"Hang in there," he said while adjusting my weight on his back. I was too drained to answer.We were still inside the forest, but from our position, I can already hear the chaos. I want to go to the Capital as soon as possible, before I become deranged from all of these thoughts.My train of thoughts was interrupted by Ryleigh's sudden grunt. Napatingin ako sa kanya at napansin ko ang red spots sa magkabila niyang balikat, hanggang sa leeg niya. Saka ko lang narealize na mukhang paso ang mga 'yon. I felt a sudden pang of guilt because he's enduring those burns while carrying me.My body temperature is increasing in an abnormal rate and it felt like I'm drowning in a sea of fire. I can't even think straight anymore because of the heat consuming my insides."P-put me down," I whispered."Why?""Your shoulders . . .""Don't mind them. We need to reach the Capital—""No. Ibaba mo muna ako." I don't want to burden him anymore. "I need to drink."Wala naman siyang nagawa kundi ibaba ako sa tabi ng puno. Pero pareho kaming nagkatinginan nang bigla na lang naming napansin ang kalagayan ng katawan ko."W-what's happening? Ryleigh?" tanong ko habang nakatingin sa kamay ko."I . . . I don't know . . ."I thought I was just hallucinating, but looking at Ryleigh's expression, I know that I was not. The spirit particles oozing from my body were real. Fear started to creep into me when the first time I called Phoebe flashed in my mind. These aren't just spirit particles. This is my life force.Bigla kong naalala ang sinabi ng babae sa isip ko."This is bad. The Limiter is breaking at a faster rate. Go to the Capital and look for the Book of Prophecies. You will find your answer there."The . . . the Limiter? The seal that was put in me?Agad kong tinignan si Ryleigh at kahit na tuyong-tuyo na ang lalamunan ko ay pinilit kong magsalita."Likod . . .""What?""Likod ko . . . c-check the seal . . ."Mukhang naintindihan naman niya ang ibig kong sabihin dahil agad siyang lumapit sa akin. I can feel the searing heat of my breath when I exhaled on his neck. The sudden touch of his finger on my shoulder made my skin tingled. He gently tugged my shirt to see the back of my shoulders.Hinawakan ko ang braso niya at tumingin sa kanya. I want to know what's happening but by looking at his expression, I think I already know what he saw."It's resurfacing," sabi niya at kusang gumalaw ang kamay ko para hawakan ang likod ng balikat ko. I felt something on the surface of my skin and I tried to visualize it. A symbol flashed into my mind.
The Limiter has been partially broken, causing my life force to leak out. And I'm sure it's also the reason for the sudden increase of my body temperature. I don't think Ryleigh can withstand the heat anymore, and even if he insists, I can't allow myself to do that.Pinilit kong tumayo at ginamit ko ang puno para suportahan ang katawan ko. Halos magliwanag na ang paligid ko dahil sa spirit particles na lumalabas mula sa akin. Sinubukan akong alalayan ni Ryleigh pero agad kong inilayo ang kamay ko dahil nakita kong unti-unting natutunaw ang puno dahil sa pagkakasandal ko rito."Don't," sabay iling ko. "You can't bear the heat anymore. One touch and you'll burn yourself.""But—""K-kaya ko ang sarili ko."I've said that but I don't have any idea how to get out of this forest with my current condition and without burning anything or anyone. If only I have enough stamina to summon Phoebe, or anyone who has a fire or water guardian who can resist this scorching heat of my body.Bigla naman kaming napatigil ni Ryleigh nang may marinig kaming kaluskos sa paligid. He slowly unsheated his sword and shielded me with his back.Lalong lumakas at bumilis ang ingay sa paligid. Halos hindi na rin ako makahinga dahil sa init at kaba, kaya naman nang lumabas mula sa gilid ang pinanggalingan ng tunog ay sobrang nanghina ako."R-Reika?! Ryleigh?!""You guys are here."Sina Lexi at Yano.Saglit kong nalimutan ang sitwasyon namin dahil pagkatapos ng ilang araw ay nakita ko rin sila. I was worried when I didn't hear any news about them after they went to Galna village. I'm glad that they are alright."Rei, anong nangyari sa'yo?" tanong ni Lexi at nagpanic ako no'ng lumapit siya. Umiling ako at sasabihin sanang huwag siyang lumapit pero naunahan na ako ni Ryleigh. He blocked her way to me."You can't go near her.""Why?" Anong bang nangyari?"Pare-pareho silang tumingin sa akin at kita sa mukha nina Lexi at Yano ang gulat no'ng makita nila ang spirit particles na nakapaligid sa akin."The trunk of the tree . . ." Yano said, dazed. "It's melting.""R-Reika, a-anong nangyayari sa'yo? B-bakit ka nagkakaganyan?"Sinabi naman ni Ryleigh lahat ng nangyari. Napansin ko naman na gusto akong lapitan ni Lexi pero hindi niya magawa kaya naman pinilit ko na lang na ngumiti sa kanya."I see. So we need to go to Hydra," sabi ni Yano habang inaayos ang salamin niya. "But that would be difficult.""Why?" tanong naman ni Ryleigh."The Exorcists are now marching to the Capital.""Yeah. On our way here, we saw several Exorcists wrecking buildings and guardians' sanctuaries in the Capital," dagdag ni Lexi.Sumandal ulit ako sa puno at napatingin sila sa akin."I . . . I need to s-see the Book of Prophecies . . ." I insisted and the three of them gave me worried looks."But we can't easily go there without being noticed," Yano pointed out. "Besides, your condition right now isn't suitable for travelling.""I . . . I can use Phoebe.""No, Rei," sagot ni Lexi. "Hindi tayo pwedeng gumamit ng flying guardians ngayon dahil madali silang makita. It's basically telling them our location. I know that Phoebe can handle your temperature but still, it's not a good choice.""I have an idea."Napatingin naman kaming tatlo kay Ryleigh at sinabi niya sa amin ang balak niyang gawin."But that's dangerous! And we don't know if Reika can still handle it.""I can," sagot ko naman matapos kong marinig ang plano ni Ryleigh. "If it's Carlos, I can.""Then, let's see each other at the Capital," sabi ni Ryleigh sabay tingin niya kay Yano."Yeah. We'll open a path for you.""Rei . . ."Ngumiti na lang ako kay Lexi dahil alam kong nag-aalala na naman siya sa akin at sa pwedeng mangyari. After all, the prophecy is already happening and both of our fates are tied to it.Yano and Lexi summoned their guardians. Jack and Smith appeared in front of them and both of them rode on their respective guardian's back. They ran in full speed, leaving a spiral of dust and leaves on their track."Are you ready?" tanong ni Ryleigh at tumango naman ako."Carlos, sal-ve.""Bob, sal-ve."Carlos and Bob came into view. I immediately felt the extreme exhaustion after calling Carlos. My knees buckled and I was about to collapse but Carlos caught me. I landed on his back.I heard and felt the vibration of his lungs, as if purring. Napangiti naman ako pero agad din akong nag-alala dahil sa magiging epekto ng katawan ko kay Carlos. He can resist the heat but only for a couple of minutes, that's why we need his speed to reach the Capital before he can feel my warmth."Verscheiden sie viel hyva mich han!" Ryleigh chanted and Bob turned into an armor covered with thick fur.He walked towards my direction and helped me get on Carlos' back. Umupo siya sa likuran ko at napalingon ako dahil hindi ko alam kung kaya ba ng hybrid form niya ang tumabi sa akin."I'm fine," sabi niya at pareho kaming kumapit nang mahigpit kay Carlos."Cour," I whispered and Carlos ran in full speed.***Pakiramdam ko ay nabawasan ang init ng katawan ko dahil sa malakas na hanging sumasalubong sa amin. Kahit ilang beses na akong nakasakay kay Carlos ay hindi pa rin ako masanay sa bilis niya. Ni hindi ko alam kung segundo pa lang ba ang lumilipas simula noong makaalis kami sa gubat.Dahil hindi ko na makita ang paligid ay nakadepende na lang ako sa pandinig ko. I know that we're already entering the Capital because I can hear the chaos and destruction around us."Hold on tight," bulong ni Ryleigh at narinig ko ang pagkuha niya sa espada niya. I heard a grunt, followed by a loud thud, but before I can say or see anything, Carlos sped off in a blink of an eye.Naramdaman ko naman ang unti-unting pagbagal ni Carlos. He's the fastest land guardian but he can only accelerate in a short amount of time. Fortunately, we reached the Capital before he ran out of gas."You did well, Carlos," I whispered and after that, he disintegrated into spirit particles. My stamina can't contain his physical form anymore.Inalalayan ako ni Ryleigh at akmang itatayo niya palang sana ako ay bigla na lang may apat na taong pumalibot sa amin. Exorcists."Tsk. What a pain," Ryleigh muttered and he readied his swords.Sinubukan ko namang tumayo nang maayos para hindi ako makasagabal sa kanya. Lalo lang tuloy bumigat ang pakiramdam ko dahil nagiging pabigat lang ako. I really want to help him but how can I do that if I can't even help myself?Nagulat naman ako nang bigla niyang hinawakan ang kamay ko. Agad kong naisip ang mangyayari sa kamay niya kaya naman hinatak ko ito pabalik pero hindi niya ako binitiwan."You'll burn your—" Napatigil naman ako no'ng bigla siyang tumingin."I'll create an opening. We'll run.""Y-yeah."Easier said than done. We can't even create an opening. There are no holes in their defense and they restricted our moves in such a small space."Reika, hurry."Bigla naman akong napatingin sa paligid no'ng marinig ko ang boses ng babae. Dati, alam kong sa isip ko lang siya nagsasalita, pero parang ang lapit-lapit ng boses niya sa akin ngayon. O dahil hindi ko na masyadong naiintindihan ang nangyayari sa paligid kaya mas naririnig ko siya ngayon?"Shit." Napatingin naman ako kay Ryleigh at nakita ko ang frustrated expression niya. We've been cornered because of me. I don't want to make this more difficult for him anymore.Huminga ako nang malalim at buo na ang loob ko sa dapat kong gawin. I don't care what happens to me anymore."Jerry, Carlos, sal-ve." My lips moved without producing any sound. I don't know if it would be effective but I whispered the incantation to myself. Without waiting for them to manifest their forms, I chanted again. "Verscheiden sie viel—"I was just halfway to my hybrid form with Jerry and Carlos when I felt and heard something looming above us. I was about to look up but when I heard her voice, I immediately knew what's happening."Tortos, sensen barries!"A barrier suddenly enclosed us. Bigla kong naalala ang unang beses na napunta kami rito sa Capital. Kahit na nasa mapanganib na sitwasyon kami ngayon ay napangiti ako.She jumped off Lily and he landed on the Exorcists' heads. She didn't even give them time to react. With just one swift motion of her tortoise shield, the four Exorcist were driven back and knocked with a hard blow."Okay lang ba kayo?" sabay lingon niya sa amin."M-Master." Nakita ko naman ang gulat sa mukha niya no'ng mapatingin siya sa akin."You're definitely not okay.""She's been like this since yesterday," biglang sabi ni Ryleigh. "And it's getting worse."Naging seryoso naman ang expression ni Master. Nakatingin siya sa akin na para bang binabasa niya ang iniisip ko."You need to see the Book of Prophecies, right?" This time, ako naman ang nagulat."H-how . . .""We already know what's happening."Kahit na nahihirapan na akong i-maintain ang pagtayo ko ay pinilit ko pa ring maglakad papunta sa kanya. Fortunately, nakaalalay pa rin si Ryleigh. I've been on the edge since yesterday but now, I'm really desperate to know what's happening."P-please tell me. . ." I pleaded but Master remained unrelenting. Napatigil naman ako no'ng bigla niyang hinawakan ang balikat ko at hinatak niya ako papunta sa kanya. "M-Master, you'll burn yourself—""You've been through a lot, Reika."Pagkarinig ko no'n ay hindi agad ako nakagalaw. I don't know if it's because of my current condition but I felt so vulnerable. I've been doing a good job on keeping the sadness and frustration to myself but because of Master's words and action, I can't hold on to these feelings anymore. Nagtuluy-tuloy ang luha ko at kinagat ko ang labi ko para pigilan ang paghikbi. Naramdaman ko naman bigla ang paghaplos niya sa buhok ko at lalo lang akong naiyak."This is just the start. I know that you want to know the truth but you need to figure that out on your own. That's your fate. So be strong." Tumango na lang ako habang kinakalma ko ang sarili ko.Bumitaw si Master sa akin matapos ang ilang segundo at pinunasan ko naman ang luha ko. I kind of want to prolong it but I know that it's not the right time for that."Ryleigh," sabay tingin ni Master sa kanya at naging attentive naman siya. "Summon your dragon guardian. The sky is also a battlefield so always prepare for attacks. We need to hurry or Reika will be in danger."Ryleigh nodded and he summoned Kon. Pinababa naman ni Master si Lily at sa kanya muna kami sumakay bago kami makalipat ni Ryleigh sa likod ni Kon. Agad lumipad sina Lily at Kon papunta sa direksyon ng Hydra at tahimik lang kaming nakaabang sa pwedeng mangyari."Reika." Napatingin naman ako kay Master at nakita kong nakangiti siya sa akin. "You will be the heroine of this battle."Natahimik ako sa narinig ko at kahit na gusto kong itanong kung ano ang ibig niyang sabihin ay alam ko namang hindi ako sasagutin ni Master."As an apprentice, you need to show your Master the extent of your abilities. In exchange, I will guide you to that path." Naging seryoso ulit ang expression niya at humarap siya sa direksyon ng Hydra."Master . . .""I'll be your Shadow so that you can burn brightly and light up this world."***