Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

Kaika Reijou no Suiminsen

Ipamuno ko rumay sugid

Nga ibalik sugidanon

The sun rises over the leafy gorge, even while the shadows ruled the valley deeps. Light of day begins to seep in, gently pushing back the night, up… and up… and up the river that makes its way below, onward… onward… onward and on, until at the end of it one beholds… this roaring, majestic cascade.

This torrent greets the sunrise and offers gifts of rainbow mists, and a song of thunderous murmurs from the crashing flood. The birds call out from the canopies… and one of those, a bluebird, suns itself with the forest doves and the hornbills.

As the morning sailed forth, it brought with it a quick shower, sparing the forest of the heat of midday. And then afterwards comes the breeze, clearing the land of the scent of rain and making the treetops cheer and wave their leaves. All is refreshed and cooled, all the way to the end of day. The bluebird leaps off of its perch and whistles as it ventures forth to a new place, over the forest, letting the trees drift, and drift, and drift behind and out of sight, till it finds, beyond the woods, a quiet, empty plain bathed in the fading sunshine and wherein lay empty… a dusty country road.

MERALCO had yet to restore electricity over the abandoned power lines. They had been standing for years now, as were the gutted apartments, being nested in by sparrows and some crows. The fields were thick with tall grass in places and weeds grew on the crevices of the dusty road itself.

Flocks of sparrows roosted and cleaned after themselves on one of the larger power lines. Not faraway, the bluebird sunned itself in the dying afternoon light. If anything, it shimmered even more beautifully. It is in fact at its most glorious plumage at the boundary of light and dark.

The sparrows and swallows now flew down from their perch, all the way to a low, almost flat rise, where rats had gathered. And flies. The birds had their pick of flying bugs, and others, the crows, were weaving among the mess of scattered bones the rats have dug up from the thrown-up mounds here and there. Quite a few of those had decaying scraps on them. Most had been cracked open for the odorous marrow. A few of the crows were fighting off the rats for the scraps. But the bluebird was far above the chaos. Her one and only concern, was to bathe her glorious wings in the sunset glow.

But then…

A noise came up from afar off. With it, an approaching cloud of dust rising from the road.

The bluebird spread her wings, giving off a bright flash of reflected colors. This is the time to flee.

It flung itself off its roost and glided back to the edge of the forest. But—! Much, much sooner than realized, catching up… and all too soon close behind… was the roar of the racing MX-80 and its monster cloud of dust. The mech has lost its howitzer and its hands lay open and empty, and only its six wheels were active—frantically so, in fact.


Swift. Rush!

From far behind the unit, a high-velocity shell flew by close to the ground but did not hit anything until it reached the dust cloud that marked the mecha, blowing up a wheel and making it turn sharply and veer off the road onto the feeding rats.

Another dust cloud came up in the distance. Seeing that, the pilot scrambled to steer back onto the road, there were still a couple minutes before the pursuer becomes visible—except there were no such minutes left. From the cloud leapt an MXB-29 clear across the gap in blinding speed and crashed into the quarry—Agh! Hah... which shielded itself with crossed arms just in time. The enemy unit drew out what looked like an oversized cutter blade or file and tried to stab the cockpit with it, and there they struggled, clumsily, toads wrestling in the mud, the din of bending metal scaring the bluebird even more.

The bluebird sighted from afar the edge of the treeline. In one quick burst of speed, it sailed across the remaining distance and dived headfirst into the foliage.

Rush! Rush!

By now the distant racket of the fight was quickly dissolving into the thick shade of the forest. The bird flapped its beautiful wings to slow down. It scanned the place for a proper roost… But it was not completely safe just yet.

“Ahaha! Ahahahaha!”

The bird was being chased down once again. Someone was running on the forest floor, unseen and closing in quickly.

“Wait up! Come here!”

Duto gid sa ginsugdan

Nga di sa ginmunoan

Panarungan tana’y tagigkad

The bluebird was the most prized of all creatures in the forest around Kalawagan, the village of the Datu Dulaw. So said the elders warming themselves around the pot of embers, sitting in the great hall of the chief’s palace every other night… nightly if there was a feast. But how did they know, exactly? Was it the feathers? But the princess Kawayan never saw any whenever the colorful-robed traders appeared before her people in the cobbled yard just below the window from which she peeped. They brought fine wares. Sumptuous cloths. Jewels. Her father the chief presented spices he got from their relations. He brought large earthenware full of vinegar. But never any feathers. Not even anyone in her family wears any---just the babaylan. Were they magical? Is there some property that will make her monthly bleeding stop? But they were so pretty. They shone, shimmered, in the firelight whenever there was a healing. Everybody who gazed at the babaylan were entranced, maybe possessed even.

And they were pretty.

"Ahaha. Ahahahaha!"

What a lucky day.


Kawayan saw the bird that same morning, glistening in the sun. It was rather hard to see, but peer close enough and there would be no mistake. An iridescent near-purple. The yellow-tipped tail. A sweet whistling call that reminded one of a maiden’s heart wishing to be heard by her lover.

She slipped out in the hour after lunch when the sun was too hot and Piwaya her handmaid was sluggish and napping, as was the rest of the house. She slipped through the trapdoor where the servants chucked in her bloody cloths and the smelly stuff from her chamber pot. But there was a rock ledge which she could step on, far above the creek where the waste actually fell. From there she only need carefully tread to the edge of the cliff that led straight into the forest, following the call of the bluebird with her sharp hearing.

Will Piwaya be upset if she finds out I soiled my feet? No matter. I can always have them washed. I’ll even get water with herbs. It will be more than forgotten once I get those bluebird feathers in my hair.

The young girl sailed fleet-footed over the forest floor. Running was surprisingly quite easy. Well, she does remember running when she was much younger, much smaller than she was now, when she only reached up to her father’s waist, before she was brought into the room to be kept away. She thought she might have weakened a lot after being in that chamber for so long. But it was clearly not so.

It was so refreshing to be out in the open!

The scent of vegetation was so much stronger out here in the cool shade. The bright sunshine peeking through the treetops tickled and taunted her eyes.

"Muhhhh, come back here, please!"

The bird found a branch, rested there, and groomed itself.

“There you are! Alright… I will have you now!”

The bluebird eyed her curiously. But it did not stir.

"Alright. Hold still, you..." The girl began to look for a better foothold on the tree. The plant was rather spindly, she could hardly approach the bird without an awful lot of shaking branches, but no was not an answer right now.

In the end, she had to reach out into thin air, to the waiting bluish creature, which was now snacking on a fruit.

“Just… a bit… closer… Guh! Come now, please, hop this way. I won’t eat you. I don’t like the taste of bird. I hate chicken, you know that? Come on… I only want…. A feather. Make it two… no, three… Just three—”