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Chapter 3

Posted by PURPLEYHAN STORIES on Wednesday, July 5, 2017

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Pagkahinto ng sasakyan ay agad kaming lumabas at kinuha ang mga gamit namin sa likuran. Ang hassle pang gumalaw dahil panay ang kuha sa amin ng kanya-kanya naming cameraman.

We immediately marched towards the hotel entrance but we were momentarily stopped by the guards. Pinakita naman namin ang letter na natanggap namin at pagkatapos nilang i-check ‘yon, pati na ang valid ID namin ay pinapasok din naman kami.

“Whoa,” Arin gasped while looking at the hotel’s interior.

“Must be a four- or five-star hotel,” bulong ni Roi.

Habang hatak at dala ang mga gamit namin ay pumunta kami sa Assembly Hall, kasama na rin ang cameramen, at pagdating namin do’n ay napatigil ako dahil kaunti pa lang ang mga tao.

“Oh!” The girl in gray shirt exclaimed while pointing at us. She waved her hand, urging us to go to her direction. Lumapit naman kami at nang nasa harapan na niya kami ay ngumiti siya nang malapad sabay sabing, “You’re the first team to arrive! Congratulations!”

Nagkatinginan naman kaming apat dahil hindi namin in-expect ‘yon. We were already five minutes late yet no other teams were present. Are we really the first placers?

“We will explain the next event later,” she said. “For now, you can check in to your respective rooms.”

Inabot naman niya sa amin ang dalawang key card at pumunta kami sa rooms na nakalagay ro’n. Mukhang magkasama kami ni Arin at sina Roi at Zion naman sa katabing kwarto.

The room has two beds and I immediately occupied the left one. Humiga ako at doon ko lang naramdaman ang pagod. Nangalay ang mga binti ko dahil sa pagtakbo para mahanap ang teammates ko at medyo inaantok na rin ako. Hindi naman kasi ako morning person kaya parang naubos na ang energy ko para sa buong araw.

“Grabe, hindi pa rin ako makapaniwala sa mga nangyayari,” sabi ni Arin habang nakaupo siya sa kama niya. “Akalain mong makikita at makakasama natin ang ilan pang writers na sikat din sa site na ‘yon? Whoa.”

Hindi naman ako nag-comment at tinignan ko lang kung ano ang ginagawa niya. She was unpacking her things and I could tell that she likes anime and Korean stuff.

“Nanonood ka ba ng Korean dramas?” she asked enthusiastically and I felt a bit of guilt because her expression was too hopeful.

“Ah. Hindi.”

“Ay, gano’n ba?” Napalitan naman ng lungkot ang mukha niya.

“But I watch anime,” dagdag ko at muli namang bumalik ang ngiti niya.

“Talaga? Anong pinapanood mo? Do you like One Piece?”

“Hmm, ‘di ko pa napapanood. I like Fullmetal Alchemist and Hunter x Hunter.”

“Whoa! Pareho tayo!”

Kitang-kita naman sa mukha niya ang excitement at kinuwento na niya ang ‘feels’ niya sa dalawang anime na ‘yon at nag-input din naman ako ng opinyon ko. After that, na-divert ang topic namin sa event na ‘to at napag-usapan namin ang dalawang kasama namin.

“May nabasa ka na ba sa works nila?” tanong niya.

“Yeah pero hindi ko na natuloy dahil naging busy ako.”

“Ako rin, eh. Pero alam mo, hindi ko in-expect na sasali ang dalawang ‘yon. Actually, pati ikaw. Mailap kasi kayo, eh.”

I actually wasn’t planning to join. Gusto ko sanang sabihin pero pinigilan ko ang sarili ko. Ang tagal ko ring pinag-isipan kung itutuloy ko ang pagsama ko rito dahil nga nahihiya ako at pakiramdam ko ay hindi ko kakayanin. Social interaction drains my energy and patience. However, I want to experience events like this and I think I’ll learn a lot of things from here.

Natigil naman ang usapan namin dahil may kumatok sa pinto. Si Arin na ang tumayo at sumilip naman ako mula sa kama ko. Nakita ko ang isang staff na naka-gray shirt din at mukhang pinapababa na kami kaya tumayo na rin ako. Paglabas namin ng kwarto ay sakto namang lumabas din sina Roi at Zion kaya sabay-sabay na kaming pumunta sa Assembly Hall.

“Ibang klase,” biglang sabi ni Roi. “Pati sa kwarto, may camera.”

“Ha? Talaga ba?” tanong naman ni Arin.

“Oo. Napansin nitong si Zion.”

We all glanced at him and he has this proud look on his face. Hindi ko napansin ang camera sa room namin at nakaramdam ako ng inis dahil doon.

“You didn’t notice?” tanong niya habang nakatingin sa akin.

Hindi ko na lang siya pinansin dahil pakiramdam ko ay nang-aasar lang siya at pinaparating niyang mas observant siya.

Pagdating namin sa Assembly Hall ay napahinto ako sa dami ng tao. We were reunited with our cameramen and I could see familiar faces in the crowd. This is really a gathering of big names from that site.

Pumwesto naman kami sa isang table at kasama namin do’n ang isa pang grupo na kinabibilangan nina Queen, JC, Jia at isa pang lalaki na hindi ko kilala sa mukha. They are all romance writers.

“Hello!” bati ni Arin at mukhang na-starstruck na naman siya.

Nagpakilala lang kami sa isa’t isa at doon ko nalaman na Dean ang pangalan ng isa pang lalaki. Adult fiction writer siya, though mukha pa siyang high school, or judgmental lang ako.

Nilibot ko naman ang paningin ko at nalula ako sa dami ng writers na narito. Nakita ko pa ang isa sa mga unang hinangaan kong manunulat—si Pia. She’s one of the earliest writers, the one who inspired me to continue writing and the first writer who talked to me. Hindi na siya masyadong active nitong taon kaya naman nagulat ako nang makita ko siya.

“Good morning, dear writers!”

The conversations turned into murmurs when the girl in glasses spoke to us. She introduced herself as Hannah Jung, the Creative Team Head, and told us the reasons for this reality show. According to her, a group of readers suggested this event and several meetings were held to consider it. After months of deliberation, they decided to put it into action and messaged influential people from the site.

“A network also sponsored us and this reality-variety show will be aired.”

Pagkasabi niya no’n ay napa-‘whoa’ at gulat ang halos lahat, habang ako naman ay natulala na lang. Ipapakita sa TV? Seryoso ba sila? Gano’n kalaki ang show na ‘to?

Naramdaman ko ang pagbilis ng tibok ng puso ko dahil hindi ko in-expect na aabot sa ganitong scale ang show na ‘to. Saka ko lang na-realize na kaya pala may cameramen ang bawat team. Akala ko ay parang documentary lang o record nila.

“This reality-variety show will be called Challengers,” Hannah Jung continued despite the buzzing from the crowd, “because you will be given challenges everyday. Writing is not just about typing in front of your laptops but using your brain and observing your surroundings. These challenges are still related to writing and reading, of course, but they will also improve your communication skills, as well as your teamwork.”

Nagsabi pa siya ng ilan pang guidelines at nagsimula naman nang mag-serve ang catering service sa amin. After her talk, she formally announced that we can eat our breakfast.

“Saglit, loading pa rin ang utak ko,” Jia remarked and Arin agreed to her.

“Ang tanong, magiging successful ba talaga ‘to?” Dean chimed in. Mukha talaga siyang high school. Nahihiya lang akong itanong kung ilang taon na siya.

“I think so,” Queen replied. “Readers ang target nila. As a reader, it will be an amazing idea to watch my favorite authors in television.”

Nagpatuloy naman kaming kumain at tahimik lang ako dahil hindi pa rin ako makapaniwala sa show na ‘to. For sure gano’n din ang nararamdaman ng ilang writers na mas gustong itago ang identity nila. I mean, our faces will be shown. What if my former classmates and friends are also readers and they saw me? Hindi naman nila alam na writer ako. God, iniisip ko pa lang ay kinikilabutan at nanghihina na ako. Pwede bang mag-backout?

“And now, Challengers officially starts!” sabi ulit ni Hannah sa mic at kami naman ay patuloy pa rin ang pagkain at pag-uusap.

Namomroblema pa rin ako sa appearance namin sa TV dahil pakiramdam ko ay hindi ko kakayanin. Malaki ang fanbase ng site kaya for sure ay maraming manonood, lalo na’t nandito ang mga paborito nilang manunulat. Nakakatakot. Nakakapanindig-balahibo.

Sa pagkain ko na lang dinaan ang stress ko at nang maubos ko ang french toast ay may nakita akong kakaiba sa plato. Bigla akong napatingin kay Zion at nakita kong nakatingin din siya sa akin. Mukhang napansin niya rin ‘yon.

I thought it was just the plate’s design but the size was too much. A caduceus, or a winged staff with snakes wrapped around it, was drawn on the plates, which was a bit suspicious.

“What do you think?” mahinang tanong ni Zion at tumingin ako sa kanya. Napansin din kami nina Roi at Arin kaya tinuro ko ang mga plato nila.

“Is it some sort of a clue?” tanong ko naman.

“What can be associated to this?”

“Anong pinag-uusapan n’yo?” Arin chimed in, whispering.

All of a sudden, an idea struck my head, and I muttered a single word.

“Hermes,” mahina kong sabi at napatingin sila sa akin. “This is the symbol of Hermes, one of the Olympians.”

“You mean the gods’ messenger and the patron of travelers and thieves?” dagdag ni Arin.

Bigla namang napatayo si Zion kaya napatingin kami sa kanya. He seemed perturbed and I was about to ask what’s wrong when several authors started to stand up too.

“Thieves,” Zion said while looking at us.

“Anong meron?” tanong naman ni Roi.

“Our things.”

Agad siyang tumakbo papunta sa hotel room annex kaya naman sinundan namin siya. Nilabas ko ang key card at pumasok kami ni Arin sa kwarto namin pero pareho kaming napatigil nang makita namin ang estado sa loob.

“Oh my gosh!” Arin exclaimed.

Our things weren’t there anymore.

“So it’s really a clue, huh?”

Napatingin naman kami sa pintuan at pumasok sa kwarto namin sina Roi at Zion. Mukhang wala na rin ang gamit nila pero meron naman silang dalang papel na gaya ng nasa kama namin ngayon.

⊔ ⊏ ⫐ ⊏

“What’s this?” Arin asked while holding the piece of paper.

“I think it’s a clue about the thieves,” sagot ko naman.

“Challengers,” a voice said and we realized that there are speakers inside the room, “welcome to your first challenge—Chase the Thieves.”

Pagtingin ko sa labas ng room namin ay nagtatakbuhan na rin ang ibang writers habang ang iba ay nakikinig sa boses mula sa speakers.

“As a writer, you should have great observation skills. Everything around you can be a potential source of stories and plots. However, this time, your skills will be tested not as a writer but as deductionists and chasers. Let’s see if you can use the clues around you to solve the problem. Good luck, challengers!”

Pagkatapos no’n ay nagtinginan lang kaming apat. Suddenly, my heart pounded loudly and I could feel the excitement rising through my esophagus. This is my forte, I thought.

“Let’s go,” sabi ko at saka kami lumabas.

When we arrived at the Assembly Hall, all of them were either running around or stuck on their seats, thinking hard about the said clues.

“Wait, anong gagawin?” tanong ni Arin kaya napahinto kami.

“‘Di ba clue ‘to?" turo naman ni Roi sa hawak na papel ni Arin.

Some of the writers were also holding papers with the same clue while some were looking at the symbol on the plate.

“For sure this has something to do with mythology,” dagdag ni Zion.

“What can we get from this UCDC?”

Nakita ko naman ang ibang nagsisilabasan na sa hotel at siguro ay na-figure out na nila ang clues pero ayaw kong sumunod sa kanila. Umupo muna kami sa table namin kanina at nakita ko ulit ang caduceus na symbol sa plato.

Suddenly, I had a thought.

“Let’s find a map,” I suggested and the three of them looked at me.

“A map? For what?” tanong ni Roi.

“So you’ve figured it out,” dagdag naman ni Zion kaya halos manlaki ang mga mata ng dalawa.

“Seryoso, Elix? Whoa. Teka, may nadaanan yata tayong map ng city na ‘to kanina. Tara.”

Pagkasabi no’n ni Arin ay tumayo kaming apat at pinuntahan namin ang sinasabi niya. Kita naman sa mukha nina Roi at Arin ang pag-aalala dahil unti-unti nang nauubos ang tao sa hotel. Halos lahat sila ay sumasakay na ng tricycle sa labas.

“So, what does it mean?” tanong ni Zion habang nakatingin sa papel na hawak ni Arin.

Arin handed it to me and I gave them a quick smile. I was actually thrilled because it felt like I’m one of the characters in my story.

“The clue is the caduceus, Hermes’ symbol," mahina kong sabi at nakinig naman sila. "As you can see, the snakes are intertwined with each other, as if they are each other’s reflection. These letters do not make sense if they are read normally. However, if these letters are reflected with themselves . . .”

I looked at them, hoping that they could follow my train of thought.

“Hebe,” Zion muttered and once again, I was impressed with his cognitive prowess.

“Yeah. The clue is HEBE and it only looked like UCDC because the lower half wasn’t shown,” I added and the other two looked at us as if we just revealed something out of this world.

“So, anong ibig sabihin ng Hebe?” Roi asked while looking at the city map. “May place ba ditong Hebe ang pangalan?”

“Hebe is the goddess of youth, right?” dagdag naman ni Arin at tumingin na rin siya sa mapa. “Maybe anything related to youth?”

“Here,” sabay turo ni Zion sa isang landmark. “Camp Juvenile.”

“Whoa! Shit! Kinilabutan ako!” Roi exclaimed as he looked at us.

“Ako rin! Feeling ko detective na ako! Tara na! Larga!” dagdag naman ni Arin.

The four of us ran towards the hotel’s facade and my lips formed a thin line across my face, pleased that I helped my team. Somehow, I’m starting to enjoy this.

Well, I guess joining this program wasn’t a bad decision after all.



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