“A day passed in the eternal sunrise. The many gods that permeated nature, which are collectively known as God, feasted together, dining on their divinity. A learner and near Makinaadmanon, his eyes burning a pale blue flame and his skin the color of bleached bone, came close to one of the many diwata. They danced and feasted like the mortals would.
She asked, ‘Verily, great Divinity, tell us. Why is there many instead of one?’”
A wine-bearer came up to her and offered her rice wine. ‘What joy is there to be had in drinking wine yourself?’”The Forgotten Teachings of Makinaadmanon Rumaragasang Hunahuna
The next morning, Bakong got up early. Her muscles ached, flaring in some areas. She felt it as she rose to a stand. Masuna and Binayaan both slept beside her.
Masuna woke immediately when he felt her move. “Bayi–”
“It’s okay, Masuna. Sleep. I will be bathing. Do not follow me.”
“But who will–”
“Bangahom shall be with me.”
Masuna relented. When Bakong looked down upon him, he had fallen back asleep.
Bakong walked out of the house and followed the sound of the rushing river. Bangahom materialized next to her as she walked. “Good morning, bayi!”
Bakong smiled. “You’re chipper this dawn, Bangahom.”
“I had a good dream, you know.”
“Dream? Do yawa dream?”
“Yes. Of darkness. That’s it.”
“That’s not too different from not dreaming,” replied Bakong.
Bangahom shrugged. “I take what I can get,” they replied.
They arrived at the river Inagos. There was an area there where white rocks stood resolute against the clean rushing river. The Inagos itself emptied out into the bay whereupon Put’wan stood.
The wind whipped at her, but made no sound. The sound came from the rustling of leaves, the swaying of trunks, the clapping of branches, the clacking of bamboo hollow against one another. A strangely serene and silent cacophony.
Off in the distance, Bakong could see statues of seated gods, cast in bronze and brass and gold. A few fingers holding a strange hand mudra poked out of the river itself. Some of the bronze rocks were actually parts of an idol’s crown poking out from underneath the river’s deep. Giant swords wielded by ancient, unknowable gods stabbed the river’s arteries.
She moved over to where the white stone could hide her and she bathed deep in the river. The water was cold. This combined with the wicked cold air made the winds cut at her skin. She shivered, but she enjoyed it while she still could. In the noon, the sun would hurl its spears against the world once again, bathing them in a horrible heat.
Bangahom leapt up, using a gust of wind to propel themself, and landed atop the white rock. “Ah, a strange serenity… what a land, nature. What a gift.”
“I thought yawa hated nature,” replied Bakong.
“Nay. Yawa hate the atrocities made upon nature. Hence why we are beholden to hunt down tawo. For what else is the source of atrocity but mankind?”
Bakong thought for a moment, although she agreed with what Bangahom had said. “If that is the case, what is your reason? Why are you a yawa? From what atrocity were you birthed, Bangahom?”
“That… I do not remember. But that does not matter to me. All I know is that I know a great many things and I am here to help you. In that manner I am like an umalagad, a guardian spirit. I am bound to you. I suppose I had been summoned or changed in some way by your mother, who is a powerful sorceress.”
Bakong lifted her hands and looked at the lines upon her palm. A strange destiny. “I see. You are all right with not knowing your origin? Your true purpose?”
“My true purpose is whatever purpose I serve as of the present. And that just so happens to be serving you, my bayi.”
Bakong stared at her hands even longer. “That would be nice. To live in that kind of bliss.”
“It is not ignorance,” said Bangahom. “That’s a common saying, you know. ‘Ignorance is bliss’. But no, I don’t think I have ignorance. If anything, I know too much. Knowledge is a circular, I would say. At some point, you know so much that nothing matters in the end, really, and thus you return to bliss. That is true bliss.”
“Such wisdom from a small creature.”
“I am a being of many wisdoms.” Bangahom shrugged and splashed some water. “Makes you think what I was in my past life.”
“That you do not know?” asked Bakong, submerging herself shoulder deep into the cool waters of the river.
Bangahom shrugged. “That’s the one thing I don’t want to learn right now.”
Bakong raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”
“It removes the thrill of the reveal, don’t you think?”
A few moments passed. Another silence. Off in the distance, Bakong saw a giant metal statue half-submerged into the river, half of its face breaching the waters. It looked as if it was watching her. It was made of gold, of course, so the water did nothing to rust it.
Then, Bakong said, “Do you think we live many lifetimes, then?”
“What do you mean, bayi?”
“If… say, a body were to die. Our soul would then leap into another body’s?”
“That’s not exactly how souls work, bayi.”
“Educate me, then.”
“So early in the morning? Are you sure you are open to such a revelation?”
Then, a hoarse croaking voice resounded from upriver: “Keep it simple, she doesn’t need to know everything. It just so happens that some knowledge of the matters of the soul can help you when it comes to understanding how we apply healing.” It was Guro Karakasa, walking down from the path upriver. On his back he wore a basket, which was filled with fruits and bamboo shoots.
Karakasa walked over to the riverbank and laid down the basket. “Come, then. Wear your garments if you wish. I must apply a salve upon your wounds.”
“You tell her, Guro Karakasa,” said Bangahom, swinging his feet upon the stone. “If I were to regale the holy metaphysics, no doubt it will take us all day.”
Karakasa laughed once, and then nodded. Bakong followed the Guro’s orders, wrapping herself with her malong and then moving over to where he was. Karakasa dipped his fingers into a small clay jarlet that had mashed herbs with hot water.
He began applying it on her nose, at the bottom of her back, right above her eyes, on her chin, and then upon her arms, shoulders, and stomach, and the soles of her feet. “In each living being, there are four souls. The Vigor, The Power, The Thought, and The Immortal. The Vigor, known as Ginhawa, is one that makes you feel alive. It can be damaged by the elements, weathered down by mortal age. That is what we heal with our healing techniques.”
After applying the herbs, he began massaging her back, her shoulders, her arms, her thighs, and her calves. The important muscles that she needed when training with a spear. “The Power is the occult power, known as Pohon. It is both the power and the enlightened will of Kinaadman all at once. When both work in tandem, they catalyze sorcery. Those with powerful Pohon can emit stronger bursts of occult power.
“Then there is The Thought, known as Diwa, that which gives us the ability to think, reason, to feel, to be self aware. This is the Soul that many non-human animals lack, although they can definitely grow it or be born with it, it is simply rarer than humans. The Thought wanders when we dream, hence why we sleep within mosquito nets. Not just to keep mosquitos out, but also to keep our Diwa in. If it is captured by demons, we have nightmares. If it is not returned to us when we awake, we become like shallow husks or unthinking, unfeeling creatures. Neglect can also cause our Diwa to disperse, to weaken. We must be able to use it, as much as we can. The Thought, being so common in tawo, is different for each person. Some people function differently than others, simply because their Diwa is formed differently as well. Those that have powerful Diwa usually find it easier to reach their Pohon.
“Finally we have The Immortal. The Kalag. The Immortal is the final soul, that which gathers all experience and memories and brings it with them into the afterworld. When we die, all souls are consumed by The Immortal before beginning their journey into the Afterworld.”
Bangahom piped in there, as Guro Karakasa massaged a knot in Bakong’s muscles, which caused visible discomfort. “Ah! And on the bayi’s question about the multiple lifetimes: a Kalag that is sent to Sulad and not to one of the many places of rest, such as the peak of Mount Majaas or the heavenly realm of Makang, toils and works in Sulad until they die there as well. When they do, their souls are sent back to the world within porcelain jars, wherein they become newborns once again. However, a lifetime of toil and work in the afterworld rips their memory from them, making it so that when your Kalag returns to the middle world, you do not remember much from your past life. Of course, glimpses of this appear in dreams, when The Immortal lets some slip through its fingers. This happens for 9 times, whereupon the ninth time they descend into Sulad, The Immortal–now as small as a rice grain–is kept within a miniature coffin and kept within the cave of souls.”
Bakong nodded. “Fascinating–ah!” As Guro Karakasa pressed down and cracked a myriad of air bubbles kept within her bones.
“You must move more. I know it is not a binukot’s job, but now that you wish to learn the spear arts, you must.”
“I know, I know, Guro. I will endeavor to do so. I will not give up on the spear arts.”
Karakasa nodded. “Good.”
Bakong reached up and stretched, wincing. “Is that all when it comes to the truth of the world? Of the multiple lifetimes?”
Bangahom shook their head. “Nay. Some go to Makang directly, if they die in the glory of combat. Others are saved by Iraon-Daron, who brings them to one of the many places of rest. Others still who follow different gods are instead snatched up by those gods. Those in Akai, for example: when they die, their souls do not follow this cycle of reincarnation. Instead, their Kalag are placed within giant porcelain jars in a particular layer of heaven.”
“I see. I have never experienced death, I would think. I wonder how many lives I have lived…”
“The river of life flows, bayi,” replied Bangahom. “It is much better to think of where you are now than where you will be.”
Karakasa nodded. He finished massaging Bakong and told her to get into the water. She nodded and followed suit. The herbs and oils that Karakasa had used held within them a certain strange power, a certain smell that permeated her senses. “Speaking of what the demon says, I will be accompanying you until the foreseeable future, it seems.”
Bakong blinked. She submerged herself shoulder deep into the river once again. “Truly?”
“I have decided to take Masuna’s offer. I shall be your personal mentor all the way until Jambangan, where I will most likely become one of your certified vassals, and I will keep training you deep into your life as the prince’s wife.”
“Ah, right.” Her voice seemed stale against the cold wind.
Karakasa grinned as he gathered his basket onto his back again. “I suppose the binukot is not entirely receptive to the idea of becoming the rajahmuda’s queen.”
Bakong did not respond. She sunk deeper into the river until only her eyes were above the water.
Bangahom rose to his feet. “Few binukot are happy with their station in life, I can imagine. I mean… being forced to marry someone you do not love? Someone you have never seen before? Ah, but please remember that this is only from an outsider’s perspective. When I think of love, I think of people I truly give myself to. When I think of love, I think of hooked swords, grabbing on and tearing my flesh from me. I do not know how mortals love, but it is infinitely more complicated than how we do, I’m sure.”
Karakasa nodded. “You have the right of it, Bangahom. It is… exceedingly complex.” Karaka paused for a moment, then turned to the sulking Bakong. “If the bayi would excuse me from speaking out of line, does the binukot love anyone?”
Bakong rose just a bit so she could speak. “You don’t have to speak politely with me, Guro, you’ve been speaking informally since we first met.”
“And… n-no. I don’t love anyone.” She dipped down again, hiding her lips. She forced it into a downward arc. “I don’t even know how to love. I don’t know how you could say that.”
Karakasa croaked. “Very well. If that is what the bayi says. Keep the bayi safe, Bangahom.” And with that, Karakasa walked back to his house.
Bakong exhaled underwater. Bangahom sat back down again and swung his legs. “Half-buried statues. As if the people were trying to forget something… or perhaps they’ve already forgotten?”
Deeper into the morning, Masuna went ahead to the docks. There he caught Kiyam lounging about by his ship.
“Ah, I was afraid you’d abandoned us,” said Kiyam. “Not that that mattered much. I could just return to the Rajah and say I’ve done my job.” He snickered.
“Fear not, we are ever steadfast in our goal,” Masuna replied. “How much more personnel can your barge carry?”
“This lady can carry at least one more platoon I’m sure. You needn’t worry.”
“Very well. Guro!”
Karakasa walked over to them after buying some taro from peddling merchants. “Ah, good morning. I am Karakasa, The Lance That Cuts Clouds.”
Kiyam smirked and inclined his head. “Kiyam, the Cat That Owns This Damn Ship.”
“I see.” Karakasa laughed. “I am very pleased! She looks clean and functional.”
Kiyam nodded. “Yeah yeah, get your stuff in there.” Karakasa said his thanks and leapt onto the ship, offloading his carried items.
“What’s that clown doing with us?” asked Kiyam.
“He’s the spearmaster. He’ll mentor Bakong in the violent arts.”
“Ah, the binukot is becoming smart, eh? All right. Not that I can question any of her decisions. Do we embark soon?”
Masuna nodded. “Soon. This afternoon, we shall begin to sail to Jambangan.”
“Right. We’ll get to preparin’ then.” Kiyam turned and began calling out to his crew, and they did so.
“I’ll perform the offering then before we go.” Masuna then turned and made his way back to the longhouse, where no doubt Binayaan and Bakong were.
Bakong returned to the longhouse eventually. She had a singular cloth wrapped around her. Within the Guro’s house, there was only Binayaan, who was cleaning her luthang. “Ah, you’re back. Here.” She tossed her a new set of clothes. A malong and baro getup, along with a shawl that she could use to wrap her head in. The baro had long sleeves, so that it would cover up her demon hand.
“A-Ah, thank you, sister.”
“Change up. Masuna and Karakasa have gone down to ready the barge. We leave soon, I think.”
“We? You’re coming with us, sister?”
Binayaan nodded. “For a time. Just until I witness your imprisonment, heh.”
Bakong managed a laugh at that, but it was half-hearted. As she changed, Binayaan finished cleaning her luthang and rose to her feet. “You don’t seem too excited.”
“I do not think anyone would be…”
“To be married? Unless it’s one you want to be married to, then yeah.”
Bakong thought for a moment as she wrapped her shawl about her. Then she said, “Is there any way to escape this… predicament?”
Binayaan laughed. “Ah, there it is. Well, dear sister, of course there is! Run away. Try not to get caught. That’s it, really. The law of these islands is to take what you can.”
“But… I might get caught. Father is one of the most powerful people in these islands!”
Binayaan shrugged at that. “He’s never caught me, so.”
“But he has been close,” replied Bakong. “I remember that one story of you having been caught once by that child. The Datu Slayer? Masuna regaled it to me, once.”
“Yeah we don’t talk about that one,” said Binayaan. “And that was an outlier. I’ve fought off every other hunter that old fart has sent against me.”
“If… I run away with you, do you think I will have a shot at freedom like yours?”
“You will,” said Binayaan. “You definitely will.” She smirked.
Bakong pondered upon these words.
“Come on,” continued Binayaan. “Let’s not keep the barge waiting. I have my own ship, of course. I’ll be sailing along with you.”
“I must admit I am now doubly secure in the knowledge that you will be travelling alongside us.”
Binayaan winked at her, and then began to walk out. “Don’t forget to bring a sugob with you. Might help.”
“Ah, no need,” said Bakong, a sudden chipper in her voice. She raised her demon arm, and her azure eyes glinted red. A cloud of black and crimson rolled out from her arm, which eventually turned into a long burgeoning trident. “My mother gave me this.”
Binayaan whistled. “Well, isn’t that sexy. Be sure you don’t cut yourself with it–”
At that moment, Bangahom burst in through the door, smokeless fire billowing about them. “Alert alert! We’ve got a kid!”
Masuna walked up to the edge of the Inagos river, right before its bay, where a spirit house sat atop a steep hill. It was placed in such a way that it sat underneath a balete tree, which flowered with pink salinggogon flowers.
Masuna gave his offering in small satchels of rice, and then bowed. He stabbed the balaraw down to the ground and performed that same divination rite.
“O ancestors, answer your servant: should we leave this afternoon?”
The balaraw immediately fell.
Masuna blinked. Then, without missing another beat he said, “Thank you, apo-apo.” He grabbed the balaraw and offered another sack of rice, and some unsalted carabao meat.
When he looked up from the spirit house, he saw the six armed figure of Gattalim, Saint Intercessor of Swords. The figure sat upon a sword, which was embedded blade first into the ground.
Masuna could not respond. The Saint Intercessor lifted a hand and decapitated him with being.
His soul ripped itself from his body. First his skin, then his flesh, then his bones, untill all that was left was his four-headed, four-armed, fourscore soul. His Vigor colored cyan, his Power colored magenta, his Thought colored yellow, and his Immortal colored Black.
The stars twinkled in the distance. If Masuna squinted, he could see the far edges of the void, and could only see mist. Even his soul could not comprehend the truth of the void.
Moments here passed on for eternity. For what is the passage of time but the cause and effect of all things existing? Here there is no causality, and thus there is no passage. Masuna reached up, and his Vigor flickered.
Above him, the void ripped open. Angels–winged hobgoblins with carapaces made of dead stars–descended upon him in a spiralling choir. Their songs were screams of the damned.
The tear in the void gave way to a face, singular and judging. Two hands came in and ripped the tear wider, and a pillar of flame descended upon Masuna.
Masuna’s agony could not be heard, for there was no space here in the void.
When the blinding white flame extinguished itself, Masuna’s body stayed the same. Yet the choir of angels had disappeared, and before him instead was the giant form of a composite god, made of gold and silver, with three heads and six arms. Each arm held a different tool of Power: a wheel, a gun, a cross-shaped sword, a burning star, a crown, and a silver coin.
He wore holy regalia, dead faithful conjoined to him, his clothing stitched into his metal-skin. He sat with a particular gesture: the hand holding the sword pierced his heart, and the other hand holding the gun was placed up in a mudra-like position.
Masuna could not find the words to speak.
MAKAGAGAHUM, THE POWER ALMIGHTY, GRACE OVERWHELMING, KING OF KINGS, LORD OF LORDS, UNITARY AND TRINITY, BEARER OF THE 8 NAMES OF DIVINITY.
“MASUNA,” it began, and its voice was soft, caring, personal. “MASUNA KULISAT. GREAT GUARDIAN WARRIOR, SUMMONER OF SPIRITS, BEARER OF BURDENS. PEACE BE UNTO YOU.”
Masuna could not reply to anything. Despite being a soul, he felt as if he had his throat ripped out from his neck.
“IT HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION THAT YOUR WARD, THE VEILED MAIDEN KNOWN AS BAKONG, HAS SPOKEN TO A DAMNED DEMON. SHE HAS BEEN GIVEN THE ORDER TO DO THE IMPOSSIBLE! SHE HAS BEEN TOLD THAT SHE WILL HAVE TO KILL THE HERO OF PROPHECY.
“THIS CANNOT DO. WE WILL NEVER ACHIEVE UNITY AND PEACE AMONG THE ISLES UNLESS WE HAVE A HERO TO LOOK UP TO. A POWERFUL MAN WHO WILL BE ABLE TO LEAD US TO GLORY! ALL OF THE GODS HAVE AGREED. THE HERO OF PROPHECY SHALL NOT BE STOPPED, AND HE SHALL LEAD THE SWORD ISLES INTO ITS GOLDEN AGE BY UNITING IT ONCE AGAIN UNDER HIS SIX GODLY REGALIA.
“I SHALL BLESS THEE WITH STRENGTH, MASUNA. KILL BAKONG HAN MUYANG KALAYO, THE SPIDER LILY OF THE AZURE FLAME, AND YOU WILL BE GIVEN THE NAME OF DIVINITY AND ROYALTY, AND YOU SHALL BE ALONGSIDE THE HERO OF PROPHECY WHEN THE SWORD ISLES ACHIEVE PEACE UNDER THE MILENNIUM KINGDOM. THINK WELL, AND THINK WITH WISDOM, YOUNG WARRIOR, BRIGHT LIGHTNING. THE FUTURE OF THE ISLES DEPEND ON YOUR ANSWERS, THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD BURDENS YOU LIKE A GREAT EAGLE RESTING UPON YOUR SHOULDERS.”
Masuna found his voice now, as if Makagagahum had given him the chance to speak. Yet he found that he had no words to say. He had been bled dry, after such a revelation.
“What will happen if I don’t?” The words escaped his mouth before he could think of them.
“THOU MUST, LEST BAKONG FALL TO THE IRE OF THE 87 SWORDS OF THE STAR. AND THEY WILL NOT HESTITATE TO HUNT THEE DOWN AS WELL.”
Masuna was not convinced. 87? He can fend those off easily.
“O? THOU SEEMEST CONVINCED IN THY SKILL, WARRIOR. VERY WELL THEN. SUFFER 87 SPIKES UPON THINE HEART: IF THOU DOTH NOT KILL BAKONG BY THE TIME SHE FACES THE HERO OF PROPHECY, THEN THINE FAMILY SHALL SUFFER MINE OWN JUDGMENT. TREAD CAREFULLY, MORTAL. THOU SPEAKETH WITH A JEALOUS GOD. TIME HOLDS ME IN NO THRALL, I CAN SEE THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR ACTIONS. ALL ARE ONE IN ME, AND ALL SHALL BE ENLIGHTENED. I AM THE BEGINNING, AND I AM THE END, IN ETERNITY I GIVE BIRTH TO TIME, AND IN VOID I GIVE BIRTH TO EXISTENCE. I AM THE GREAT GOD, THE ALMIGHTY OF ALMIGHTIES, DEMIURGE OF NATURES, OF EXISTENCES, OF SPIRITUALITIES. IN MY FICKLENESS IS BORN CAUSALITY. ALL THOSE THAT KNEEL NOT BEFORE ME SHALL BE KNELT IN DESPAIR, AND THOSE THAT DO NOT FOLLOW MY ORDER SHALL GNASH THEIR TEETH IN THE DEPTHS OF THE PIT.
“CHOOSE YOUR NEXT WORDS CAREFULLY, BRIGHT LIGHTNING. THERE IS ENOUGH TIME FOR REGRET IN HELL.”
“THE TIME FOR CONSIDERATIONS AND ARGUMENTS HAS PASSED. THOU WILT DO THIS FOR I, OR THOU WILT SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES OF THINE ACTIONS.”
Makagagahum raised three arms, and a spear of flame coursed through it, longer than twenty thousand leagues. It sent the spear crashing down upon Masuna. Masuna felt the numbness of death.
In that moment he fell backwards. Something ancient had cut the spirit house and the balete tree, bisected both down the middle. A clean strike, a sword of a god.
Regretful, Masuna offered an offering of flowers. Sampaguitas, arrayed, some of them buried deep into the ground. “May you grow in the reckoning,” Masuna said.
He then rose to his feet, hands and legs aching. He watched the sky, and thunder rolled. A storm approached, one that they had to escape before it arrived here in Put’wan, the golden city.