to an abandoned village in the plains just below Mount Avila and decided to make a home there along with a few others. They found old clothes there and were now doing the laundry, one of many ordinary chores they had not done in a long time. Now, while Pamela went out to fetch more clothes, Tata washed by herself. Suddenly, her ears caught the flapping of bird-man’s wings. She was familiar with it by now. It had to be either a Mulawin or Perico or… “No Ravena,” she thought. “They’re gone now.” Then Tata lifted up her eyes and almost fainted at what she saw. Was she dreaming? A young man was looking down at her. He had the handsome features of an angel, but his wings were unmistakably a Ravena’s. Tata knew who this was; if she had not been so startled, she would have remembered his name. “Go away!” Gabriel shouted, holding back his left hand to keep himself from stabbing her. “Go away before I hurt you!” Tata hesitated, and then did as she was told. But it was too late; her fate had been sealed the moment he had lain eyes on her. “She’s a human being,” he said to himself. “She’s an enemy!” The girl had scarcely gone far when he changed his mind and pursued her. Gabriel was the biological son of mere mortals, but spiritually, he was the prince and heir of a greater power, an evil power. This evil had always resided in him in seed-form. The blows of fate and circumstance had made it grow in secret, like the mysterious mushroom that waits beneath the earth for the thunderstorm to bring it forth. Suddenly, at the strike of lightning and at the roar of thunder, it is there. So it was with Gabriel, the Dark Angel of the Ravena. “Please don’t kill me,” the hapless girl begged in a stammering voice. Gabriel answered by slashing his talons across her abdomen. Tata crumpled to the ground, the first victim to fall under his deadly blades.

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Saturday, January 22, 2005

Niwalum.

Episode for Jan 21, 2005, Friday. Terong was half-minded to flee the scene at this point, but loyalty and concern prevailed upon him to remain by Gabriel’s side. Now that his master’s outburst had passed, he rose from his hiding-place and tentatively approached. “What’s happening to me?” Gabriel cried. “I don’t like what’s happening to me!” He sensed Terong coming near him and shot him a fierce look. Frightened, the servant fell back on the ground. “Don’t hurt me!” he said. “I’m not going to fight!” “Don’t worry,” Gabriel answered. “It’s me again. If what you saw earlier horrified you, it horrifies me even more. I hate myself for this!” The evil sparkle in his eyes had gone indeed. Now, though terrified beyond measure, Terong fought the impulse to ran away screaming, and instead, drew nearer and asked, “How did this happen to you? How did you become a Ravena? Since when? Was this what that old bird-man was talking about?” “I don’t know, Terong,” Gabriel replied. “I don’t knowIf I only knew the answers to your questions, and to mine…” His voice was shaking, and the first blush of red now colored his face as he began to weep. “Now, I know why Dakila has always hated me. He knew.” “Does Alwina know about this?” asked Terong. Gabriel shook his head. “I’ve thought of asking for her help,” he said. “But I don’t know anymore. She might not be able to accept me if she knew.” “Why not? Back in Tierra Fuego, when you found out about her wings, you accepted her, didn’t you?” “But our situation is different now. She’s a Mulawin, and the Ravena are the Mulawin’s mortal enemies. Ravena like me!” Bitter tears rolled down his cheeks as he said these words, and Terong felt helpless to aid him. “I just have one thing to ask of you,” Gabriel started to say. “Don’t worry,” Terong assured him. “Your secret is safe with me.” He was Gabriel’s truest friend o the end. Around the Mulawin tree, the Mulawin chiefs were banded together and confronted Aguiluz furiously. As the burden of blame fell on him, the Sugo realized too late the gravity of his own folly. Questions and angry comments were flung at him one after the other: “What are you doing out here?” “Why did you abandon the tree?” “It was your job to watch over it and you let us down!” Aguiluz went passed them and touched the invisible shield. The fruit was gone all right. He could not believe it. In that short span of time, someone had stolen it! The young warrior turned to the crowd and said in a tone as low as his spirits: “Forgive me.” But his apology barely registered in the ears of his listeners. Behind them all stood Alwina. “The fruit is gone because Aguiluz left the tree?” she said, surprised. “This happened as a result of his negligence,” Laab said to her. “We haven’t forgotten all that you did for us,” Dakila told Aguiluz. “But it was a serious error on your part to leave the tree. When the Sugo reached the Mulawin tree, things were restored to their proper states. But it is the fruit that will finally determine the end of evil in the world.”
Ravenum knew this as well as his contemporary did, and this was why he, too, desired to possess the fruit. Meanwhile, it seemed Veronica was resolved once again to throw away her life. Bagwis chanced upon Lourdes calling after her, and the two pursued her. The Mulawin used his eagle’s sight to locate Veronica and soon caught up with her. “Don’t do this,” he said, grabbing her on the arm. “I can’t lose you a second time!” “It would be better for me to be gone,” she told him. “I’m just messing up your lives, especially Alwina’s.” Bagwis held her and insisted, “You’re her true mother, Veronica. We’re not going to give up until she accepts you!” Lourdes had been following him through the wood. When she finally reached them, she came upon the old lovers in an embrace. It was a familiar sight. Dakila called the citizens of Avila to assembly. “By now, you must have heard the bad news,” he began. “The fruit of the Mulawin tree is missing. I ask all of you to help search for. I cannot begin to describe what can happen if it goes into the wrong hands.” The crowd moaned in fear and dismay. Aguiluz was standing behind some trees, listening. He fled the scene, unsure of what to do next. But then, a band of Musang together with Lino encountered him. “There he is!” they cried. “It’s all his fault!” Rosing stood between them and Aguiluz. “Have pity on him!” she begged. “Don’t hurt him! Aguiluz, run!” So Aguiluz hurried away from there, hated and disgraced. Their rebukes were stamped in his memory: from Dakila, from Habagat, from Bagwis, and everyone else. Even Alwina had had nothing kind to say to him, only words of reproach. But she was still on his mind. How could he convince her of impending danger coming her way? How could he make her believe that this danger was Gabriel? Gus and Wis were playing together the next day as usual. They were aware of all the recent events, including Aguiluz’s costly blunder and Veronica’s attempts at her life. “Have you accepted Veronica yet?” asked Pagaspas to his friend. “Well, she lost her memory, so I forgive her,” said Lawiswis. “But I also understand Alwina. If I were here, I’d still pick Lourdes as my mother.” The inseparable companions then decided to run and play by themselves. Soon, Gus spotted an unusual-looking bird in the sky. He pointed out to it saying, “What a pretty bird!” Wis told him, “No, that’s a kite. Let’s go check it out!” So they traced the origin of the blue kite by following its thread. Their chase led them to another a boy who was about their size. “Look, a child!” they cried. A playmate other than Mayi! He had neatly trimmed hair, and dark eyes that held a steady gaze. The little boy introduced himself thus: “I am Niwalum. And you’re Pagaspas and Lawiswis.” “How do you know?” “How indeed… oh, I heard you two talking to each other.” Not far from there, Aviona was in her morning occupation of gathering fruits for herself and her friends. Aramis the hunter, eager to make amends for his recent misconduct, walked up to her and offered to help with her load. Aviona looked back glumly at him and saw a pink flower in his hand. “I was wrong to do that,” he told her. “I won’t do that to a tree again. Are you still mad at me?” But she was smiling already. “Do I look like I’m still angry?” she asked. Aramis then volunteered to carry the fruit-basket for her, but then decided to help himself to the harvest first. Aviona smiled as he did so. Alwina had stopped by Lourdes’ dwelling for breakfast. Bananas and corn were served at the table as usual. She was having mixed feelings about last night’s incident. “I don’t know whether to be happy or sad that Aguiluz and I have seen each other again,” she told Lourdes. “You talked to each other?” “Yes. I feel guilty. He left the tree because of me. Now, everyone is against him, Bagwis, Dakila, and the rest. What I don’t understand is why he keeps telling me to beware of Gabriel.” Lourdes raised her brows. “Gabriel?” she said. “But we’ve known from the very start, that he’s interested only in our welfare!” Just then, Veronica’s figure appeared outside the window. She was smiling. “So you two are here,” she said politely. “Good morning, Alwina.” Alwina turned her eyes away from her mother’s as soon as they met. She rose from her seat, excused herself, and promptly left. “So this is all that’s left of Halconia,” Ravenum mused as he surveyed the remains of their former stronghold. Rasmus nodded. “All our soldiers are gone,” he told his father, not mentioning who else he had lost. “We have no one else to rely on now but each other.” “You can rely on me,” Savannah said from behind them. “Why don’t you make me a Ravena?” The son of Ravenum almost reeled with disgust. “You, a Ravena!” he exclaimed. “Are you out of your mind?” Savannah ignored him and walked up to Ravenum himself and explained, “Before, when I pretended to be Vultra’s daughter and you offered to make me a Ravena, I was not yet ready. Now, I am. If you do that, you’ll be sorry you ever made anyone else your queen.” This remark – evidently an allusion to his lost wife – was insulting to Rasmus. “There is only one Queen of the Ravena, Savannah,” he told her indignantly, “and you cannot take her place.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” asked the girl. “You still love Vultra? It was that damned love that brought you down in the first place!” Ravenum came between them, and showed his approval to Savannah. “Why shouldn’t we turn her into a Ravena?” he said. “We can use her.” So he summoned the spirit of Perena as he used to do. Ravenum chanted several times, calling to “the Diwata of the darkness,” for her assistance. After repeated invocations, Perena made her presence felt even though she was not visible. She transformed Ravenum into a red and black-feathered bird-man. His features looked sickening to Savannah, who tried to hide her fear as she watched. Gabriel would have recognized him from his dreams. Rasmus stared in awe at his father. “I despise these feathers,” he said of his Mulawin plumage. “Turn me back into a Ravena, Father!” So the father drew his son’s soul into his mouth. Then a wall of fire leapt up from the ground and engulfed Rasmus in a red blaze. When the flames subsided, Savannah saw again the old Rasmus she had known. Rasmus yielded a faint smile. Better! Ravenum now turned to Savannah. “Are you ready?” Oh, well, she thought. Nothing left for me. No mother, no family, no town. “I’m ready,” she answered. It was the same process for her. Rasmus watched her metamorphosis in silence. Ravenum’s fire consumed her old body, and replaced it with the new. Now, Savannah had the same, predominantly crimson plumage that Vultra had had, and Ravena wings hung on her back. It was a far cry from the lost queen, of course. Even if she had been here, Savannah still would not look like her daughter. But the girl was pleased with herself. She could not see herself, of course, but Savannah definitely felt the change. Now, she felt stronger and meaner, and strangely, quite at home in her new form. Ravenum placed his hands on her shoulders and declared, “From now on, you are the Princess of the Ravena!” “I am now the Princess of the Ravena!” she echoed with glee. At least, he did not make her Queen!

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Vanishing Act.

Episode for Jan 20, 2005, Thursday. Could evil be anyone’s destiny? Would a just God predestine a soul to tread the left-hand path even before it is born? Could the Mulawin tree – the embodiment of hope and salvation for all other beings – bestow only damnation and a monstrous transformation on an innocent man? These were the questions that now burned in Gabriel Montenegro’s heart. Until his interview with Veronica, it had never entered his mind that he was meant to be a Ravena. But she had described the Mulawin tree’s power as the power of transformation and restoration. She had to be telling the truth; she herself was proof of it. Then, Gabriel was forced to arrive at the inevitable conclusion. The effect of the tree on him had been the reverse of its effect on Veronica. She had become human again, because that was her true form. He, on the other hand… “Gabriel, where on earth are we going?” asked a worried Terong. Gabriel looked over his shoulder; he had been running through the forest without even knowing it. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were there.” “You asked me to come with you, and then you talk to me as if I came uninvited. Where are you going?” “I don’t know.” “What’s bothering you? People talk to you, and you can’t hear it. You hurry on the way, but you don’t know where you’re going. What’s up?” A third person interrupted them then. He was an elderly Mulawin leaning on his staff. Gabriel recognized him as Dakila. Now he knew why the old bird-man loathed him. “Perhaps, he is bothered because his true nature is coming out now,” Dakila sneered. “You know as well as I do that the blood running through your veins is that of a Ravena! You are the only Ravena that Ravenum did not create by having his soul sucked out of him. You were not converted; you have been a Ravena since birth. Because of that, you are more powerful than the rest. “It was laid out in the prophecy that an Adversary would come to oppose the Emissaries of the Mulawin tree. You are that adversary, aren’t you?” A cold fear chilled Gabriel. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he responded. “That’s impossible!” Terong cried. “Both his parents were human!” But Gabriel knew that Dakila was right. He ran past the other two; he wanted to run away from it all. Every morning, the people of Avila went out to gather fruits and herbs. It was not hard, as food supply was abundant. Veronica and Lourdes were going about this daily routine when Alwina showed up. She asked for permission to speak with her mother, so Lourdes took the basket from her friend and left the two to themselves. Veronica felt very awkward and embarrassed. “Is it true that you tried to kill yourself that night?” asked her daughter. “Did you do that because of me?” Veronica was silent, and in spite of herself came forward and put her arms around Alwina. The young maiden returned the gesture, but there was no warmth in her touch. After a few moments, she extricated herself from Veronica’s embrace and said, “My heart bleeds because I’ve hurt you. But when I held you, it was Vultra whom I felt.” She turned and walked away. Veronica’s eyes brimmed with fresh tears and she began sobbing. Later that day when Terong came by, she was leaning on Lourdes’ shoulder. “Just excuse Alwina for now,” the latter told her. “It’s not her nature to hurt others’ feelings. She just needs time.” Terong sat a few feet away and asked, “Have you seen Gabriel, Aling Lourdes? He just left suddenly and Aling Rosing says he hasn’t come home yet.” “No, I haven’t,” she replied. “What’s going on? Even here, we’re all messed up.” “This is all my fault,” Veronica said. “I wish Rasmus had killed me. I wish your paths and mine had never crossed!” So she went on with her dirge, and nothing Lourdes said could console her. It so happened that Salimbay was absent that day. Good spirits and angels are not idle beings as foolish people imagine; they are always on the move, busily going about their Father’s business. Aguiluz seized this opportunity to abandon his post. He began to strike upon the invisible force-field which could be seen only with the spirit-eye. Aguiluz drove one blow after another into its surface, hoping to pierce a hole into it. The impact caused the entire shield to reverberate, and had Salimbay been nearby, she could not have missed it. But Aguiluz was alone, and as soon as he discerned the first cracks appearing in the glass-like wall, he tore through it with both hands. Of course, he was not really using his physical strength; he was using sheer will and the force of his mind. But as he forced the shield open like an egg-shell, Aguiluz felt himself growing heavier. He realized that he had regained his corporeal body. Just then, Alwina came running to the Mulawin tree once more. She had gone there to voice her complaints to Aguiluz as she habitually did. “If only you were here,” she whispered again. And, as if in answer to her wish, there he was, right before her eyes. Back from the realm of the disincarnate for the second time, and for the same reason. He stretched for his hand, and she took it in hers. The two Sugo threw their arms around each other, and Alwina asked how this was possible. “Long story,” he told her. “For now, just hide me because I don’t know how to tell the others yet.” Gabriel came running toward them and called out, “Alwina! Thank God I found you. I need your help!” Aguiluz advanced toward him and drove him off. “Go away!” he said. Unknown to them, two intruders were hiding in the bushes in the vicinity of the Mulawin tree. Rasmus said to Savannah, “Sharpen your eyes and tell me what you see, lowlander. Do you see my father?” She shrugged. “I don’t see anything but black smoke around the foot of the tree.” Rasmus grinned. “That is Father,” he said. “Huh? Your father is that smoke?” “For now. But once those three leave, we will be able to come near, and Father may assume a material body again.” Now, Gabriel saw in Aguiluz’s eyes the same hostility that Dakila had shown him. He turned away without a fight. Alwina went after him, and Aguiluz had no choice but to follow suit. In this way, the Mulawin tree was completely abandoned. Rasmus rose from the bushes and walked toward the tree where Ravenum’s spirit hovered. The son presented his father with the new hiyas fragment, and it floated in the air as if received by an unseen hand. Savannah then saw a Mulawin materialize from nowhere. He was older than Rasmus, and formidable-looking. “I’m back!” Ravenum declared in his strong voice. “Ravenum is back!” Rasmus bent on one knee and gave thanks, and his father told him, “Let us waste no more time. Get the fruit!” Rasmus looked up, and cried out, “Where is the fruit? It was just here!” The trio looked all around and found no trace of it. “The fruit is missing!” Ravenum fumed. “We’ve been outwitted again!” “Maybe Aguiluz took it with him,” Savannah suggested. Terong had been looking for Gabriel all night. The young master showed up looking like the Incredible Hulk from old comic-strips. Terong could not understand him as he ranted furiously to himself. “They all think I’m a monster!” he cried. “I haven’t done them any wrong and they do this? Even Aguiluz keeps Alwina away from me, the only person who could help me!” Then the evil fire burst forth from within him. Gabriel’s eyes burned a bright red and huge dark wings sprang out from his back. They lifted him into the air as the astonished Terong retreated. Gabriel looked at his servant from the corner of his eye and warned him, “Go away, Terong! Go away before I do something to you!” So Terong went and hid himself behind some boulders, but he did not leave. He saw Gabriel set foot on the earth once more, and pick up a large rock. Gabriel stared at it for a while, and then hit it with a clenched fist. The rock shattered into a powder. Meanwhile, Aguiluz had recalled his lady, saying, “Alwina, I came back for you!” She ran back into his arms, and then asked, “How did you get out?” He could not tell her the truth. “Aren’t you glad to see me?” he said. “Who’s guarding the tree? Is Salimbay there?” Aguiluz shook his head. Oh, no, what did he do? “It was said that one of us would have to stay behind to watch over the tree,” Alwina reminded him. “Why did you do this? You know that I want nothing more than to be with you. But I wouldn’t be happy either if you were in danger.” Then Aguiluz told her, “I came back because you are in danger.” “From what?” “Not from what, but from whom. Gabriel. He’s the one who wants to kill you.” First, it had been Gabriel who accused Aguiluz of being an impostor. Now it was the other way around? “Gabriel has always wanted my safety,” she answered. “You’re the one who is endangering us all by abandoning the tree.” “But I can’t go back anymore,” he explained. “I was told that once I left, I wouldn’t be able to go back. Alwina, I did this for you!” Aguiluz was looking for some warm response, some appreciation of the sacrifice he had made. But he met with only cool reproofs. “I was given this mission and I did my duty whether I liked to or not,” Alwina told him. “Now that you have been given this responsibility, you should fulfill it too.” So this was all he would get! All that prolonged agony of indecision, and his willful disobedience of a holy decree for the sake of love, would only make him look like a fool! Aguiluz nodded at this and turned to retrace his path back toward the Mulawin tree. Savannah and Rasmus had been watching them. “Sharpen your eyes and tell me if you think Aguiluz is carrying anything,” said he. “He isn’t. He doesn’t have it with him. How strange. Just when Aguiluz left, the fruit disappeared.” “We must return to Halconia,” his father said. “Maybe there are still Ravena left there.” “No, there are none,” Rasmus assured him. “Then we need to rebuild it.” People were quick to notice the absence of the tree’s fruit. Gus and Wis were playing by themselves that night when Mayi relayed to them what she had seen. “The fruit is missing!” she told them. So they flew back to town and reported what had happened. Soon, the Mulawin chiefs and others were gathered at the scene led by Dakila. “The fruit of the Mulawin tree is missing!” they exclaimed in horror over and over. “What about Aguiluz?” said Habagat. “Isn’t he supposed to be guarding it?” Just then, Aguiluz was on his way back to the tree. He returned to find the place crowded by an anxious and worried mob. With mounting dread, he realized that the worst possibility had come true. In the short span of time he had vacated his position as guardian of the tree, someone had stolen its fruit! “The fruit is missing?” he asked aloud, as they set their angry eyes on him.

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Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Guardians.

Episode for Jan 19, 2005, Wednesday. Aramis felt his heart skip a beat. “You surprised me, Rasmus,” he said. The bird-man answered mockingly, “You, one reputed to be a good hunter, surprised? A good hunter surprises; he is not the one surprised. Have you seen Habagat yet?” “Not yet. I just got here. It would be easier to look for him in the outer villages than here in the area of the Mulawin tree.” Rasmus shot him an impatient look. “Well, hurry up,” he told the hunter. “I’m losing my patience!” Habagat decided to try his son’s advice. He found Aviona sitting by herself and spoke to her, keeping his distance. “I know I’ve done you and Aguiluz a lot of wrongs,” he told her, “and I guess it doesn’t to me whether you believe it or not. But I want you to know that I’m willing to work hard to earn your forgiveness.” Aviona cast a sullen glance his way. “What use is that now?” she asked him. “There’s no one here to forgive you. Aguiluz is gone.” “But you’re still here, Aviona.” “Your sweet words are no use to me now,” she said to him. “It was those sweet words of yours that separated Aguiluz and me in the first place. It was those words of yours that convinced him to take that red binhi that Rasmus gave you.” Habagat withdrew from her presence in silence (well, at least, he had tried). Behind the thicket several meters away was Aramis. When the bird-man had gone, he revealed himself to Aviona. “Who was that?” he inquired. “Someone worthless,” she replied. Aramis said softly, “Really? It must hurt to be called worthless. He seems like a good person to me.” “You’re new here, Aramis. Don’t be fooled by outward appearances. There are many out there like Habagat: good on the outside, bad on the inside.” Aramis knew only too well how right she was. “Why did you say that people avoid you?” she asked, wanting to change the topic. “What kind of a man are you?” The hunter began to explain then, but thought better not to. “You’d probably turn away from me if you knew,” he argued. “Me? But we bird-men and women have been called monsters because we have wings. Of all people, why should I do that to you?” “All right. I will tell you,” he said, and then reconsidered. “Why should I tell you? I’ll just show you.” Aramis walked toward a grown tree, and with a one shove of his hand knocked it down. The trunk broke off and dropped to the ground, leaving a lifeless stump behind. Aviona’s mouth gaped at the sight. Poor Aramis did not know how to impress a bird-woman. “See?” he told her. “Now, you know why they avoid me.” “No!” she said. “That’s not the reason why they avoid you. People ought to avoid you because you have no respect for life! How could you kill that tree just like that?” “It’s just a dead thing!” he told her. “You men are like that,” Aviona said with open disdain. “You care about nothing as long as you can boast!” Now, Rasmus happened by that part of the forest where Savannah was stuck. She had lost track of Gabriel and Terong – swift as they moved through the woodland – that she had no clue now where they were. Rasmus’ demonic laughter stunned her as he walked into her presence. “Well, what do you know?” Rasmus said. “My so-called daughter and I meet again! What are you doing here?” “And you?” she asked. “Why are you a Mulawin now?’ He seized her by the neck and growled, “Don’t meddle with what isn’t your business. You’re lucky you didn’t die for lying to Vultra.” “That was your loss as well as mine,” she told him, afraid. “Why don’t we help each other now?” “Ha! And what use are you to me, lowlander?” he said scornfully. And then, he noticed the bag she carried with her. Some shining object was inside it, glowing through its surface. “What’s that in your bag you carry?” he asked. He snatched the bag away from her and forced it open. Examining its contents, Rasmus quickly discovered the fragment of that gem of the Diwata. “Such a coincidence!” he exclaimed. “My ‘daughter’ is the one who ends up saving my father!” Perhaps, seeing some use for the girl now, Rasmus disclosed to her his immediate plan: to go to the Mulawin tree and meet Ravenum there. But he preferred to wait until nightfall to avoid being spotted by the Mulawin. Alwina brought Gabriel and Terong to Rosing’s dwelling and asked politely if the two men could stay with her for a while. Lino was there, of course, still nursing his wounds. Rosing readily admitted them, still addressing Gabriel as “Sir” although the hacienda was now gone. Old habits die hard. But Gabriel did not tarry in that house; he went for a stroll with Alwina. “I tried to forget you,” he confided in her. “I tried to move away and leave it all behind. But I keep coming back to you.” Observing the gloomy mood he was in, Alwina suggested in a brighter tone, “Let’s go for a walk to cheer you up! You want to see the Mulawin tree?” A strange feeling stole over Gabriel at the mention of this mysterious thing. He nodded. So Alwina led him to the middle of the forest where stillness and a dense fog prevailed. Before them was the mystical Mulawin tree with its golden boughs and shining leaves. The whole tree itself seemed to be imbued with an aura of fire. Alwina stopped a few meters away from it. “We can’t go any further,” she explained. “Try to move any closer and you’ll feel a shield.” “What’s so special about this tree?” Gabriel asked. “Sure, it’s golden. But other than that, it looks just like any other tree.” Alwina laughed softly. “Why, Gabriel, this is the symbol of hope for the Mulawin. But for me, coming here is like visiting a graveyard.” She began to lament for Aguiluz then, and even as she did, the unseen guardian of the tree drew near. He saw Gabriel with his fellow Sugo. How is that possible? Aguiluz wondered. The guardian pushed his hands in vain against the invisible force-field that protected the tree. “Yes, you’re with me now, but Aguiluz is still the one you’re thinking of,” Gabriel said almost to himself as Alwina mourned for her loved one. Suddenly, Gabriel uttered a small cry as in pain. Alwina turned to him immediately to see what was wrong, but Gabriel pushed her away. In the presence of the Mulawin tree, he felt a change happening in himself. He could not stop it either. “Stay away from me!” he begged her. “Leave me alone!” Gabriel broke away and ran off into another part of the wood. Confused, and thinking she had hurt him by what she had said, Alwina followed him. “I’m sorry if I hurt you,” she said. “I didn’t mean it!” Aguiluz was watching them. He realized now that it was Gabriel he had seen in visions who would slay Alwina. It seemed that Gabriel was plotting to kill her by leading her into a trap. “Don’t follow him, Alwina!” Aguiluz cried. He never saw what happened after that, as the two had gone from the vicinity of the tree. Now, Alwina was right behind Gabriel. “I said go away!” he said in a choking voice. Gabriel was clinging tightly to a tree, looking away from her. Alwina did not see his eyes shimmer with an evil glow. Just then, Bagwis came to the scene and called out to his daughter. “Alwina, we have to talk,” he told her. So Alwina had to leave her friend alone and go with her father. “What’s wrong with Gabriel?” he asked. “I think I hurt him,” she said sadly. “I kept on talking about Aguiluz.” “You said a few things to him and now you’re sorry because you don’t want your friend to get hurt,” Bagwis said. “But how many times have you hurt your mother? You’re not concerned about that.” Irritated, Alwina hardened her face and replied, “I can’t forgive her. I can’t accept her as my mother.” “And because of that,” he said, “she tried to kill herself last night.” “What? But I thought…” “No, Alwina. She went out of the house that night to commit suicide.” After confiding in his mother that he sensed danger coming for Alwina, Aguiluz declared that he wished to return to the world of men. Salimbay stoutly opposed him on this. “You are asking for the impossible,” she told him. “What you want to happen is against the will of God! Have faith that Alwina can defend herself!” “But it’s only for a short while!” he said in pleading tones. “Alwina needs me!” “No. This is where we disagree. You don’t need to make a move. You can’t make a move. God has given Alwina the means to defend herself. What we’re debating about is whether you can stand being away from her or not.” Aguiluz was very disappointed. “You don’t understand, Mother,” he told her. Salimbay then said to him, “You think I don’t understand? Son, I do understand. Before I became guardian of the tree, I was a wife and a mother. I couldn’t be with you. I missed you and your father. But I put up with all that because it was what God asked of me. Now, everyone can see the tree and its fruit hangs over them. God is asking the same of you now, Aguiluz.” Upon Bagwis’ appearance, the pain had left Gabriel. But now, a great fear seized his heart. What in the world was going on with him? Why was he turning into a Ravena? Was it because of the Mulawin tree? Gabriel knew he could not find the answers on his own; he would need help. But help from whom? Who could help him find the answers to his questions? There was Violeta. She had been a Ravena herself and now she was human again. Perhaps, she could offer him some insights. So Gabriel wended his way to Lourdes’ house and sought Veronica. She had been quiet all day, staring at empty space. But when Lucio’s son spoke to her, she answered him openly. “I need to know what you went through,” he told her. “I need to know how you became a Ravena.” Veronica told him, “I was blinded by anger and hatred, and Ravenum used that to draw my soul out. They made me a Ravena, and then they pushed me down a cliff to force my feathers and wings to sprout.” Gabriel nodded, and asked, “How did you become a human again?” “When the Sugo reached the Mulawin tree, I became human again. Once the Sugo reached the tree, all things changed back to what they really were, and what they should be.” It was as if heaven had shut its doors at Gabriel then. Damned, condemned, predestined to a living hell, was he not? “Back to what they were?” he muttered to himself. “Meaning, I used to be like this? I really was meant to be a Ravena?” He did not realize that he had been thinking aloud. “What did you say?” Veronica asked politely. “Oh, nothing… I was just surprised to know that you had been a Ravena.” Aguiluz looked up at the Mulawin tree with its mysterious fruit. “You,” he said accusingly. “All because of you, I can’t be with Alwina to protect her!” Sensing his thoughts, the queen of the earth element, Florona, responded to Aguiluz’s summons and appeared before him. “What does God want of me?” she asked. “No,” Aguiluz said. “It was only I who sent for you, Florona. I want my body back.” “I cannot help you. I would be violating God’s will if I did. Besides, it is beyond my power to do so. You were resurrected by virtue of the four elements. You do not need my help, anyway.” Aguiluz felt his heart lift up with hope. “You mean, I can go back?” he said. “Yes. Just focus your will into it, and it will be done. But remember: once you renounce your role as guardian of the Mulawin tree, you can never become its protector again.” Then she left him. Aguiluz now had the knowledge he needed to return to his fleshly garment. He cast a long look at the tree his mother had sacrificed so much to preserve. “This is hard for me, Mother,” he said, “but Alwina needs me.”

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The Visitors.

Episode for Jan 18, 2005, Tuesday. She had shed her dark plumage, and her memory as a human being had returned. That was the miracle of the Mulawin tree for Veronica, to have her soul and true identity restored to her. But the darkness had not left her yet. Shadows of the past loomed like misshapen giants over her, visiting even her sleep and haunting the scarred terrains of her dream-world. Even being awakened from her nightmares offered her no comfort. Veronica had, indeed, regained her self, but what was there left of it that Rasmus and Ravenum had not destroyed? She was in Avila, a strange place where almost nobody knew her. She had Lourdes, and Bagwis, but what use was any of it if her own daughter would not receive her? Try as she might to forget her past, how could she? Vultra was gone, but in Alwina’s eyes, the Ravena queen still existed. Veronica roused herself and went out by herself that night. She stopped at the brink of a crag. The first time I jumped, the nightmares began, she thought. Now, when I jump a second time, they will end. No more bad dreams. It all ends here. What are you waiting for, Veronica? Kill yourself now. Veronica knew that voice. She turned and saw Ravenum standing beside her. He was in his Mulawin form, as he had been on that day when he ordered Rasmus to kill her. You’re not real, she told him. You don’t exist! You are right, Veronica. I am not real. I am only a figment of your imagination. But I dwell inside you. I am the darkness that exists in the depths of your heart. You’re a liar, just like your son! Ha! he laughed contemptuously. Speaking of my son, what about your daughter? You almost lost your life trying to save hers. Yet still, she will not accept you. There is no more hope left for you. Throw yourself down now! No! That is a sin against God! This was perhaps the first instance in ages that she invoked the Deity. But tonight, it was not enough to drive away her demons. “Do you really have to go back to Encantadia?” Habagat asked his son wistfully. “I have to,” answered the lad. “I grow weak when I stay away from home for too long.” “I’ll have nobody to talk to once you’re gone. The other Mulawin still avoid me.” Mulagat told him, “Prove to them that you can be trusted. If you have to, ask for their forgiveness.” Habagat smiled at his son’s mature advise. “Say, could you bring a message to your mother for me?” he asked. “What is it?” “Tell her I love her very much.” Mulagat returned his smile and embraced his father. He collapsed from exhaustion and Habagat held him up, fighting back his tears. Alwina threw her arms around the young man before her, and exclaimed, “Gabriel, you’re alive! I saw you fall off the cliff after you fought with Aguiluz!” Gabriel smiled, but he looked uneasy. “I remember nothing after my duel with Aguiluz,” he told her. “I fell and… and I got caught in the branches of a tree… at the bottom of the mountain. And… and when I woke up, I just knew I had to come back here.” “Say, why did you do that? Why did you attack Aguiluz?” “All this was my fault. Forgive me, Alwina. The things I can do and all led me to believe that I’m the other Sugo.” “How did you know that there are two?” Gabriel’s eyes darted here and there, as if looking for an answer himself. “Oh,” he said, “well, when you left me and Dakila with the others, I heard them talking about how there could possibly be two Sugo. So maybe that got into my head and I believed it was me.” If Alwina found this story doubtful, she did not show it for the moment. “But you told me earlier that you had to come back here to Avila,” she said. “Why? Tell me, Gabriel. I need answers.” She was wearing a stern expression on her face that was new to him. It would have reminded him of the situation with Ka Doroy. “I had to come back here to ask forgiveness,” Gabriel explained, “and to…” “And to what?” How do I tell her I need help? As Gabriel’s eyes scanned the air for an excuse, Terong made his entrance. Alwina greeted him happily, when Gabriel shouted, “Look! Somebody’s falling!” Alwina turned around swiftly and espied a woman plunging off a cliff. She took off into the air at once to catch her but was distracted in her flight by the thick mists. While Terong ran to help her, Gabriel willed his wings to sprout, and he himself went to carry out the rescue. He swept the woman into his arms in mid-air and gently wafted her to safety. Lourdes was cooking a meal late that night when Bagwis came calling. “So it’s you!” she said. “Why not have some food?” “No, thanks,” he replied. “I just came here to talk to Veronica.” As usual. “Oh, she just left,” Lourdes said, “but she’ll be back. Why don’t you go inside and have a soup?” “All right.” Lourdes watched him enter the house, and then went back to her cooking. Bagwis noticed a letter folded on the table and said, “Did you see this letter?” It was from Veronica. Lourdes had failed to notice it, busy as she was. She went over to his side and he read it to her: “’Don’t try to look for me,’ it says. ‘I will end all this now.” It was a suicide note. Gus and Wis dangled on each of Aramis’ arms as he lifted them up. They marveled at his strength as Aviona looked on with a smile. “I live alone,” he told them, “but word spreads fast. I heard that a new government is here in the mountain. I went here thinking, if I can’t get along with other people, maybe I will with bird-men like you.” Aviona welcomed the newcomer and helped him with sleeping arrangements that night. When he thought she was asleep, however, Aramis got up and went to look for his target. “How goes it, Aramis?” Rasmus called out from afar. Gabriel laid his burden on the ground and sat beside her. The woman’s long hair had been tossed over her face. She pushed it back and looked at him. An awkward silence fell as each realized who the other was. “Gabriel? Is that you?” “Yes, Violeta, it’s me.” “What are you doing here in Avila?” “I could ask you the same thing,” he said with a slight frown. “When you left my father, you just disappeared… as if the earth had swallowed you up. Why did you leave, Violeta?” “That’s not my name. My real name is Veronica. I was Vultra, the queen of the Ravena.” Gabriel was not amused. “Don’t try to fool with me, Violeta!” he said angrily. “I’m not!” she insisted. “I’m telling you the truth, and I told you, my name is Veronica. Now, please, don’t tell Alwina that I tried to kill myself tonight.” “Why did you do that?” She hesitated, and said, “We’ll talk about that later.” Company came running in, Alwina and Terong. “Veronica,” she said. “Was that you who fell?” “Um, yes, but…” She exchanged glances with Gabriel. “But she found something to land on and didn’t hurt herself,” he concluded. And Alwina asked, “Gabriel, how did you get here so fast?” “Um… I ran,” he replied. “I ran so fast because I wanted to save Violeta.” Violeta? Alwina raised her brows. “Oh, yeah, I forgot,” she said. “You two know each other. Aren’t you Gabriel’s stepmother? He knows you as Violeta. You have so many names… Veronica, Vultra, Violeta… I don’t know what to call you. “You folks shouldn’t stay out at night. You might trip and fall over in the dark. Or maybe get lost in thick of lies you’ve made.” Veronica listened in embarrassed silence. “Say, aren’t you…?” Terong began. “Already discussed, Terong,” Gabriel said curtly. Most of the Avilan population was happy and content now, not the least of which were Tuka and Dakdak. The former would have perfect joy if her son could have his Mulawin wings back again. And this was about to happen. Dakila sent for Gus and Wis and assured them he did not intend to curse them anew. Instead, he told them: “You have proven your friendship to each other so many times and stood against everything that tried to keep you apart. Now, I ask you, Pagaspas and Lawiswis, would you like to fly again?” The two friends beamed at the idea and showed their approval. So Dakila lifted off his spell on them and, in an instant, their Mulawin wings and feathers returned to them. With unparalleled excitement, they welcomed this. “Let’s fly!” they told each other and set out for the open night-sky like two angels going up to heaven. Bagwis and Lourdes rushed out to the woods to search for Veronica before she could do mischief to herself. They met with Alwina’s company and found Veronica sitting alone. Bagwis ran to her side and helped her up. “I was just here for some fresh air,” she told them. Lourdes cried out, “Gabriel, you’re alive! We all thought you were dead!” So Gabriel repeated the same story he had woven for Alwina, not a word of which was true. Then she invited them to stay over in her house for the night and have a meal. Everyone followed. Aguiluz’s mind was filled with foreboding. A recurring vision of a man with Ravena wings kept on appearing in his spirit-eye. He saw himself in a duel with this fiend, both of them armed with swords. But what disturbed Aguiluz the most was how the dream or vision always ended. The dark man would kill Alwina and Aguiluz could only watch in horror. Aguiluz felt like a tree spirit trapped in his own element now. If precognition was one of his hitherto latent gifts, then this was a pre-sentiment of future events. How could he prevent them if he was stuck here? Having reassured himself that Veronica was now safe, and thankful for Gabriel’s help, Bagwis went to visit Dakila. “I don’t show it to Alwina,” the old man said, “but I, too, miss Aguiluz. When he left us, it was as if I had lost a child.” Bagwis nodded, saying, “We have all been separated from our children. It seems that Alwina just threw away her chance to be reunited with her mother. I worry for Veronica. She tried to commit suicide tonight because her daughter cannot accept her. It was a good thing that Gabriel was there to save her.” Dakila’s eyes glowered like hot coals. “Gabriel?” he said. “He is here? He has returned to Avila?”

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Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Conduct Unbecoming.

Episode for Jan 17, 2005, Monday.
It was a small world for Gabriel, too small. However he tried to escape his former life, fate steered him toward it again and again. In one day, he would meet three personalities from the past he had vowed to leave behind. After the unhappy accident of meeting Savannah at the beach, Gabriel passed by a store to buy some goods. The owner of that store – as one would expect in such a small world – happened to be Meding. “Say, aren’t you that fellow staying with Ka Doroy?” she asked. “Such a handsome lad you are! What a coincidence. I also have a stranger staying with me. She’s pretty and single. I’ll introduce you to her.” The woman called out, “Hey, Savannah! Come over here!” At that, Gabriel hurriedly turned his back on her and bumped into another man standing by. It was Terong, who had wandered into Santiago after quitting the Taguba camp. Gabriel’s eyes brightened. “Terong!” he said. He bustled his old friend out of that place, not wishing to meet Savannah again. She arrived just soon enough to see them walking away in the distance. Forgetting her kind host, Savannah went after them in stealth. On the way back to the shore, Gabriel recounted his adventures to Terong. “That bird-man lied to me,” he remarked. “He told me I’m a Sugo and everything. But it’s all just because of that binhi I swallowed.” “You mean your wounds heal on their own just because of that?” asked Terong. Gabriel looked uncertain, but he said, “I guess so. Now, just remember this. Act as if you don’t know me when we’re in front of Ka Doroy.” “Why?” “I don’t want a lot of questions. I just want to start all over and forget my past.” In a humble but sunny dwelling in Avila, Lourdes was nursing Veronica’s wounds. “You’re still the caring old friend I remember, Lourdes,” the latter remarked. “But are you the Veronica I remember?” Lourdes asked as she dressed the wounds. “I’m sorry, but after all the things that have happened, I still find it hard to believe.” Veronica turned to look at her. “Yes, it really is me, Lourdes. I’m your friend.” Lourdes paused. “But now that your memory has returned, I don’t know if you can forgive me,” she said. “Why? What did you do?” She had come to the dim and dusky realm of Halconia to ransom Veronica. Lourdes showed Rasmus a large black plume and told him, “I’ll give you back your ugatpak in exchange for Veronica. If not, I will burn it.” “No!” Rasmus said hastily. “Here, I have something else to offer you.” He showed her a small leather pouch and took out a shining green seed from it. “Magical things, green binhi for your beloved Bagwis,” he told her. “What will I do with that binhi?” she asked angrily. “I came here for Veronica, not that!” But Rasmus was shrewd. “You can ransom Veronica, but for what?” he argued. “So she can get back together with Bagwis? Bagwis is useless without his sight, Lourdes. Use the binhi to heal him and he will love you forever.” Veronica grasped the bars of her cage and cried, “No, Lourdes! I’m the one Bagwis loves! Ransom me, not the binhi!” “Take the binhi and live happily ever after with Bagwis,” Rasmus insisted. Lourdes stretched out her hand. “Give me the binhi,” she answered. Rasmus placed the binhi in her hand, and from her other hand, he retrieved his precious ugatpak. As soon as he had reattached it to his spine, he told her, “Get out of here now… before I change my mind!” Then Lourdes turned away, leaving the prisoner to her doom. As she walked away, Veronica’s plaintive cries stirred the evening air and pierced her heart. Those helpless cries would echo in Lourdes’ mind and haunt her for the remainder of her life. “I chose them instead of your freedom,” Lourdes concluded. “I hope you can forgive me.” But it was not an issue for Veronica. “I understand that now,” she told Lourdes. “I’m the one who should go down on my knees and ask your forgiveness for everything I have done. Even then, I know it would be hard for you all to trust me, especially Alwina.” The bird-man who had been responsible for all that was just then making plans with Aramis the hunter. Only recently he had confessed supreme love for a woman and begged forgiveness for his wrongdoing. Now, Rasmus was back to his old business, bent on more wrongdoing than before. Aramis was not keen on the idea of returning to Avila. “You know what happened to me the last time you sent me there,” he said. “How was I to know that that would happen?” Rasmus snapped. “You, someone who has unusual power, beaten by the song of a petty little bird!” “What makes you so sure I will do as you tell me to?” asked Aramis. Rasmus’ eyes burned into his. “Because you owe me a huge debt,” he replied, “and you have yet to pay me.” Alwina had gone to the Mulawin tree to sulk on her own. On the way to that foggy area, she met Aviona, and the two warrior-maidens greeted each other as two long-lost friends do. Alwina then went to the foot of the tree and spoke to Aguiluz. “She may be my mother,” she said. “But when I look at her, I see only Vultra. Am I such a bad person now? If only you were here, Aguiluz!” Aguiluz answered her, but Alwina never heard him. He reached out to touch her, but in vain. This was painfully reminiscent of those early days in Tierra Fuego, when he could watch over her only from afar and could not make himself known. “You still miss Aguiluz, don’t you?” Aviona said. “Long before you lost him, I already lost him. So I’ve had more time to come to terms with it than you.” “I’ll never have anyone in my heart except him,” Alwina told her. “Don’t say that,” the other girl told her. “If you open your heart, it can love again.” But Alwina was inconsolable. Aviona was more optimistic now, and later went out to gather fruits with some companions. As fruits fell rolling to the forest-floor, a man came to pick one up. It was Aramis. “You want this?” he said. That brought a very, very pretty smile on her face. Veronica was sitting by herself outside Lourdes’ house when Bagwis came to pay a visit. She greeted him with a smile, but her eyes were sad. “I just want to know how you’re doing,” he told her. “Well, here,” she said, “I really can’t mix with the people that much. It feels like they know who I am.” Bagwis gave her a reassuring pat and said, “Veronica, nobody here knows you!” “Maybe they don’t know. But I know, Bagwis. I know who I used to be and what I did.” The warrior touched her gently and answered in a kind tone, “Give yourself time. One day, you will see the same woman that I see: the woman I love most.” Lourdes came walking in from behind the house and saw them in an embrace. Without making her presence felt, she stole back into the house. Later, Veronica began to ply her with questions regarding Alwina’s likes and dislikes. “Why don’t you ask her yourself?” replied her friend. Veronica sighed, “Because I’ve noticed that she’s avoiding me.” “Well, then, make a way so that she can’t avoid you,” Lourdes said with a smile, handing her some dessert. Veronica carried this food with her to where Alwina was. Of course, the gates had been opened and anyone could enter. The mother hesitated, and then said, “I brought you some food.” “No thanks, I’m not hungry,” replied Alwina with her back to Veronica. “Don’t worry. It’s not poisoned.” Alwina turned around to face her. It hurt Veronica to look into those remote eyes. “How can you make a joke like that about our past?” Alwina asked. “Do you think that’s funny?” “I just want to forget the past…” “No,” the youngster snapped. “It’s not so easy to forget the past and your sins. You can’t dismiss it with a little food or a joke. I don’t know if I can accept you as a friend. And I certainly don’t know if I can accept you as my true mother.” Gabriel’s bad luck had not run out, it seemed. Now he wanted to start over and live anonymously in this nice fishing village. But, perhaps, destiny had something else in store for him, and thus allowed Savannah to foil his plans. “How can you two friends deny it?” she asked. “Don’t you know that the Ravena burned your mansion, Gabriel? And your father. They don’t even know yet if he’s dead or alive!” Ka Doroy had been listening to their conversation. “You there!” he said, walking over to them. “This girl here knows you, Gabriel. You lied to me. I told you: I had only one condition, that you must not lie to me. But you did. You’re fired, Gabriel. Get out of my house, and take your old friend here with you!” Thanks a lot, Savannah. Bitch! So the young men had to abandon their fishing boat and leave the town. Savannah was still following them. They retired back to the woods with Gabriel steadily leading the way. He knew where he was going, and Terong had an idea too. “I know this way,” he said in a whining tone. “Why do you want to go back here? That bird could turn us to stone again!” “That bird is gone,” Gabriel assured him. “Look, you heard what Savannah said. There’s nothing left for us to go back to in Tierra Fuego. I just want to forget it all and start anew.” Terong was struck by the change in his young master. “You want to forget everything?” he asked. “Including your loved ones? Even Alwina? Gabriel, you’re the one who taught me to face up to life’s problems instead of running away from them.” Bagwis came again later that day and saw Veronica weeping like a child. “Why are you crying?” he asked. “Oh, it’s nothing, never mind,” she said, wiping her eyes. “It’s Alwina,” Lourdes told him, and narrated what had transpired earlier. “Let her be,” Veronica said to them. “I understand why she’s treating me like this. Can you blame her?” Bagwis retained his calm. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I will talk to her.” So he went to the Mulawin tree and gently reproved Alwina, saying, “Why did you say those things you said to Veronica?” Alwina’s ears smoked like a chimney at this. “Why are you taking her side?” she asked. “I’m the bad one now? How can you expect me to trust her?” And her father said, “There are things deeper than trust. Such as love. I love Veronica, and you are the fruit of that love. Alwina, you can disown everything and everyone. But not the one to whom you owe your life.” Dakila had called the people to assembly. Rosing and the other lowlanders had feared he could be sending them home now, when they no longer had any. They cheered for him when he appeared, and he said: “Do not cheer for me but for yourselves. Because of you, Avila has regained its freedom. Now, I have heard that many of you lost loved ones during the battle. To show you our gratitude, and as a symbol of unity between our kind and yours, I am inviting you to live here with us Mulawin. I am opening the doors of Avila to you!” This announcement met with rounds of applause. But Habagat felt a stinging sensation in his skin beneath his armor. The other Mulawin were shunning him like a disease. “Give them time,” Mulagat said. “They’ll forgive you eventually.” “It’s not that,” Habagat replied. “I know it’s hard to forgive others. But the hardest thing is to forgive oneself.” Veronica would have understood that perfectly. “I sense dark clouds coming this way,” Aguiluz confessed to Salimbay. “But they’re not coming for the tree. They’re coming for my loved ones! If you’re right and my powers are unfolding, then this isn’t some hunch I’m having. It’s real. Something bad is going to happen to Alwina.” She again insisted that Alwina was no longer his charge. But even as they were speaking, Alwina sensed impending trouble on her own. Someone had arrived. “Who goes there?” she called out, ready to strike. The figure of a man stumbled into her presence and Alwina brought him down with her new-found powers. When he gathered himself up again, Alwina recognized Gabriel.

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