“56 – The goddess lies in her flower garden, where the stems are crystallized blood and the flowers are the heads of men. She takes up a bronze mirror, made in the form of a sun, and sees nothing but pure hatred.
‘If I cannot love myself, then there is no violence,’ she mutters. ‘If there is no violence, then there is no love of self. What is my first and last lesson? Self-love. For if one cannot inflict righteous violence upon one’s self, then how will you inflict it upon others? First, learn to hate one’s self. That is the most difficult task, for what is more painful than impaling one’s self with a spear? In that moment of self-hate, one will see one’s true self. Only then can one find self-love. But it is always a process. It is always long. And it is always difficult. But such is love. Such is love.”From the 55 Lessons of Mahadiwa Kalakatri Duumanun
The next day, Bakong awoke with a horrible burning behind her eyes, and the vague shadow of a headache. The pain was strange, as if an echo. As if she was supposed to be feeling it, but only felt it whenever she moved her head too quickly. A strange predicament to be sure.
She looked around her. She found herself in a strange cottage, upon a beautiful textile sleeping mat bordered by a kulambo, a mosquito net one would place about the sleeping mat. A large window in the distance fed sunlight in, but the wind was cold this morning. The sunlight was still weak.
Bakong forced herself to rise. There were two other beds, but she could not find her help.
Outside, she could hear the vague sounds of speaking from Binayaan and Masuna.
She stumbled outside, bags heavy under her eyes.
There, the sunlight did not hit her face, thankfully enough. The world seemed just a tad bit clearer, a tad bit sharper this morning. Here, Masuna was practicing his sword anyo, while Bangahom sat atop a stump, legs swinging, watching as Binayaan cleaned her gun with a silken cloth.
It was strangely serene.
A large frog man walked into the clearing carrying logs of bamboo and hardwood upon his shoulders. Bakong watched as Masuna hurried over to him and grabbed half of the load, and carried it to the backside annex of the cottage.
It was Bangahom that saw Bakong awake. “Bayi!” They exclaimed. Binayaan rose to her feet seeing Bakong out and awake as well. Bangahom’s voice seemed louder than usual.
Binayaan turned to Bakong and told them to keep it down, with a wry smile on her face.
Bangahom and Binayaan made their way up to Bakong. “How are you feeling?” Binayaan asked, leaning against the railings of the front porch.
“Strange.” She wiped at her face. A strange dull thudding, somewhere. “Really strange.”
Binayaan could only laugh. “All right then, come. I’ll make some ginger tea for you.” She walked into the cottage. “It’ll make you feel better.”
Bangahom nodded as the three of them returned to the cottage. “I can vouch for it.”
“You’ve felt this way before, Bangahom?” asked Bakong.
“No,” replied the little yawa sorcerer. “But I can imagine it.”
Binayaan set about crushing ginger and steeping it into hot water. The hot water itself was boiled within a stone pot, which was heated atop a little flame on charcoal. After heating it, she poured the tea into one of the clay cups that was lying around. The cup had the indicative intricate filigree and designs upon it that noted that it was made by local potters.
Binayaan set three cups upon a low table, which stood close to the fire. They each sat upon quaint sitting mats, made of abaca. There was a maximalist kind of serenity, in that mixture of the crackling fire, chirping birds, crowing cocks, clacking bamboo, and the hushed words of Masuna and Karakasa working outside.
“Drink up,” said Binayaan. “You’re going to need it.”
Bakong only nodded and decided not to say anything more. She felt strange in a weird, puking way. Like her soul was trying to leap out of her kalag.
“You’ll get used to it eventually,” said Binayaan, grinning. Bakong took a sip. “How is it?”
“Warm. Good.” The hot water did feel warm and cozy as it ran down her throat. The thudding stayed, of course, but she just assumed that she had to drink the whole beverage first before getting any conclusions.
“Come on, let’s get you some fresh air.” Binayaan stood and offered her hand.
“That would be nice.” Bakong took it and followed Binayaan out, cupping her clay cup close to her chest. She wore a shawl now, which wrapped around her neck and hands. She kept it close, letting the steam and warmth from the teacup waft up to her face. That felt nice.
They walked on out to the front of the porch and over to a small hill, close by to the cottage. There, they stood beneath a balete tree. The hill gave them a good look of the city of Put’wan which, to this day, still gleamed with gold as the morning sun caressed it.
They stood there in silence for a while. Bangahom sat atop Binayaan’s head. “Good thing you have a big head,” Bangahom had said.
As they sipped their teacups and enjoyed the cold morning wind, the shade of the balete tree, and the view of that great golden city, Bakong said, “Huh. It feels as though you’ve experienced this before, elder sister.”
Binayaan grinned, showing off her sharp canines. “A lot of times before. That’s for sure.” She pointed over at the great Put’wan Longhouse, with three roofs and three different annexes, linked together by wooden corridors. The Longhouse of Put’wan’s ruler. “Our uncle and aunt live there, remember?”
Bakong nodded. “I have not seen them muchly, however.”
“I’m sure they don’t even know you exist, as of the moment,” she replied, shrugging. “Which is to your advantage. Let’s make sure it stays that way.”
“Is this what brother Dayaw meant about me being the Rajahnate’s ‘secret weapon’?” Brother Dayaw. That’s a person that Bakong hadn’t met in a long time. One of the elder brothers of the 11 Brothers. He was kind, handsome in that sharp, striking way.
Binayaan nodded again. “Unfortunately. But the less that know about you the better. Keep your head down: that’s how you survive.”
Bakong thought for a moment, and then said: “But keeping your head down… you do not change anything.”
“That is the price for safety. You don’t change anything.”
They stood there for a few more moments. The ginger tea seemed to be taking effect, enlightening Bakong’s mood and dulling the throbbing and burning ache for so much that it felt as if it had gone away. However, Bakong could still feel it if she concentrated hard enough.
“The ginger tea will take full effect soon,” said Binayaan. “You’re going to need it if you’ve gone here for the reason I’ve been told.”
Bakong steeled her face. That’s right, she was here because she wished to learn the spear arts. She wished to strengthen herself so that she could inflict violence upon the world so that she could change it.
“Ah, there is the mighty binukot! One who will unite the grand states of Gatusan and Akai!”
Bakong turned. There, the frog man walked up to her. Despite being a frog, he still wore a bahag and a baro, a silk jacket. In one hand, he carried a spear with an iron head and a bamboo shaft.
“Ah, is… that me?”
Masuna appeared behind the frog man. He bowed low as he approached Bakong. “Binukot, this is Guro Karakasa, Spearmaster of Put’wan, known as the Twice-Striking Lightning.” Masuna was wearing only his bahag at that moment, revealing the tattoos that lined his body, his shoulders, his back, his arms, but not his fingers. Some of it reached his neck, and he had lines scrawling down his legs. A living canvas, as poets would so eloquently put it. It was the custom among Gatusan states: warriors in their first conquest of war and love would be tattooed, and then for every person killed or act of bravery afterward, the tattoo would grow, eventually covering their entire body. In this manner, they become Living Canvasses of Violence. And their names–pinatikan in these isles, but pintados in the other continents–are feared across the entire world.
“My violence is honed into a penetrating javelin,” said Karakasa, grinning. “I am a student of the Heavenspears, purveyors of the Heaven Rending Arts.”
“You are a frog,” said Bangahom.
“Indeed. And you are a little yawa,” said Guro Karakasa. “What a surprising motley crew you’ve accrued, Masuna. Do you guard the princess with a yawa? Who I assume is the princess’ faithful servant…?”
Bangahom nodded enthusiastically.
“Very well, who am I to question the royal birthrights!” Karakasa squatted low, placed both hands upon his cheeks, and bowed. “Great royal binukot, I am ever at your service.”
Masuna gestured at Bakong. His muscles rippled. “I’ve spoken with Guro Karakasa about the bayi’s intention.”
Bakong snapped out of it quickly enough. Binayaan, on the sidelines, hid a grin by mopping her face. “A-Ah, yes. Of course. Do you accept then, great guro?”
Guro Karakasa wordlessly rose to his feet. “Do you understand the great price of killing, bayi?” His words became grave, suddenly. The wind became even colder. “That once sacred, ritual act, blasphemed and profaned and turned into a fact of life, a habit, a chore?”
“I… I do not wish to kill,” Bakong eventually, finally, said. After a suffocating silence. “I only wish to protect myself.”
“Then that will not be enough,” replied Guro Karakasa. “In these islands of violence, if you do not fight to kill, then you fight to die.”
Another sullen silence. Masuna looked away, staring at the balete tree. A tree of great spiritual importance. Spirits live within. It is as much their home as the balay the home of mortals. However, as of this moment, Masuna could see none, even when he closed his eyes to open his spirit sight, his third eye.
Masuna could not respond at this moment. This was a decision for Bakong to make. For many warriors in the islands–and truly, almost every person in the islands were warriors, for they were expected to take arms when their lord called upon them, whether they be a fisher, hunter, smith, or weaver–this was simply a fact of life. They could not escape killing.
And since they could not escape it, why would they try to fix it? Flee from it? Nay. In killing is glory. In killing is victory.
Masuna looked down upon his tattoos.
The Guro broke into a smile. “Ah, but the bayi need not make such a decision so quickly, I am sure! If the maiden wishes to ruminate upon it where the wind is cold–”
“Nay. I accept,” interjected Bakong. “I… am naive, cruelly so. But if there must be a change in these isles, if I am to defend myself… then let there be violence. I am ready to kill.”
Binayaan was crossing her arms across her chest, watching Bakong intently. Bangahom was kind of just waddling around reciting mentala out loud.
“Rejoice in the glory of combat then,” replied Guro Karakasa.
At sunset, when the winds grew cold once again and the oppressing heat of the sun subsided, they began their training. Amid falling flower petals and leaves the color of the setting sun, they stood by the clearing and fought against the cacophony of the river Inagos.
“All right, bayi. Catch.” He threw Binayaan a bamboo with a fire-hardened point, known as a sugob in the isles.
Bakong reached out and caught it clumsily.
“First things first, that is called a sugob. With it, we shall train you. In battle, you must know that there is a chance that your spearhead could be removed. Thus, to master the Heaven-Rending Arts, you must learn first how to fight with a stick.”
“A stick? For a sugob, its tip is blunt.”
“A wooden stick is the most dangerous weapon in the universe,” replied Karakasa. “With it, you can skewer God.”
Bakong looked down upon the sugob.
“I remember being told that you were taught the basics of sword fighting, at the least?”
Bakong nodded, glancing at Masuna. “I have.”
“Good. Then learning the spear should come in second nature to you. Let us begin.”
As the two of them trained, Binayaan and Masuna sat by the ladder that led to the front porch of Karakasa’s cottage. Masuna munched on a piece of steamed taro, while Binayaan helped herself to more pangasi, this time in a smaller clay pot.
“How were you doing back at home?” asked Binayaan. “It’s been a long time, Masuna.”
Masuna nodded. “Indeed, bayi.”
“What? Don’t miss me?” Binayaan elbowed Masuna’s shoulder.
“I do, and I do so miss Bayi Balaanon as well. However, as a guardian of Bayi Bakong, I must stay my course.”
“It’s not like I’m asking you to come back or anything. I don’t miss Kangdaya,” said Binayaan, shrugging. “This is where it’s at. Sailing the seas, taking what’s yours.”
“Perhaps,” said Masuna. “However, bayi, you are lucky. You escaped Kangdaya with a haop’s worth of debtors and followers, who follow you and help you in your every move.”
Binayaan nodded. “That is the privilege of a binukot, after all.”
“I am simply glad that after all this time, you appear safe. Except for the eye, of course.”
Binayaan smiled. “That Balaanon is a quick one. Silver shadow, haya! Never could outwit her.”
“Without you on the line, and with Bayi Bakong being wed,” said Masuna. “It seems that Bayi Balaanon is poised to inherit the throne.”
“She is. And she is the daughter of Bayi Pitri Sangasiran. She is the true heir, daughter of two nobles. I am a daughter of the Rajah and a runaway wife. A witch-sorcerer too, from what I’ve heard.”
“Time rushes by, a river,” Masuna said. “It waits for no one. The seasons change, Bakunawa wheels about the sky… the sun sets and the moon rises. In their ordained orders, in their proper places. And yet we still stand here, blood arrayed about us like a halo.”
“The river of blood goes and goes, after all,” said Binayaan. She stared up at the violet sky. Off in the distance, flying karakoa–no doubt housing the nobles of Put’wan–disembarked from Put’wan’s ten-roofed longhouses. These flying karakoa were rowed by legions of umalagad, ancestor spirits.
A silence. Karakasa parried a lousy yet enthusiastic strike from Bakong.
“Hey, at least we’re here now, right?” said Binayaan, smirking. She reached up and ruffled Masuna’s hair. “You’re going to Jambangan, are you not? The City of Flowers.” She nodded as if impressed with herself for some reason. “My barge will go with you.”
“You wish to come with us?”
She nodded. “Now I am free, and I’m kind of curious as to how the entire marrying thing will go down.”
Masuna looked to the sky. The winds blew his hair about. Thin strands of hair fell upon his face. He brushed them away, but some rebel strands bounced back, like antennas in front of him.
“There is one thing that puzzles me, although I fear I already know the answer to this inquiry,” continued Binayaan. “Usually it is the father that accompanies the daughter, as a sign of goodwill usually, and a lord would hardly pass up the chance to be able to show off their strength and wealth in competitive feasts, especially in one so large as a marriage between a crown prince and a princess. But the Rajah…”
Masuna nodded at Bakong’s demon hand. “I am sure it is because the Rajah does not wish to associate himself with a demon daughter.”
Binayaan scoffed. “Shame, but not surprising to me.”
Masuna did not say anything more. Even though he was Bakong’s ward, he was still under the employ of the Rajahnate. Ingrained deep within him was an irrational pride and obligation to the place, as much as he wished he didn’t serve it.
He shook his head. No, Masuna. Think not those thoughts. Lest you let the world crumble about you.
“I’m sure you and Bakong are getting along swellingly?” asked Binayaan.
To that, Masuna could not respond. Binayaan let the silence answer for him. “Okay then,” Binayaan continued, and she turned to look at her sister.
Karakasa sidestepped a spear thrust from Bakong and knocked her onto the ground with a flourishing maneuver. She turned around and sat, mouth open as she tried to gulp in as much air to breathe. Karakasa spoke: “Now Bayi! Remember that the spear is but a tool. It is not a killing device! A spear, I’m sure you already know, is used for protection, to sanctify marriages, as offerings to the gods, as ways to hunt fish, or as objects to hang things from so that said items don’t fall to the ground! Remember it thusly.”
Bakong rose to her feet, nodding. “I understand.”
“I sense the roiling of pohon within you. You practice the Secret Arts?” asked Karakasa.
“I… know the essentials, the fundamentals of the practice. I have not been able to apply it practically in combat–“
But Karakasa lunged forward, quicker than lightning, and slapped her temples so swiftly that she felt no pain. However, when the maneuver ended, she felt a certain… stuffiness. Like a cloud floated about her head.
“I’ve blocked off The Thought from accessing your kinaadman: that enlightened will. Your pohon no longer flows through you for now.”
“And… that stops me from doing my sorcery?”
Karakasa nodded, spreading his hands. “Try it.”
An easy spell was Hokot. Quintessential in its ubiquity. She raised her hand and found that she could not even formulate it within her will. She could not conjure sharpness or concussion, even with her raising her pinky in a hand mudra.
Nothing happened to Karakasa.
“See? To perform your sorcery, you need your kinaadman to access your pohon. You still have both, but I have simply made it so that your kinaadman cannot reach your pohon.”
“I… see. I am Quieted, then.”
“Indeed. Sorcerers at a certain point in their enlightenment begin to rely on their magick like a third hand. But you must learn not to. You must face me wholly in my terms: spear violence.”
Bakong nodded. “Teach me, then, Guro.”
“The lesson continues, binukot!”