“Bob, sal-ve!” Ryleigh shouted. As soon as he finished chanting, Bob appeared behind me and blocked the bear’s attack at the last second. However, their impact created an air pressure and I was repelled by its great force.“Got ya!” Nagulat ako nung bigla akong tumigil at tumama sa malambot na bagay. Lumingon ako at napanganga nung nakita ko kung sino ang tumulong sa akin.“Lycus!” Ngumiti lang siya sa akin habang nasa magkabilang gilid niya sina Canus at Argentus. Mukhang sila ang sumalo sa akin kanina.“Yup. Nice to see you too—!”Kinilabutan ako bigla at alam kong naramdaman niya rin ‘yun kaya pareho kaming naging alerto. Seconds later, I saw something lurking around us and because of Jerry’s senses, I can hear its low growl.“Ryleigh, stay there!” biglang sigaw ni Lycus sa itaas at nakita kong nagulat din siya dahil nandito si Lycus.“Why? What’s happening—”And then the predator attacked.I undid my hybrid form and hopped on Carlos’ back and Lycus did the same to Argentus. Both Jerry and Canus dissolved into spirit particles before the predator chased us.“Shit, that’s cheating!” sigaw ni Lycus habang nakasakay kami sa guardians namin at hindi ko na maidilat nang maayos ang mata ko dahil sa bilis ng pagtakbo nila. “Why do you have the fastest land guardian?”Hindi ko siya sinagot at lumingon ako sa likuran namin. That’s when I saw the predator chasing us. A hyena, almost the size of Carlos, which is huge when compared to a normal hyena since they are usually small. Nakahinga ako nang maluwag nung nakita kong medyo malayo na ang agwat namin sa kanya.“Isn’t that a hyena?” tanong ni Lycus at nagtaka ako dahil biglang naging seryoso ang expression niya.“Yes. Why?”“This is bad. We’re in his territory.”Magtatanong pa sana ako pero nung nakita ko si Bob at ang itim na oso kanina ay agad kong pinahinto si Carlos at ganun din ang ginawa ni Lycus. They are still battling each other and that’s when Ryleigh decided to jump off Kon. He landed just in front of us.“Aeternum dankana,” he chanted and Bob started launching his claw attacks. The black bear roared but it can only defend itself from Bob’s continuous attacks.“Aeternum dankana.”Nagulat kaming tatlo nung makarinig kami ng boses at dahil doon ay nagsimula na ring umatake ang itim na oso. He started using his claws against Bob and they both launched their offense. Pero napatigil ako sa paggalaw nung narinig ko ang magkakasunod na kaluskos sa paligid. Pagtingin ko ay halos nanlaki ang mga mata ko dahil unti-unti na kaming pinaliligiran ng hyenas at lumabas mula sa gubat ang pinakamalaking hyena, ang humabol sa amin kanina, habang nakasakay sa likod niya ang isang lalaki. Huminto siya sa likuran ng itim na oso at tumingin sa amin. Kinilabutan ako nung ngumiti siya.“Welcome to my turf, Divians,” he said in a low voice. Suddenly, the black bear retreated to give way to him while the hyenas bared their sharp teeth as they glared at us.“You’re Holt, aren’t you?” biglang tanong ni Lycus.“Am I?” Another sickening smile.“We need to get out of here,” mahinang sabi ni Lycus sa amin ni Ryleigh.“Can’t we just fight him? He’s alone and there are three of us,” sagot ni Ryleigh.
“He’s not that easy. Besides, this is his territory. He has an extreme advantage. Plus, do you know the rumors about this village?”“What do you mean?” tanong ko naman.“Kaya unti-unting nauubos ang mga tao rito ay dahil sa hyenas na naninirahan sa gubat na nakapaligid sa village.”“Are you done chatting, kids?” biglang tanong ni Holt at lumalapit na sa amin ang hyenas sa paligid, maging ang malaking hyena kung saan siya nakasakay.“First, let’s get out of here,” bulong ni Lycus.Nagpakiramdaman kami at nagulat ako nung biglang tumawa nang malakas si Holt. He looks like a mad guy and the way he laughs sickened me.“You’ll have a nice meal today, Hector,” he said while carressing the hyena’s head.“Now!”Pagkasigaw nun ni Lycus ay agad tumakbo si Carlos at hinatak ko si Ryleigh. He was getting dragged by Carlos’ pace but he managed to get into Carlos’ back while Lycus is trailing behind us.“S-sorry! I had to do that,” sabi ko dahil mukhang nabigla siya sa ginawa ko. He doesn’t have any guardian who can run quickly so I had no choice.“It’s okay. I would’ve jumped to either Lycus or you anyway if they started chasing us.”I felt his movement behind me and when I looked back, he’s already holding his sword and its sheath on his both hands. Then I realized that the pack of hyenas were still trying to surround us even though their speed cannot match Argentus’ or Carlos’.“Just focus on getting out of here. Ako na ang bahala sa kanila,” bulong ni Ryleigh at bigla niyang sinaksak ang isang hyena na umatake sa gilid namin.“Be alert!” sigaw ni Lycus na ngayon ay nasa gilid na namin. “That guy, even though he’s not on the level of the Ministers, he’s still dangerous.”“Ministers?” tanong ko. This time, si Ryleigh naman ang sumagot.“Exorcists who are directly below their leader. We already saw some of them before.”“The village of Galna is known for its rich natural sources before,” sabi ni Lycus habang patuloy pa rin nilang pinipigilan ni Ryleigh ang mga umaatakeng hyenas sa paligid. “Pero pagkatapos ng Great Havoc, nagbago ang lahat. Sabi nila, naging tirahan daw ito ng ilang Divians at Exorcists. Lihim silang naglalaban para makuha ang teritoryong ito at pagkatapos ng ilang taon, nakuha ito ng Exorcists, sa pamumuno ni Holt.”“That guy?” tanong ko at lumingon sa likuran pero tanging normal na hyenas lang ang nakita ko.“Yeah. Sabi ni Dad, nagpadala na raw sila ng ilang Divians dito pero hindi sila makapasok dahil sa mapanganib na mga hayop dito. Galna is surrounded by forest that’s why dangerous predators are their natural defense. Unfortunately, hyenas are the most dominant species here and one of Holt’d guardian is a hyena. As you saw a while ago, he already formed a pack of hyenas and turned them into man-eating beasts.“M-man-eating beasts?”“Nagtanong ako sa mga tumatakas na tao kanina at ayaw nilang pumunta sa gubat dahil mas mapapahamak daw sila rito. They said this is the lair of the man-eating hyenas.”Magtatanong pa sana ako pero nagulat ako nung biglang may kung anong tumalon mula sa itaas namin at napasigaw ako nung nakita ko ang itim na oso at ang malaking hyena roon. They both attacked us from above and Lycus fell from Argentus. The black bear lunged at him."Lycus!" Ryleigh ran towards them and he threw his sword to the black bear. It roared in pain and turned its attention to Ryleigh."Guys!" Tutulungan ko na rin sana sila pero bigla akong hinarang ng hyena at buti na lang ay mabilis na nakaiwas si Carlos dahil bigla siyang umatake.Ryleigh and Lycus were too focused on the black bear that they didn’t see Holt’s swift attack. The next thing I knew, they were both howling in pain as a pair of bladed weapon pierced their sides. Panic drove me to charge towards him and without even chanting the incantation, I willed Carlos to transform into his hybrid form. He changed into my whip and I lashed it to Holt’s neck. Before he can attack the guys again, I pulled my whip and dragged him away from them.“You little piece of shit!” sigaw niya habang nakalingon sa akin at lalo kong hinigit ang whip ko dahil nararamdaman ko na ang pisikal niyang lakas.“Get away from them!” I demanded as I drag him again. “Jerry, sal-ve!”Jerry appeared in front of me and I ordered him to get those two. He hauled them on his back and I was shocked when I saw them unconscious. Blood continously flows out of their wounds, tainting Jerry’s fur.“Release me now or your guardian will die!” sigaw ni Holt.Nagulat naman ako nung nakita kong hawak na niya ulit sa magkabilang kamay ang hybrid form ng hyena niya. But what surprised me the most was when he attempted to sever the whip from his neck. The thought of my whip cut into pieces made me shiver that’s why I immediately retracted it before his blade made contact with it, causing the both of us to stumble on the ground.“J-Jerry, so-hai!” I immediately chanted and Jerry ran to my direction, carrying Ryleigh and Lycus on his back. Now, we just need to get out of here.Nag-iisip na ako ng paraan kung paano kami makakatakas mula sa kanya nang bigla kong narinig na tumawa si Holt. Pagtingin ko ay nawala na ang hybrid form niya at pareho nang nasa magkabilang gilid ang dalawa niyang guardians. Akala ko ay aatake na ulit sila pero napatigil ako nung bigla siyang nagchant.“Angai poena,” he said and both of his guardians howled in pain. Seconds later, they both collapsed on the ground, still yelping and I had to close my eyes because I can’t look at them anymore.“Stop it,” bulong ko pero hindi pa rin sila tumitigil at nararamdaman ko ang sakit sa tunog na naririnig ko mula sa kanila. “Stop it!” sigaw ko at tinignan ko na siya nang masama.“Why? Is it cruel?” Lalo akong nainis nung ngumiti siya. “They deserve it, don’t you think? They disappointed me so they had to be punished.”“You are the one who should be punished,” mariin kong sabi.Alam kong ganito ang pamamaraan ng Exorcists pero ngayong nakikita ko mismo ang ginagawa nila ay hindi ko maatim na hindi maawa sa guardians. They don’t deserve to be hurt by their own masters. They are just doing what their masters ordered them to do."Phoebe, sal-ve!" I chanted and I felt drained of energy. Doon ko lang narealize na sinummon ko lahat ng guardians ko at nasa hybrid form pa si Carlos."Another guardian?" he smirked. "Let's see if you can still—" Napatigil siya noong nakita niya si Phoebe. Her blue flames illuminated the forest and since hyenas are mostly night creatures, they darted back to avoid the light.“Es hyva fe vies diaz. Morien alav sativa chroina il piero mergus. Comvien han.”Phoebe’s spirit particles merged with me and I felt her energy flowing through my body. My wounds and cuts began to heal. Holt’s expression was a mixture of horror and surprise, but what troubled me was his sudden retreat.“You . . .” sabay turo sa akin. “Tama nga ang hinala ni Vesper.”Vesper? Narinig ko na ang pangalan na ‘yun. Kung tama ang pagkakaalala ko, siya ang Seer ng Exorcists. Ang una at huling kita ko sa kanya ay noong naglaban sila ni Tita Aina sa baryo namin. Pero ano ang ibig niyang sabihin sa hinala ni Vesper?Suddenly, a colony of bats appeared between us and Holt started laughing.“This is getting interesting,” sabi niya at agad siyang sumakay ulit sa likod ng hyena habang pinabalik naman niya sa spirit dimension ang black bear. Hinarangan ko naman ang direksyon kung nasaan sina Lycus at Ryleigh dahil baka bigla siyang umatake.“You’re lucky because our Lord is requesting our presence,” sabay talikod niya at nagsimulang maglakad ang hyena kasabay ng grupo ng mga paniki na sa tingin ko ay kay Vesper.“Lord?” mahina kong tanong.“I’m sure you know him. Lord Ignus, the head of the Exorcists, and the rightful ruler of the world.”Pagkasabi niya nun ay bigla akong kinilabutan. The Divine General mentioned that name and I already had the idea that he’s the Exorcists’ leader, but still, hearing it made my skin crawl.“Prepare for your death, Second, because this place will succumb to Lord Ignus’ wrath.”Second? Wrath? What does he mean by those?Agad na tumakbo palayo ang hyena at narinig ko ang pagtawa niya hanggang sa tuluyan na siyang mawala sa paningin ko. Nanatili lang akong nakatayo dahil sa mga salitang binitiwan niya at sinubukan kong pigilan ang panginginig ng katawan ko.Nagulat naman ako nung biglang tumahol si Jerry kaya napalingon ako at pagtingin ko ay halos pula na ang buong katawan niya dahil sa dugo nina Ryleigh at Lycus.Lumapit ako sa kanila pero natalisod ako dahil nawalan na ng lakas ang binti ko. My stamina was depleted because of the long fight and continuous summoning of my three guardians. I know that I’m at my limit but I can’t leave them like this.“I’m sorry, Phoebe, but I really need to do this,” I whispered to myself and started chanting. “Sanno renova viez alav.”After reciting the incantation, my body began to feel heavy. The last thing I saw was the blue flames enveloping the two of them. And then my consciousness faded away.***