“Pick up that boat lute. Know you the reason why our instruments make such amazing sounds? It is not because the instrument itself makes the sound. Nay, it is a combination of the wood, the string, the air about you, the water to have made it, and you, the musician, that creates the music. Beauty is a sum of all of its parts.”

– Singer Layla of the Dancing Cricket, teaching a woman who cannot sing the ways of the epic.

All Are In Jambangan Now. The Sword Falls.

Mito was up and running way before Kawilankayu. 

“I’m hungry,” he whined. They had been given a rather lavish house near the outskirts of the town, by the river. Walled off and with a high ceiling, the winds that entered here were cold and fresh. The warriors and servants within had to wear their cold-weather clothing: heavy shawls and thick cloth sarongs.

“Your wounds have healed quickly,” Masuna said. “I think it is time for food after all. Sug?”

Sug nodded. “Let us search for food to purchase and bring back here. Mito?”

“Yes! Finally.” He leapt up to his feet, still wincing, but nonetheless full of vitality. 

“I think my healing spell worked a bit too well on you, Datu-Slayer,” Masuna jested, smiling. Mito just nodded again. Soon enough, Sug and the others were gone. The servants had been given separate cottages surrounding the main longhouse. Only Kawilankayu and Masuna sat within the longhouse.

Jambangan. They were in Jambangan. The City of Flowers. The lunar blossoms lit up the rivers, and looked as if the night sky itself had rushed down from heaven, to the mountain, and then to the sea. 

He looked at Kawilankayu. She stirred, now. Twitching, moving, yet still unconscious. They had taken off her armor and wrapped her in beautiful sleeping cloths depicting snaking dragons. The poultices upon her body still danced with little healing gods. They had laid her upon a thick piece of cloth to sleep in, fit for royalty still. She slept upon a raised platform from within the longhouse.

Masuna stood up from that raised platform and made his way over to the bronze mirror that stood upon a hardwood drawer. His crimson pudong still kept his hair together, but it was frizzy and un-oiled. When was the last time he had bathed?

He took this opportunity. He pulled out a chest of clothing that had been assigned to him by Sug, when they disembarked, and pulled out the appropriate clothing for here. He was to “showcase the pride of Put’wan” while in Akai, which was just as well. The chest held within a deep black bahag, longer than usual, coupled with a deep blue sarong that was supposed to be worn over the bahag. Atop that was a long textile cloth embroidered with gold dragons, to be used as a shawl around the shoulders, letting it fall so that it kept one cool or warm. He ascertained then that he should wear this alongside the tiger headed plate and the light silk tunic to keep the bronze from cutting into his skin as he moved.

Masuna looked to Kawilankayu. Still asleep. 

He went out and bathed. He had oils and flower fragrances with him for his hair. A moment of reprieve in a mountain of responsibility, in a world of blades. The river tonight was alight with lunar blossoms. He swam in the stars.

When he returned, he donned his entire regalia, save for the breastplate and the shawl. He wore the tunic, the bahag, and the sarong. He was clad now in deep blue and white. He looked like lightning, for a moment.

He stared at himself in the mirror. Then, he took a golden band and tied his hair up into a ponytail above his head, before winding his crimson pudong around his forehead once again. When he closed the chest he had been given, he couldn’t help but notice the resin-shut chest that was placed along Kawilankayu’s belongings. He could’ve sworn he heard a chirp, as if from a chick. He decided that it was from lack of his sleep. Fatigue can cloud the mind and create further illusions, after all.

After all that, he turned to Kawilankayu again. Still asleep.

He sat in a lotus position, a respectable distance away from his current lord. The oils and the fragrances and the ambience of the world enveloped him, encased him in a dormant cocoon, and he had slept before he had known it.

* * *

Bakong did not know what she was expecting. 

She saw the tall stature of the prince, clad in moonsilver armor, which gleamed and reflected like mercury. His taller height betrayed a notion of divinity. His eyelashes were deep white lotuses: so long and unbearably beautiful. The people crowded around the compound that they stayed in and swooned and sang and muttered and chanted. His hair was long, uncut, and clean shaven. Bakong realized then that most of the men he’d seen that were natives of Jambangan had had at least a mustache and a closely cropped hairstyle. 

Bakong felt her knees weaken. But her heart did not beat. Her mind did not race, not in the same way as it once raced for Masuna. Her fingers did not, on their own, try to reach out for him, to grasp him. 

The man was irresistibly beautiful, unequivocally sculpted from the very clouds that drifted in heaven. But she was not attracted to him.

“Bow,” Sam’baha whispered. Bakong blinked, and then said: “Oh, right!” And bowed, so as to not look at the man’s eyes. As a Lunar Prince, he was Moon Royalty, and thus higher even than her stature, despite her being royalty of Gatusan. 

The Lunar Prince said: “Greetings in Goddess! Glory be to Her. You are my wife, are you not?” Bakong swallowed. She looked to the side at Sam’baha, and she could not discern Baha’s emotions. “Come now, if you are to be my wife, then do not look away from me. Witness me in all my glory, and love me all the same.”

Bakong paused for a moment, allowing an awkward and tense silence. When she looked up, the prince had come closer. He wa0-s the smell of lunar blossoms: almost vanilla-like. “I am Katchil Massik, 35th of the Lunar Princes, spawn of Her Holy Highness.”

Bakong said, almost instinctively, as she had gotten speech training when she was in her bukot, after all: “I am Bakong han Muyang Kalayo, of the Azure Flame. Third daughter and princess of Raja Batara Ambasi, King of Gatusan.”

“Splendid. You are beauty unmatched up close, my dear.” He had to lean over to even come closer to her. His face swooped in until he was just a few inches away from her face. His scent was still that of lunar blossoms. His teeth were pegged with gold, and smelled fresh and minty. His musk seemed to overpower her. It said: “Love me, love me, love me.”

Bakong had to stop herself from reaching out to Sampong Baha.

Katchil Massik continued: “You are dainty like the lunar blossom. Your skin soft and supple. Your voice the flowing honey from the deepest forests. O, beloved one, my Bulanbukad.”

Bakong blinked again. From outside, she could hear entranced sighs and little giggles. “I… I suppose I am supposed to be your wife.”

Bakong glanced at Sampong Baha again, and the warioress’ emotions were impossible to glean. Her face was a perfect blank slate, unmoving, betraying no anger or disgust or even sneering joviality. Bakong, stuck in the dark, vibrated and emulsified in her discomfort.

Such was the dance of princes in Gubat Banwa, however.

“Y-Yes,” she eventually managed to say, relying now on her princess training. “Yes, let us.”

“Good.” Katchil Massik straightened up and turned to his Lunate Knights. “Friends and brothers, disperse the crowd. Let us have peace.”

The Lunate Knights placed a hand over their hearts, and then set to doing just that. 

Sampong Baha did not follow, at first. Bakong stopped and said, “Wait. Can Sam—can my vassal follow me inside? She has ever been the faithful warrior.”

“Of course. Come within, brother. What did you say her name was, once again?”

“Sampong Baha,” Bakong said. 

The Katchil made a face. 

Bakong watched him. Then she asked. “Is something the matter?”

He leered at Sam’baha as she approached, all swagger and no primness. 

“Nay, not at all.”

Within, they sat around the table. Guro Karakasa was nowhere to be seen, nor the other people that she had become well acquainted with at this point. Indeed, it was just her and Sam’baha. And even then, Sam’baha stood a good few feet away, in the manner of the Lunate Knights.

Bakong sat across the hardwood table. Beautiful weapons and armor and golden trinkets were laid across it in front of her. Textiles and more. “Here is the bride-price,” Massik said. “I pray that it is enough.”

Bakong knew she had no choice, really. The only reason she was here was because she was being sold as a way of establishing an alliance between the Gatusan Rajahnate and the Akai Sultanate. She was ever a pawn, ever a device for someone else’s designs.

“If it is not,” said Katchil Massik, after a moment of silence from her. “Then we also have a good number of captives and servants that we have earned from our raids. They will serve and work with you faithfully. Provided, of course, you do not abuse them.”

“Selling and buying bodies,” Bakong blurted out, without thinking. “That is the way of things here, isn’t it?”

A moment of silence from Katchil Massik, this time. “Of course,” he eventually said. “That is the way the stars wheel about the earth.”

“I tire of it,” Bakong said. She laid her demon hand—the one sheathed in gold—upon the table. “In my journey here to Akai, all that has happened is death and more death. Violence and more violence. And I am expected to see more of it?”

The Katchil reached out to grasp Bakong’s hand, his pale skin dainty, kissed by the moon. It glimmered against the orange of the setting sun outside. Lunate Knights set to lighting torches for the night.

Bakong pulled her hand back, flinching. Sam’baha was steel.

“Forgive me,” The Katchil Massik said. “I should have asked.”

Bakong glanced at Sam’baha again, and she realized that she had been doing that too many times. It felt like she was depending on She Without Equal too much, now. She turned and stared hard at Katchil Massik’s eyes, beautiful and lotus-like. 

“Nay. It’s okay.” She swallowed. How will she be able to leave this predicament? Her thoughts swirled as she let her gilded arm be grabbed. She did not love this man. She did not want to be wed. She did not want to be just another pawn in this game of kings and queens. In this dance of gods and lords. She did not want to be just a pretty jewel or pearl, to be given so that she can appease those she must appease. 

Her father never even spoke to her. Why should she be doing this for him?

If this does not push through, our  lands will inexplicably be at war. That was all Bakong could think. That was what plagued her thoughts. She did not know if what she felt was valid. She was not her own person. She knew this now, she knew this to be far too true. Even if she knew that she had to have self-control, a bit of self-sacrifice—she knew she had to sacrifice self in the altar of all.

It could be said that her entire life built up to this point. She was born and given the identity of a girl. Raised a binukot, a veiled maiden, and crafted to become the perfect wife. She was taught dances and songs and the proper way of speaking with your husband of royalty. She was taught how to weave and how to write Kasuratan, the undulating lines of script that had proliferated most of the Sword Isles. She was taught how to compose poetry, how to utter it, how to play the korlong, the boat lute. 

All of it so that she could be valuable to the one she was about to wed.

Bakong supposed that if she was any other woman, then she should be glad! Glad that all the efforts upon her were effective. Look at her now, becoming the wife to one of the most powerful men in the Sword Isles. One of the most wanted men, one of the most yearned for men. A beautiful man of moonlight skin and tall frame, of white lotus eyes. Even his touch was soft, even his touch was beautiful. His smell was that of flowers at the final points of night, when it is just about to turn into dusk, and the dews had formed, the teardrops of the moon.

But is this really all Bakong was to be? She did not want this. She wanted to leap and to travel. She wanted to master the Heaven Rending Arts. She wanted to be unshackled and perfect the principles of having No Gods and No Kings. She wanted to strike true with her spear. She wanted to be free and dance among the clouds. 

If she was to meet and face violence, she wanted to do just that in her own terms. She wanted to inflict violence on her own terms. How can she ever rejoice in it? 

Hesitation is defeat, Sam’baha had said.

Bakong steeled herself. She let herself, now, be unbound by her strictures, by the Golden Web Tapestry that bound her to the rules and regulations of aristocracy and royalty in the Sword Isles. That complex web of relationships that formed the backbone of kings and queens and emperors in this world.

“Tell me, my lunar blossom.”

“I do not wish to be wed to you.”

Sampong Baha tensed, then. In the same way a tiger would tense before leaping after prey. Slow, deliberate, ponderous, a beast about to pounce.

The Lunate Knights seemed to freeze. The entire world froze. Even the torches that now illuminated the royal compound stilled in their wild dance, as if the gods within listened.

“What did you say?” And his tone was that of an indignant god. He spoke in the way thunderclouds rolled.

Bakong was pierced through by the lance of doubt.Should she do this? She could secure a life of safety and security here. She could fall in love with this man, even if it is against her will. She could fall in love with her fate, even if it is against her will. She can choose to enjoy it, she can choose to embrace the suffering, to become greater than it. For the greater fate of her house. For the greater safety of Gatusan and Akai.

Hesitation is defeat. Bakong said it to herself this time. 

“I am not in love with you. I will not wed you.”

Katchil Massik straightened. His soul seemed to look about him, afraid of judgment from the Lunate Knights. “Then I will make you fall in love with me.”

“I do not wish to be yours. I wish to be alone. I wish to be mine own. I wish to be a spear puncturing the eye of God.”

“You risk our nations going into war,” Katchil Massik said. “To be wed is not a matter of love, though I understand it to be important. It is a matter of social responsibility.”

“I understand, and yet I still do not wish to be wed to you.”

Lightning crackled within Sri Raja Katchil Massik’s eyes. “You are making a mockery of me.”

Bakong narrowed her eyes. Mockery? Was this because no one had ever rejected the Katchil before? Was that it? How fragile.

“I choose now my own path. I wield now the spear of self.”

“A wronghood, if I ever did see one. You would embrace yourself instead of remembering your community? You do know that I will not accept this.” Katchil Massik’s wrath bubbled, and Bakong felt herself incinerated already. She was defeated, here. She knew she had chosen the worse choice. How can she ever achieve enlightenment? 

But again, when has her father ever done anything for her? When has Gatusan done anything for her?

“Your selfishness pierces the very heavens,” said Katchil Massik, and Bakong knew this to be true as well. “You cannot refuse this. You shall be my wife, and nothing more.”

Hesitation is defeat, thought Bakong, once again. And I will not be defeated. 

You will have to catch me first.”


With a thought, she unbound herself. The siklen gossamer strings keeping her tethered to the earth of Gubat Banwa unraveled about her, and she shot into the air, bounced off the roof, and then out the window. The Lunate Knights, trained as they were, unsheathed their weapons and launched an attack.

Sam’baha was there, her kampilan unsheathed, at the ready. With a single stomp of her foot, the hardwood floor of the exquisite compound buckled, cracked, and then caved. 

“HM!” Sam’baha’s roar was the groan of the thunder and wind gods. The Lunate Knights turned to her, and Sam’baha swatted their lances away with a circular motion of her kampilan, which then turned into another slamming strike, sending waves of water slamming into them.

This is it, the end of the thread.

Lunate arquebuses fired, spraying moonpowder into the air. Sam’baha was well acquainted with this as well, and deflected the bullets with quick movements of her kampilan. Her biceps and forearms flexed, rippling. If you knew how heavy a kampilan was, you would understand how much of a feat it would be to move it that quickly. Quick enough to deflect bullets.

After the deflection, Sam’baha dashed, quicker than lightning, to be beside the Lunate Knights that fired at her and disarmed them quickly with savage ferocity. Fists and pommel strikes to the head or to the wrist. It was not long before most of the Lunate Knights—despite their armor—were sitting, groaning on the ground.

The Katchil Massik was nowhere to be found. 

Bakong landed on the ground. Unbinding was not permanent—nothing was permanent in this wheel of suffering, after all. She had her trident, manifested from her demon arm. Her eyes were burning azure flame. 

“You dare!”

“I choose my path from now on. I shall purge the world of kings and princes such as you. I shall create a community that relies on each other! That does not sell children to work!”

“That is how we survive in this world, do you not see?!” Katchil Massik unsheathed his katana. “We depend on these structures to survive this violent world.”

“I reject it!” Bakong yelled back. 

“What will you do in its place, then? What world will you create?”

“I do not know,” Bakong admitted, and her voice became frail. “But I will find it yet. Anything but this!”

“You think you are an enlightened sage!”

“Nay! Simply a girl tired to the bone of being a thing to be traded for alliances between warring nations!”

“Then prove your conviction!” Katchil Massik was a blur, his art was much better practiced than Bakong’s. Three, four katana strikes in the span of a second, and Bakong could not move her trident to parry any of them. Blades gashed against her flesh, and she stumbled backwards. “Frail and weak. You will not survive. You will not be able to uphold your conviction. You will perish in this world of blades and flame! And now you have set our nations at war.”

Sam’baha was there, elbow slamming against Katchil Massik’s with such force that the air displaced, sending a shockwave through the grass and the trees. The Royalty stepped forward, almost falling, but caught himself and turned. “Indignant cur!”

“Greetings Katchil,” said Sam’baha, as her dragon pommel slammed against Katchil Massik’s face. That strike became a grab, a twist, a turn, and then a fling. Massik flew away from Bakong, and Sam’baha set her stance in between her and the Royalty. “Ever heard of me?”

Katchil Massik caught himself in mid-air, turning, hitting the ground on his feet, sending dust into the air. “Sampong Baha, She Who Stops The Flood. Scion of House Dimantag.”

“You’re missing one more thing,” Sam’baha said, and her smirk was that of a dragon’s as she raised her kampilan, letting it rest on her shoulder.

“She Without Equal.” Katchil Massik spat. He rushed forward, katana bolting out. Sampong Baha did not move. With both feet firmly on the ground, as if she channeled the very gods of the earth, she parried every katana strike, every crescent slice. With every parry, she shot back an attack of her own—a punch, an elbow, a kick against the shins, a diagonal cut, a circular slice that doubled as a deflection.

“You need one thousand more years to defeat me!” Sam’baha spat, and though she said it in mockery, her face shone with determination.

Katchil Massik roared, and with a flex of his art, which echoed the roaring strikes of a hungry tiger, struck five times in the span of a single slash. Sam’baha’s stance allowed her to block three of those strikes, but the fourth and fifth struck home on her thigh and on her bicep. The Katchil’s art was tricky, as he twisted and crossed his legs, and leapt acrobatically into the air as he struck, and went as low as he could as if to kiss the earth.

When it struck her bicep, Sam’baha caught the katana. Hand bleeding, she slammed her forearm against it and shattered it in two. 

“Worthless peasant warrior!” And Katchil Massik’s live hand turned into a knife edge—he put his fingers together and it gleamed with the effervescent light of the moon. When he swung, it gleamed as if a blade, and it met Sam’baha’s kampilan.

The kampilan snapped in two.

Sam’baha cast it off and met the knife-hand with her own hands of lightning. She stepped forward, and now without the heft of her kampilan, her hands moved quicker than lightning. A ballistic exchange of blows between Sri Raja Katchil Massik and Sri Sampong Baha, quicker than bullets and stronger than hammer blows. Every strike sent shockwaves across the earth. 

Massik  caught one of Baha’s fists, and Baha elbowed him on the gut, slammed  her knee into the earth, and then threw him onto the ground. Her face was bruised. “Go!” She turned to Bakong. “To Puasa!”

Bakong nodded, and with her feet still unbound, strode out of the compound, bounding across the earth.

Bakong could not find her Aunt Puasa. 

She dashed into the markets and squeezed into the crowd. The sun was getting dangerously low, and the horns of the moon were showing themselves. As night neared, more and more traders, merchants, and mercenaries made their way to feast and carouse in the marketplace of Jambangan. She found herself slamming against silver-haired laksaman, and tall mantis-women wearing large kimono, and crocodile-folk clad in iron, and tall bamboofolk with ears sharp like leaves and hair like brambles of foliage. 

She could not find where she was. She never had a good sense of direction.

Hesitation is defeat, she repeated to herself, a mantra. Yet, she was swallowed by the tide of folk that lived and burgeoned in one of the largest urban metropoles in the Sword Isles. Where should I go?

She was alone, now. All this time, she had Masuna with her, or some other guard, but now she was alone. How can she truly do things without those around her?

I’m pathetic. She loathed herself at that moment. Nothing felt worse. Not the fact that certain war was to erupt between Gatusan and Akai. Not the fact that Masuna was still not here. Not the fact that she had left Sam’baha behind. Nay, it was the fact that she couldn’t even find her Aunt Puasa’s home abode.

She slammed against a large man, built like a bull, and she fell over. Her hands caught onto a fruit stand, sending peaches and mangoes in every direction. “Oi!” The fruit seller panicked. He rushed over to Bakong: “Are you okay?”

Bakong nodded, in a state of both fear, panic, and chagrin. “Y-Yes.”

Hay, be careful young one, moon-haired one. There are many people in the streets!” She looked up and she saw that the fruit seller was this short and plump catfolk, wreathed in a beautiful textile headwrap embroidered with flowers and geometric shapes.

“I-I understand. Forgive me.” She turned to help pick up the fruits, but the other people around the markets had already done that for her. 

“Here you go, Auntie Kalari,” said a short bamboofolk, built like a dockhand, skin ruddy and mud-colored, but hair the color of the vast blue sea on a cloudless day. “Are you okay, miss?”

Bakong nodded. “Can… can I ask where the abode of Puasa might be?”

Kalari turned to the boy. “Mahed, help the young girl out will you? The Moon Markets begin soon.”

“I shall, auntie,” and he reached out and cupped Kalari’s cheeks in a sign of respect. Then, Mahed turned to Bakong. “Puasa…?”

Bakong thought quick. “The… Gold-Lined Lionbreaker? One of the many warlords of the Lunar Sultana?”

“Ah, the Lionbreaker. I know the way. Come, quickly.”

Bakong nodded thankfully to him, and then uttered a word of thanks to Kalari, who did not hear her gratitude.

They wound their way out of the markets and into convoluted sluice streets that were built upon that point where the river meets the sea. Eventually the stilt houses give way to just the river, and then the river gave way to smooth paved stones that eventually gave way to the enclave whereupon the Longhouse of the Sorceress stood. 

Mahed did not come closer. “The House of the Sorceress-Warlord.”

“I thank you, Mahed.” She took a golden bead from her necklace and placed it in his hand. “Live well.”

Mahed placed a hand on his heart and nodded, and then left, disappearing as promptly as he arrived. Bakong could not help but watch as he disappeared back into the bustling hardwood and moonstone of the brunt of the city.

Overhead, the looming sky-galleon still stood. Bakong could not help but realize the ill-meaning of that particular omen.

“Aunt Puasa!” Bakong ran up the stairs and opened the door. Within was only Bangahom and Lambitung, and they held hands. 

Bangahom turned very slowly to Bakong. Then she let go of Lambitung’s hand, and a blitz of lightning crackled out. Bakong—instinctively, now—caught the lightning and parried it away with her trident. “Bangahom, where is Auntie?”

“S-She’s not here!”

Lambitung rose to his feet, serious, while Bangahom fumbled over her words. “She has left for the Moonstone Palace, due to the docking of the great Sky-Galleon of Virbanwa.”

“What?” Bakong swallowed. Servants of Puasa rushed about her, giving her water to drink and fanned her. Others went up to heal her—menders applied healing poultices and accelerated the healing of wounds through proper healing spells.

Bangahom rose as well, after a bit. “What has happened, Bakong?”

“The 35th Lunar Prince arrived in our compound.”

“Sri Raja Katchil Massik?” Lambitung’s tone was slow, ponderous. 

“He asked to see his wife, and gave me my bride price.”

There was a silence. Then, Bangahom: “You did not accept, did you?”

Bakong shook her head, then winced from the application of a gauze. 

“That certainly complicates everything,” said Lambitung.

Bangahom walked over to her and knelt. In her femme form, she had accustomed herself better to the movements of mortals. “I am yours still, Moon-Haired One,” she said, and her eyes blazed. 

“I will honor your loyalty and depend on it for now,” she said. “I must get to my Aunt Puasa.”

“I advise against it,” said Lambitung, who stood straight and placed his hands behind him. Bakong noticed that he had spectacles on. “Going to Aunt Puasa now will only complicate matters, as that would entail you appearing before the Lunar Sultana. Letting the Lunar Sultana know that you are not accepting the marriage… the indignation will be catastrophic. A full on war.”

Bakong bit her lip. 

“But also,” Lambitung continued, playing with a stray strand of hair. With his spectacles and silk jacket buttoned up, and pants, he looked like a true war counselor. “It is the season of the Moon Markets. Committing to full on war during this time would be supremely inefficient. Even if you do reject the marriage, any large skirmishes and engagements would be limited to multiple raids during this season.

“Yet still,” Lambitung continued. “If they do not take advantage of this, then the Rajahnate of Gatusan can use the trading season to shore up their defenses, which would put Akai at a disadvantage. Hm. Too many variables to keep into account.”

Bakong said: “I cannot just stay here—“ but she was cut off by the door flying open once again, and a wounded Sam’baha striding in. Her wounds did not slow her down. “Where is the Harimau Sorceress?!”

“Sam’baha!” Bakong almost leapt out to her, full glad she was that she’s safe, but Sam’baha kept her down.

“Rest. Sorcerer, where is Sri Puasa?” She spoke to Lambitung and Bangahom.

“In the Lunar Palace,” Lambitung replied. “Called upon by the Lunar Sultana due to the docking of the sky-galleon.”

“Pestilent devils,” she turned to Bakong. Kneeling down, she cupped Bakong’s cheeks—both a sign of reverence and also an endearment. “Demon Princess, I will make my way to the Lunar Palace.”

“It will be your death,” Bakong replied. “Oh, Sampong Baha let me go with you. I cannot have others die on my behalf any longer.”

“It will not be my death, little lunar blossom,” and Sam’baha managed a laugh. “I am the greatest warrior in these isles.”

“That thinking will end with you dead!” Bakong clutched Sam’baha’s cheeks. “Please. If you are to die then let me die as well.”

“If you come with me only you will die, Bakong,” she said. “I will not. Stay, for me. For all those that have died for you, for those that fight for you.”

Tears spilled out of Bakong’s eyes. A cry she has never had before. “I do not understand why others must fight for me so. I must fight. I must fight as well.”

“Not all fights are to be done alone,” Sam’baha rose to her feet and placed a firm hand on Bakong’s head. “Take care, here. There is work that must be done.”

“How is the Katchil?” asked Lambitung, from behind them. 

Sam’baha looked up and shook her head. “Still alive. I was able to disarm and stun him for a while, but he will no doubt be traveling soon.”

“He does not follow you?” asked Bangahom. In response, Sam’baha shook her head. 

Lambitung let out a sigh of relief. “Good. I do not know how long we can fend off a Lunar Prince like he.”

“Then I must get going.” Without another word, Sam’baha pat Bakong’s head and then rushed out with nothing but a karambit in both hands.

* * *

Sam’baha rushed toward where the sky ship was. She made sure to travel down the unspoken paths. The bamboo groves, the brambles. She took the scratches from vines she knew weren’t poisonous. She traveled as discreetly as possible, even managing to steal a beautiful flower-embroidered shawl. “For a good cause,” Sam’baha muttered.

It did not take long until she was at the base of the steps of the Lunar Palace. Lunate Knights, however, barred her path. “Halt! There is an important meeting being done within.”

“I must see Gold-Lined Lionbreaker Sri Puasa. She has asked for me.”

“And who might you be?”

“Sampong Baha, One Without Equal, Blade of Dimantag.”

The two Lunate Knights—a large winged pak-an and a short bamboofolk woman—looked at each other. Their gazes conveyed familiarity, but that was the end of it. “The Lunar Warlord has not mentioned anyone coming after her. I am afraid you will have to wait until the meeting within is over.” Sam’baha saw the floating Sky-Galleon behind the giant Lunar Palace, floating in place, bobbing up and down as if upon waves of wind, anchored and lashed onto one of the many spires that reached up to the sky. 

“Very well,” Sampong Baha said, and she bowed low. She turned and walked back into the brambles, just as she saw a throng of Lunate Knights arriving with the incapacitated Katchil Massik in tow, slumped over on one of their sarimanok steeds.

“Time for the waiting game, then,” muttered Sampong Baha, and she tread back into the markets. High above her, the moon’s horns were prominent. Or perhaps it was a grin? As if the night itself watched the chaos unraveling. 

* * *

Binayaan watched, from within the vaunted windows of the great Lunar Palace, as the sky-galleon of Virbanwa docked and anchored itself upon a spire. 

“Stay,” said the Lunarian Queen, and Binayaan had no choice but to stay. Gurang Huna and Patima stuck close to Binayaan, and their combined tensions was enough to cut steel. “Witness. You are the representative of the Rajahnate.”

A too big ask, a too big responsibility, to be sure, but Binayaan could not refuse. Not right now. There was too much at stake. 

Besides, Binayaan was not one to shirk away from a potentially very dramatic moment.

The Sword of God arrived through the front doors. Flanked by multiple knights clad in the blackest of armors, faces sheathed by masks depicting redeemed angels. Many of them wielded weapons that seemed of Issohappan lineage: straight blades with circular pommels, lances with long blades for spears. 

Juskalis himself was tall, yet walked with a certain hunched over gait. He was not royalty, he was not God upon Earth. Nay, he was simply the Blade being dragged across the cracked soil of this desolate land of tears. He was not clad in pompous armors or regalia. Instead, wrapped about him was a shawl of crimson angel wings, and upon his head a crown of thorns—the thorns being made of the blood of once-slain Pale Kings. The crown of thorns kept a massive pudong of ultraviolence upon his head. In particular angles, a halo of blades piercing into his skull emanated from him. Fragments of bone flew about that halo, as if something had exploded it wide open. 

The Sword of God is a man blown apart by enlightenment.

Below the crown of thorns was his third eye sliced open: a vertical diamond, crimson like the shooting stars.

When he entered into the vaunted halls of the Lunar Palace, everything went silent. Even the seeming crackle of torches, or the low humming melody that accompanied the Sultana’s floating was muted. It was as if the Palace itself was affronted and disgusted by the chosen machinations and actions of this one particular warrior.

In front of him he held a giant blade, almost as tall as he was. Elegantly crafted, its steel black, and embedded within it were precious stones.  Jagged, the darkness of its blade held twinkling stars. Upon its hilt was a flattened five-point star. Its handle was the mouth of Makaubos, the great Destroyer God.

There was a sudden pressure in the room. An oppressive atmosphere. It was as if both Juskalis and Sultana Yarashgara were exerting their demeanors. Their Gahum blossomed and flowed out invisibly, tendrils of power wrapping and wrestling against each other. 

Juskalis marched onto the proper position, a few steps before the Lunar Sultana. He sheathed his blade behind him, as a sign of respect. Fanning behind him, like his wings, the elite order of Murderglaves took their position.

“I greet thee, Omniscient Yarashgara.” His voice was the croaking gasps of a dying god.

“I welcome thee,” the Sultana said. “Sword of Makagagahum. Jambangan is open to all people at this time of year, as this is the trading season. Might I ask thee what thou hast arrived here for?”

A rattling inhalation. The smell of jasmines followed his wake.

“For my destiny.” 

“Ah. You claim the Hero of Prophecy, so known in the stories and tales of Virbanwa? You are a very brave one, to claim such a thing.”

He let his halo emanate from him, and he became as bright as the Sultana. Binayaan clenched her fists. She was ready to run, if needed. “Fire and blood damn us all, it is him,” she muttered. “Holy fucking shit.”

“I am one with God,” he said. 

“And what hast thou arrived here for? To slay me?”

A moan, as if from bliss, then Juskalis said: “To fulfill my prophecy, I must collect the Six Godly Regalia.”

“The Regalia once worn by Makagagahum,” the Sultana interjected. 

“Once I have completed it, I shall usher in the Millennium Kingdom, and all suffering shall cease. Glory be to God.”

“Thou must know,” the Sultana said. “The Six Godly Regalia were crafted not by Makagagahum. They belonged to other gods. The God of Power simply conquered them and claimed their pieces for himself, as parts of his regalia. Thou doest the same.”

“I am not here to listen to prattle,” Juskalis said. “Respectfully, if I must speak: if thou wish to be part of the Millennium Kingdom, and a powerful ally to the efforts of Makagagahum, then you must give me the Bands of Kedu-Rahu.”

“The Bands of Kedu-Rahu I gained from the Demon God Swarbhanu himself. These Bands are heirloom treasures of the Sultanate.”

The Hero of Prophecy hefted his blade. A threat, immediately. Binayaan tensed up, but the Sultana—still floating, a mote suspended in moongleam—raised her hand and no harm befell the Hero. Juskalis said: “Know that the Gleaming Saiva Sword can easily destroy you. You would do well to respect the strength of God.”

The Sultana watched with contemptuous eyes.

“I shall give you two days to ponder. Past that, if no answer is given, I shall destroy Jambangan.”

“And if mine own destroys thine ship beforehand?”

“Then we wage the War of Stars. Besides, I am not fated to die by your hand. Only one being can kill me. The Hero-Slaying Princess.”

Bakong, thought Binayaan.

A silence followed.

Then, Juskalis bowed low—a  mocking gesture of feigned respect—turned, and walked out, followed by his coterie of murderglaves. Their blacksteel armor clacking against each other was the sound of ringing bells.

There was silence as they left. The doors slammed shut and the sound reverberated across the throne room. Binayaan turned to face the Sultana, then looked away, remembering her place.

“What dost thou think, Invincible Gun Princess?”

Binayaan blinked. She looked at the Sultana. “Me?”

The Sultana nodded. She was still, unblinking, unmoving. Her eyes were full moons, and they regarded the silence as a friend. Stared deep into its darkness, at the unspooling threads of fate that had been dealt to her.

“U-Uhm.” Binayaan swallowed. “I think that Juskalis has the power and strength to back up his words, Your Highness. Though he did not arrive with an entire Virbanwan fleet, his power and strength will not lack.”

“If I destroy his sky-galleon at this moment, with him within, do you think he wild die?”


A beat. Indignation. Thunderclouds roiled over the moon. An impossibility, but that is how the wrath of Goddess manifests.

“And why dost thou believe this?”

“I think, Your Highness, that the Hero of Prophecy cannot be killed by anyone but that destined to kill him. He cannot be harmed by any man, any weapon, any cannon or any witchcraft.”

“I see.”

There was another silence. “Dost thou knoweth who this might be?”

Binayaan opened her mouth, and that was her mistake. She knew she shouldn’t mention Bakong—that would inevitably just bring her into deeper trouble. But the Sultana was omniscient, and she saw her open her mouth.

“Speak.” And it was not a demand, it was not an order. It was a matter of fact.

“Bakong han Muyang Kalayo.”

“Your sister? The Demon-Princess? The one my son is to be wed to?”

Binayaan nodded. “She is currently being chased by 87 Swords of the Star, set upon her by Makagagahum himself, to kill her so that the Hero of Prophecy can become powerful enough to fulfill his destiny.”

Gurang Huna spoke up. “If I may, Sultana.”

“Speak, sage,” replied the Sultana. “I hath been waiting for your opinion.”

“From where I hail—the deep mountains of Kalanawan—there was a song that a balyan once sang whilst they were seemingly possessed by Apu Dayaw themself.”

The Sultana turned to look at Huna, now.

Gurang Huna was unfazed, continuing: “It was a few decades ago now, so most of the song has been lost to me. I am no musician. However, the song was a divination—as all songs are—and the final lines spoke of this.”

And here my dear listeners Gurang Huna presents an important divination. Prophecies are rare in the Sword Isles, but here is the fate of all things. 

Gurang Huna continued again: “When the final days begin…

“The Ashen Star shall be swallowed by the earth.

The world shall be as flame. The skies shall be bathed scarlet.

Gubat Banwa shall burn with flaming fervor. 

And the following things take their course:







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