" Did I miss anything?" Her Master asked, " Oh my! Lady Hiraya, are you sick? You look pale." he observed.
" This is nothing, My Lord!" She quickly answered, " I...just need to freshen up a bit! If you would excuse me, I want to go to the powder room." she politely bowed and found her way to the exit.
Calista walked along the dimly lit corridors of the fourth quadrant. She brisked while looking around the hallway with suspicion. Her memory was fresh from the horrifying images of the bleeding gaping hole in Maya's eyes.
The haunting sounds--hisses and cackles lingered through whispers in her ears that intimidate her to answer the question--rang in her mind. Like flies that abuzz her ears, it continued to overwhelm her waking moment.
By and by, her knees wobbled as it was unable to bear the pressure on her head. Luckily, she was able to support herself as she leaned on one of the monolithic pillars. Calista slid down, moving herself to a crouch as her hands pressed on her head. The pain continued to throb her head, enduring it until its last moments.
As the pain drifted, the whispers also faded away-- finally leaving her in silence. She took deep breaths as tears began to pour from her eyes. She let the tears flow, as she tried to erase the twisted vision from her mind. She sobbed as she continues to clear her mind with the images and voices that plagued her.
She thought of the happy times she had when she was still alive. The fields she used to run on her lola's hacienda, the milky taste of cookies and cream, icy delights, the picture book of the beaches she once traveled, and Dex-- flooded back to her like a wonderful dream and filled her heart with joy. It was the only consolation she had when she left the living plane. It became her source of strength through her stay in Sulad.
" Ahem," her Master's voice suddenly breaks the silence. " I hope, I haven't disturbed your moment," he asked.
Calista stood up immediately and wiped the remnants of welling tears from her eyes.
" Of course, not, Master!" She bowed, " I was caught up in the moment," she answered.
" Caught up, huh?" Sidapa blandly inquired.
Calista continued to bow as she tries to hide her puffed eyes from her Master.
" Why are you still bowing?" Sidapa confusingly inquired.
" Uhmm… I respect you so much Master that--" she fumbled for words.
" Nonsense!" he exclaimed, " Stand up and show me your face. I want to speak to you!" he demanded.
Calista had no choice but to give in her Master's will. She slowly rose her head and stood up like her Master commanded.
" My goodness, Lady Hiraya!" He started, "The Powder room? I am not even sure what that is," he blurted.
" I-I'm sorry Master if I ran off like that. I don't even…" she tried to look for words to say.
" Regardless, I know you must have been overwhelmed." Sidapa empathized, "There are a lot of things we need to catch up on. We shall talk tomorrow about all your questions. I think it's about time you learn from me!" he smiled.
Sidapa's smile caught Calista off guard, " Y-yes, Master! Thank you for your generosity." she bowed.
" Very well! Now that's settled, let's go back to Kumbirahan," he stretched his arm and slightly bowed like a gentleman asking Calista to go right ahead. " Shall we?" he added.
Calista nodded and headed back to the hall. On their way there, she checked the wrist Maya gripped. Moving her hands and slowly rotating her wrist, she discretely observed any damage that was done by Maya's powerful grip. To her surprise, there was no pain nor damage inflicted in the area.
Kumbirahan became livelier than when she first entered. Boisterous waves of laughter echoed through the halls as both men and women, sat together--glasses clanging in elation. The quality of the food served to the guest became improvident and diverse than before.
Calista remembered her Master tailing her. She glanced back to ask a question and noticed him missing. Her eyes sought every table she sees in search of her elusive Master but to fail. After being unable to spot him, she decided to go back to the children.
Calista found her way back to Sidapa's table where the children sat patiently, waiting for her return. She tried to apologize to the children for her abject behavior but was instead greeted with smiles.
Later on, Balinsayaw promptly asked her to teach them a new game since her efforts to win Jack-en-Poy were unsuccessful. Amused with the young girl's determination, Calista taught the young children thumb wrestling.
The gleeful children started playing again. Calista turned her eyes to Maya, who sat timidly in her chair. The teen didn't move an inch and her eyes looked longingly to the floor. Calista shuddered as flashing visions of Maya's face bombarded her again.
Her heart galloped as her mind debated whether to speak with Maya. It took a while for Calista to notice the subtle trembling Maya had. It was at that moment she knew something had happened. She dreaded another horror to unfold, but cannot ignore the teen's palpable anxiety. Gathering her courage, Calista slowly reached out for Maya's shoulder. Incidentally, Maya glanced at her revealing the poor girl's face painted with fear.
" Don't touch me!" Maya shouted, " I-I mean, sorry. I--" she bit her lip.
Her sudden outburst both startled and confused Calista. The younger children looked at Maya, dumbfounded. The poor teen shrunk in awkwardness and chose to stay silent. Calista tried to comfort her but was utterly shunned by the teen.
A moment passed and Sidapa showed up again. He approached them with a box on hand. Her Master's presence overwhelmed the noise that echoed the hall. His aura commanded everyone to focus their eyes on him, the god of death and lord of Sulad.
Everyone from the long tables stood-up from their seats and knelt on one knee while putting their right hand to their chest.
" All hail Lord Sidapa!" the hall rumbled as everyone greeted in unison.
He gestured all the guests to rise, " You honor me with your devotion!" He exclaimed.
Calista urged the children to do the same while she bowed to greet him.
Her Master smiled in delight and nodded to her, contented with what he saw.
" Greetings, mga kalag!" He started, " I hope you enjoyed your stay in my humble abode!" He raised a glass from the table and smiled at the crowd.
The crowd roared and cheered at the Lord of the Underworld! They honored him by clinking their glasses together and drinking wine from their obsidian cups--a salute to their generous host.
"Lady Hiraya," Sidapa approached her, " I want to thank you for providing entertainment to the children while I was gone," he said.
She bowed at him and raised her glass, to which her Master obliged to toast with her.
Calista saw Maya quivered in her seat. Her Master's voice was enough to trigger fear to the poor teen. She wondered what could've happened to them while she was gone. The other two seemed fine, but Maya was a special case. She saw something so horrible and Calista knew it. All she can do now is hope that the poor girl can overcome it.
Food began appearing on their table. The variety of meat and vegetable dishes filled their table. Aromas of spices infused in the meats filled the air--a whiff of it and their stomach grumbled in excitement.
" I know you're all hungry from our journey," Sidapa stated, " But a feast is not complete without a lechon!" he clapped his hands to signal Obra's servants to bring out the lechon.
It was a huge pig filled with spices and roasted in an open fire. Calista took a whiff at the aroma and felt her stomach demanding to get a piece of the succulent pig. The younger children couldn't believe their eyes on what they just witnessed.
" A whole pig!" exclaimed Balinsayaw, " It's a whole pig, Manaul." she excitedly clapped her hands in joy.
Manaul, on the other hand, sat speechless as his mind tried to process the marvelous food presented in front of him. He cannot choose which dish he wants to sample first. It became daunting to him.
Calista smiled at their adorable reactions. She reached for the knife and began operating on the roasted pig. As the knife penetrated the caramelized glass-like skin of the lechon, an audible cracking sound sang on its fragile skin.
She took the best chunks of it, meat from the belly, and some skin from the nape. She distributed it to the children who sat idly waiting for her to give them their share.
It didn't take time for the children to devour the morsels of meat laid upon them. They ate it with gusto, chomping at the skin of the pig, like there was no tomorrow. Manaul stuffed every food he could in his mouth while Balinsayaw did it more with grace.
The smiling Calista took a bite at the meat along with the other food on the table and wept at flavorful morsels. She indulged herself too much to her food that she didn't notice Maya not touching her share.
" Aren't you hungry, Maya?" Sidapa noticed, " One won't kill you. Take a bite, maybe two," he urged the teen as he drank from his glass.
Calista paused as she saw glanced at Maya's terrified look. The poor girl forced her food down her throat. Calista saw tears welling up from her eyes as she tried her best to eat in Sidapa's presence.
Calista lost her appetite in the process, she didn't stop eating as to not to offend her Master. But she just took some of the other food and tried to eat slow.
After everyone had their fill, Sidapa brought out the box he carried around and opened it in front of them. The contents of the box looked like a fruit, but at the same time, it looked like it wasn't. The oddly heart-shaped thing had a vibrant yellow color with streaks of red and white. It had leaves popping out from both sides that made it looked like a winged heart.
"This my friends, this is Sulad's fruit!" He explained, " Eat it as my parting gift to you," he raised the fruit up high.
The fruit appeared in everytable to each kalag sitting there. Calista had one of her own too. She noticed that the fruits from the other table each had different colors. Some had red as the prominent color while the others had white as the dominant. On their table, it was the yellow ones, the same ones her Master showed them.
Sidapa opened the fruit in half with his hands and ate its contents. The rest of them follow his lead.
Calista opened up the fruit and the aroma instantly hit her senses. It smelled like sikwate with a hint of vanilla. The smell alone, invited her to take a bite at the mysterious fruit. It tasted exactly like how it smelled. The custardy texture of the fruit melted in her mouth and left the lingering flavor of home.
Calista smiled, " It tastes like sikwate!" She exclaimed.
" No, it tasted like mangoes! Those sweet ones!" Manaul protested.
" No! It's like...Durian!" Balinsayaw blurted.
" Durian? Yuck, I hate that!" Manaul declared.
" W-what do you mean disgusting?!" asked the annoyed Balinsayaw.
" Children, children there's no need to fight," Sidapa interrupted, " This fruit has magical properties that let the individual taste the food that they love." he smiled.
" What did your fruit tasted like, Maya?" Balinsayaw inquired the timid girl.
" It tasted like balanghoy," she sighed, " It tasted like the sweetened balanghoy my mother used to make for me." she took another bite of the fruit as tears of nostalgia flooded her face.
Calista's heart was crushed at what the poor girl said. She wanted to comfort her, but for some reason, tears also started to fall from her eyes. Her heart warmed as waves of nostalgic moments came flashing by. The joyful times she had surfaced as she ate more of the fruit.
When the fruit was consumed, Calista felt an overwhelming feeling of euphoria. She looked around and saw everyone smiling as tears rolled down to their cheeks. Suddenly, the guests from the long tables began to dissipate, one by one.
Some faded slowly before completely turning into white dust that floated up into the heavens. The others did the same but instead, they exited from the hall through the hall's opening.
" Where are those kalags going?" she asked her Master.
" The ones you saw ascending will go to the Sky World," he explained, " The rest who left through the hallway will be reincarnated."
" And what about the children?" she inquired.
" Oh! They have a special place to go," he paused as if listening to someone entering the hall, " I think that's him!" he said.
Calista saw an entity enter the halls through the canopy. The glowing figure landed softly on the platform. The light pulsated as it walked over to them blinding her with its glaring glow.
" Pugay, Lord Barangaw!" greeted Sidapa.
" Pugay to you as well, Lord Sidapa." it answered.
" Children, come here please," he called.
The children went over to him and introduced them properly to the glowing entity, " Children this is Lord Barangaw, the god of hope and rainbows. He will take you to Skyworld."
The children, including Maya bowed to the god.
" I shall take you to a safe place full of love and happiness," Barangaw said, " There will be no harm to reach you there, not anymore." he offered his hand to the children, and together, they ascended to the realm of the heavenly kings.
Sidapa waved at them as they slowly faded into the canopy--then the sky. Calista on the other hand was not able to see the entire ordeal due to the blinding rays being emitted.
" Where'd they go?" she asked.
" They left," he answered, " They went to Skyworld, to their new beginnings." he raised his cup and drank.
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