I hugged her and my tears automatically fell. I was so scared and worried to death because of the things that happened in the past but I’m relieved that she’s fine. I thought I was going to lose her, too.
“If anything happens, I’ll protect you with all my life and I’ll always be at your side. I’m sorry kung hindi ko natupad ‘yun,” she said while caressing my hair and I felt like a six-year old kid again, when I lost both of my parents and thought my sister was dead.
“That’s okay. I-I’m just glad you’re alive.”
“And I’m pleased that he’s dead,” she said while looking at her back. I also looked at that direction and found shattered fragments of ice and her lance which was thrusted on a huge block of ice.
“Don’t tell me...”
“Yes. That was him.”
The thought of Pierre broken into pieces of ice nauseated me. I tried freezing people before but not to the point that their whole body became ice, just like what happened to him. There were no signs of flesh, bones or any human remains, except for two blue eyes frozen inside the huge block of ice. I wished I’ve never seen that. It’s disgusting.
“Mabuti at ayos ka lang.” I heard Gramp’s voice and I saw him crouched beside us.
“Yes...but I think I overdid it.” She held her left arm which has a deep wound and blood gushing through it, covering the snow with scarlet color.
“You really overdid it, Winter.” This time, Gemma’s dad stood in front of us with a distressed look.
“I-I have too.”
“You know the danger and risk of using that technique. It consumes your stamina for a period of time and may shorten your life. You should have been more careful.”
“Gerald, ako na ang bahala sa kanya,” said Gramps while freezing the blood flowing out of Winter’s wound. I watched how he stopped her wounds from bleeding but I felt something suspicious since they keep on glancing at me. But before I could ask a question, Gemma and Ash appeared and pulled me away from them.
‘We’ll talk about it later.’ I heard Winter’s voice inside my head and it sounds weak and tired. I guess I should let her rest for a bit.
As we walked towards the collapsed barrier, I saw the allies of Flame Spectre completely frozen and some of them were already broken and damaged. I still can’t believe she did all of this by herself. I really want to know what happened to her for the last thirteen years and how did she become the leader of the rebellion force.
‘Gusto mo bang malaman ang nangyari sa kanya?’ I heard Hale’s voice inside my head and quickly found him among the crowd. He was supported by Kelsey and Miles on both sides, and he’s looking at us while flashing a weak smile. I walked towards their direction and he sat down on the debris of the collapsed barrier.
“Maiwan na muna namin kayo,” Gemma said while tugging the other three away from us.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I’ve known her for a long time. Why do you think I know so much about you?”
“Because you’re a creep.”
“Is that a joke?”
“Do you think I’m joking?”
I still remember that time when he appeared at the narrow street near our base. Gemma and I noticed his presence but it felt like he intentionally did that. Moreover, he left puzzling words that made him more suspicious. Who wouldn’t think that he’s not a creep?
“But how come you know her?”
“Dahil thirteen years ago, nag-krus ang landas namin.”
“Nangyari ‘yun pagkatapos kong magpunta sa East Black nung eight years old ako.” I wanted to ask him why he was in East Black at that time but it seems like it’s not important, so nevermind. “Dahil sa kagustuhan kong pumunta sa White Division para maghiganti, dumaan ako sa boundary kung saan maraming nakabantay na kakampi ng Flame Spectre.”
“Yeah. I was an immature that time since I was just a child. Gusto ko ring patayin ang pumatay sa parents ko. Galit na galit ako nun dahil hindi ko matanggap na bata lang ang pumatay sa kanila.”
“Rage...” He nodded when I said that filthy name.
“I think he was just fourteen or fifteen that time. Pumunta ako sa boundary at wala na akong pakialam sa buhay ko kung sakali mang maraming kalaban na nakabantay doon. Susugod na sana ako pero biglang may humatak sa akin at nagtago kami sa mga puno. Isang babae na mas matanda sa akin at duguan ang braso. But my eyes were focused on her purple eyes and she glared at me like I’m the most idiotic person in the world during that time.”
“You were,” I said but on the back of my mind, I was reminded of my childhood and how rashly I acted after my parents’ death.
“Tandang-tanda ko pa ang sinabi niya sa akin dati. ‘You’re wasting your life. Your death won’t change anything’. Pero sinabi ko sa kanyang pinatay nila ang mga magulang ko at handa akong mamatay para maipaghiganti sila. You know what she said? ‘Do you think your parents will be happy if they hear that? Kung gusto mo talagang maghiganti, maghintay ka ng tamang pagkakataon. You’re just a child like me and we can’t do anything.’”
I nearly smiled when I heard that. Even when we were kids, Winter acts like an adult and she hates being called a child. I also realized that that time was when I thought she was dead.
“Tinanong ko nun sa sarili ko kung bakit niya ako pinapakialaman. Ni hindi nga kami magkakilala pero pinapangaralan niya ako. Pero pareho kaming nagulat nung may isang lalaking nakakita sa amin at may hawak siyang baril. Hindi na ako makagalaw sa pwesto ko nun pero mas nagulat ako nung bigla siyang tumayo at humarang sa akin. At ang sinabi niya nung oras na ‘yun ang nakapagpakalma sa akin. Sabi niya, ‘May kapatid din akong halos kasing-edad mo and I failed to protect her. I don’t want to feel that pain again.’ I was stunned by her words. She was willing to protect me even though we don’t know each other.”
I choked up when I heard that. She still held on to her words before we got separated.
“Akala ko katapusan na namin nun pero nagulat ako nung biglang natumba ‘yung lalaki at naging yelo siya. May narinig kaming kaluskos sa gilid namin at doon namin nakita si Sir Isaz. Sugatan din siya pero nagawa niya pang patumbahin ang kalaban. Hinatak niya kami palayo doon hanggang sa nakarating kami sa dulo ng boundary ng White at Black East. Niyakap niya nun si Winter kaya pareho kaming nagulat. Tinanong ni Winter kung sino siya at ang sabi ni Sir Isaz, ‘Hindi mo na ba ako nakikilala, apo?’ Pagkatapos nun ay ilang segundong natahimik si Winter. Nakita kong tahimik siyang umiiyak at yumakap siya pabalik kay Sir Isaz. Simula nun ay nanirahan kami kasama ng ibang mga Huntres na kumampi sa Dad niyo at nabuo ang rebellion force.”
I stopped listening to him after I heard the word apo. That word triggered some memories that were subconsciously pushed back on the corner of my mind. Like Winter on his story, I cried silently, reminiscing the moments we shared with him...with Lolo.
“Are you sure it’s okay to leave them alone?” tanong ko nung makalayo na kami sa kanilang dalawa at naging seryoso ang expressions nila.
“It’s okay. Mukhang marami silang pag-uusapan,” sabi ni Gemma.
Hindi pa rin ako makapaniwala na tapos na ang lahat ng ‘to. Nung lumapit kami kanina kina Krystal at Winter, nakita ko ang ice fragments sa likuran nila, at alam ko na si Pierre ‘yun dahil sa frozen crystal blue eyes sa loob ng block of ice. Wala man lang bakas ng katawan niya kundi ang mga mata na ‘yun. Damn, Winter is really amazing yet horrifying. Kung hindi siguro kami nakagawa kaagad ng layers of barrier ay ganito rin ang kinahinatnan namin.
Napatingin ako kay Lolo and he’s still silently crying. All this time, laging ‘yung tough side niya ang nakikita ko pero ngayon, para lang siyang ordinaryong matanda na umiiyak dahil sa lungkot at saya. Almost all of the survivors are looking at the sky and the falling snow. Napatingin na lang din ako sa langit at sa snow. Kahit na natalo namin ang Flame Spectre, ramdam na ramdam ko ang lungkot ng mga tao rito. After a long time, nakalaya rin sila sa gobyernong ‘to.
“Pumunta ka na sa kanila,” sabi ni Gemma habang nakatingin siya sa side ni Lolo.
“How about you?” Tumingin naman ako kung nasaan ang Dad niya at magkasama sila ni Papa pati na rin sina Gramps at Winter. Nagkatinginan kami ni Gemma at napangiti kami. Mukhang pareho kami ng iniisip.
“I don’t want to leave them,” sabi niya sabay tingin kina Kelsey at Miles.
Tinignan namin sina Kelsey at Miles na parehong nakatingin sa bumabagsak na snow. Unlike us, wala silang pamilyang mauuwian. Hindi ko maatim na pumunta kina Papa at Lolo habang nakatingin sila dahil alam kong masakit para sa kanila na makita kaming pumunta sa mga pamilya namin kahit hindi nila pinapakita. Naguguilty ako na nandito sina Papa at Lolo para sa akin pero sila, wala silang matakbuhan. Siguro kaya rin sila close ay dahil naiintindihan nila ang isa’t isa. They know the misery of losing their family and the pain that accompanies it.
Bigla naman silang lumapit sa amin at seryoso pa ang expressions nila.
“Bakit?” sabay naming tanong ni Gemma sa kanila.
“Bakit hindi kayo pumupunta sa mga tatay niyo?” tanong ni Kelsey.
“Yeah. Kanina pa sila nakatingin dito habang nag-uusap,” dagdag ni Miles at nag-glance pa siya sa direksyon nina Papa at Dad ni Gemma na nag-uusap. Nagkatinginan kami ni Gemma dahil hindi namin alam ang isasagot at kung anong gagawin namin.
“They are still busy,” sagot ko.
“Parang hindi naman,” sabay kunot ng noo ni Kelsey.
Bigla namang huminga nang malalim si Gemma at nabasa ko ang surface ng isip niya. Wait, is she serious?
“Do you miss them?” tanong niya at parehong napatingin sa kanya sina Kelsey at Miles.
“Hmm? Sino?” inosenteng tanong ni Miles.
Pagkasabing-pagkasabi niya nun ay naramdaman ko kaagad ang pagbabago ng expression at mood nung dalawa. Tumalikod kaagad si Miles at tumingin naman sa ibang direksyon si Kelsey. Napabuntung-hininga ako dahil sa ginawa ni Gemma. I’m sure the word family hurts them a lot.
“Di ko naman na natatandaan ang itsura nila,” sagot ni Kelsey habang nilalaro niya ang whip niya.
“Me too. Lumaki ako sa ampunan kaya ‘di ko sila kilala.”
Naramdaman ko ‘yung sakit sa mga salitang sinabi nila. I want to comfort them but I don’t know how.
“But it’s okay, ayos lang naman ako kahit wala sila,” sabi ni Miles at nakangiti siyang lumingon sa amin. And that smile broke my heart.
“Oo nga. Sanayan lang ‘yun,” dagdag pa ni Kelsey habang nakangisi.
I’m not an intimate person and I always act proud and cool but this time, I can’t. Niyakap ko silang dalawa at nakiyakap na rin si Gemma. Hindi rin ako iyakin pero ngayon, tuluy-tuloy ang luha ko.
“Stop acting tough, you brats.” After I’ve said that, narinig ko ang paghikbi nung dalawa at kahit hindi ko nakikita, alam kong umiiyak na sila.
“Cry to your heart’s content,” dagdag ni Gemma. “We’re here for you.”
They may not be well-behaved and they act like adults, but they are strong and I admire them for that. Isa rin ‘to sa mga dahilan kung bakit ayokong magkahiwa-hiwalay kami. I don’t want them to be alone again. It’s too painful. I just want the five of us to be together after this.