The voice came from the foot of the sacred mountain, Mount Balatukan, from the other side of the tall freestanding rock. Despite being confused about how the goddess' voice triumphed over the ten thousand voices of everybody else, they still did as told. They quieted down to listen, each pair of eyes directed to the person sitting on the branch. Everyone fought their unease and fright and did their best not to look at the skeletons and waited for Anda's next words.
They fervently hoped it would be words of enlightenment and hope.
"In front of you is the monolith called Liyang! Prove you are worthy of entering the sacred mountain by overcoming this giant and tall wall! Those who can pass will be allowed sheltering by the sanctuary and saved from the treachery of the dead plains. Those who fail, stop denying you don't know what you'll end up with!"
Everyone remained silent, and in utter disbelief.
They would have to cross this rock to pass… Hoho, sounds easy. But was it really easy?
They simultaneously looked up, trying to peek at the top of this rock. At a hundred-meter distance, some could see the topmost part. And, they felt like they had heard the joke of the century when they fully understood what the challenge was.
A baritone voice echoed within a dark room of a seemingly ethereal place. It was followed by a deep sigh.
"Anda is playing around again…"
The man who said this had a muscular body covered by a loose black robe that actually resembled a priest's garment, except for the black color and many complicated and circular patterns on it.
The patterns on his attire were quite mysterious. They seemed alive, rotating, moving randomly, and gleaming with a faint holy glow. Because of these, if the gentleman was sized up from head to toe, he would appear bathed in soft glimmer and full of mystic aura.
The man's long hair was black and wavy. His complexion was not really fair but instead perfect for the description 'bronze-like skin'. It was a skin color quite rejected by the majority of the mortal world's Easterners, but longed for by those from the West.
He stood with his back straight next to a very large open window. Without curtains to cover the scene, the man could freely stare at the serene scene beyond the window. The room was located on the topmost part of the tall mountain. There was only one mountain in this world, which means he was actually situated at the topmost part of the sacred mountain.
It was a puzzle of why and how he could be there. Who was he? Why was he acting like he was the owner of the world as he stared down from the peak of the sacred mountain? These questions would surely cross the mind of a regular mortal if they saw him like this. After all, when he mentioned the name of the goddess, he sounded like 'She' was in a lower standing than him.
"Look at what's she's doing. She's like a good-for-nothing kid. Obviously so bored that she even fooled those pitiful souls." A woman's voice rang from behind.
When the man looked back, what registered in his eyes was a fair-skinned woman sitting comfortably at the only chair in the room, her legs crossed. She had her head lowered as she stared at the nail art, on one hand, the other hand holding a bamboo scroll.
"I let her be because that's her sole source of entertainment." Defended the muscular man in priest clothing.
"Please, don't misunderstand, alright. It's not like I care about that Anda's weird quirks. By the way, I like this story here. Although we seemed forgotten by the mortal world, there is still some documentation about us. I'm happy!"
"It only mentioned our names. Some stories in that scroll have been invented thousands of years ago and there are some inconsistencies."
The woman chuckled. "It doesn't matter. Let me read it for you, it said here, once upon a time, there were only five deities in the whole world. One of them, named Bathala, is the most powerful. Due to loneliness and desire to show his powers to the universe, he created the three worlds, namely the Skyworld 'Kaluwalhatian', Mortal world 'Kalupaan' which in mortal's language is 'Earth', and the Underworld called Kasakitan. Well, in the modern context, it's simply the Skyworld, Earth, and Underworld. After this, he scattered all laws in the universe, and those who found them turned into deities. These gods moved into Kaluwalhatian thus making this Skyworld the abode of deities."
"Then." She paused and laughed before continuing, "Because the middle world Earth was devoid of intelligent creatures, the Creator Bathala thought, it would not be nice to leave the plants, trees, animals and other creatures and wonders there without stewards. And so, he labored for three days and three nights to create humans which are made into his likings. The humans looked like the first generation deities, except they don't have powers to command nature and have rather finite lifespans. However, since they are filled with intelligence, they are good enough to be the stewards of Earth, tasked to take care of the plants, animals, and all the natural resources."
The man remained quiet. The woman laughed again as she played with the bamboo weavings of the scroll. "This story is quite long so listen carefully, okay?"
He sighed, looking out into the foggy distance again.
"I'm done reading that tale. It's not even a millionth of this universe's truth." The man expressed his disdain through his tone. He stayed quiet and unmoving after that.
"Haha, the next part is obviously one of the parts that you have to pay attention to," she said, ignoring his remark. "It's about the third great realm called Kasakitan, and it's named the same with the one you're currently guarding, Your Highness, Sitan. And whoooaaah! It even said the guardian's name is Sitan, the same as your name!"
When she didn't gain any response, she lost interest in her act and in watching the other party's expression. "You are really so boring, Your Highness Sitan, Deity of the Underworld."
"You've been alive since time immemorial. Why are you acting this way, Miss Hanan?" He was only short of asking if she had no childhood so she was being quite childish. He was simply finding her behavior unacceptable.
The woman cracked a bewitching smile at him. "You should address me as Your Highness, Princess Hanan."
He once again didn't reply, so the woman sneered but went back to reading again. "This scroll is quite good. It has the names of many deities like you and me. It's a pity, there is so much information omitted. It did not even record the last world. If those damnable devils of the Kasanaan, the World of the Devils, learned of this, probably they will hunt the scribe and offer his soul to their king."
A crow suddenly entered the room and landed on Sitan's broad shoulder. It made noise for a while as if talking to its master. The woman was no longer speaking and only the bird's noise could be heard for that short while. When the crow went quiet, the man stared down the window and studied the scene below. However, there were only trees and branches on his sight when he did that.
Sitan spoke while still busy studying the place below. He seemed to be thinking when he suggested, "Miss Hanan, why don't you continue reading the tale?"
"Sure. I'm now on the part where the author describes the three daughters of Bathala, namely me, my sister Mayari and Tala."
"I mean to say, can't you do it silently?"
***A playful reply came. "Nope. Hey, the author seemed to know very little about us. His story stopped on the part where the Creator Bathala was said to disappear, leaving the whole Skyworld to be managed by the other deities. And. Well, that's it." She then rolled up the bamboo scrolls and left it on top of the small round table. "This should be a work of some mortals from thousands of years ago, correct? They are quite amazing to know a bit about us, don't you think so?"The man who yearned for some peace but couldn't find it due to the woman's presence signed and replied, "You are correct. That scroll was brought to this world by one of the priestesses of a human tribe from one thousand years ago. When I read that mortal's memories, it was still a time when tribes worship beings like us, calling us their gods and goddesses or anitos.""Oh," the woman responded before laughing. "Anitos… Really foolish mortals. How dare they say Gods and Goddess of the Skyworld are the same with the
***Anda remained sitting on the branch hanging above. She looked down on everybody with a beautiful smile on her lips.There were so many people jumping around the big rock. Quite a few tried out their parkour tricks and there were even some people conferencing near the challenge location, each participant with eagerness and seriousness on their faces.They looked like some earnest and dependable people and this prompted the young man in the black jacket to approach them."The test is so difficult. It's like the administrator is purposely eliminating the old and the weak." The old man following the young man made sobbing noises. "Wwuuuuu! This is unfair. Tell me, kiddo Ley! How do I survive!?""You think I know? I'm not even sure if I could make it through. And why the heck are you following me?" The young man called kiddo Ley didn't hide his displeasure through his tone."Even the seventy-seven years old me can't grasp the logic of this te
***The old man roared in anger. "Obviously! Can't you see how people are trampling the others just to make sure they don't become skeletons!? And you only said now that something is wrong! Everyone's moral character is wrong!"Actually, Leyte was also quite scared by what he was seeing. It was just that when he saw something that was not matching up with his common sense, he somehow calmed down and started to ponder.He once again said, "Something is really wrong.""You!" The old man next to him stared at Ley as if he was a hopeless nutcase."When that person was beaten up, there's no blood or bruise. However, she's one of the odds.""Huh?""There are also people in evens that got punched and beat up but they bled. And they are those who turned into skeletons.""Young kiddo, what are you saying?"Leyte shook his head in dismay. He also didn't get it.A thought crossed his mind, "Is ensuring you don't turn into a
***People's reaction to the revelation was normal. None of them were aware of their actual status at first.Majority cursed and made scenes, showing through their actions how hard it was to accept that they have already died. Some cried and once again, it was normal. No one would be able to easily accept the truth, even if it was true that time was always kind to people and could help heal the pain and confusion.One month passed since then. Everybody had gone through what Goddess Anda called Ritual of the Dead. They passed through a gigantic rock, etched their names on some trees, danced the day away to 'shake off their sins', and then underwent Anda's judgment. The judgment referred to the normal segregation of good and bad people.Leyte was neither a saint nor a criminal so he was quite conflicted as he waited for his turn. Fortunately, he was still sent to The Stairway to Heaven. The goddess termed it Dunkituhan but since the word is so foreign and t
***While the young man was lost in nostalgia, Kylie continued explaining to them. "Actually, not all people reincarnate on Earth. Apart from those who stay in the Underworld, there are actually some who become similar angels and are sent above. The village chief said it's because those people are like saints...""Angels exist?" The old man muttered internally, complaining, 'Why am I not selected?'The girl hesitated. "I'm not sure if they are really angels, but according to the souls I've talked to before, some souls did go above, to the heaven which our Goddess Anda called Skyworld."She paused and then acted as if she remembered something. "Among them, there are some popular people or devotees who ascended to that place. The village chief said they are Idols, Deities of The Land, or Anitos.""... I remember that one of the oldies here said President Marcos turned into an Anito and is now living in that world. Others were figures like Dr. Jose Ri
***When Ley said to his village chief that he wanted to get reincarnated, he expected the elder to ask a few questions about his request and then explain how it would be processed before sending him off. However, in reality, the other party only remained silent. After a while, Leyte was feeling a little bit uncomfortable."Village Chief," he called out.No one answer came. The older guy was only giving him a weird look."Kiddo Ley..." It was the old man who suddenly appeared behind the young man.Leyte Baler stayed on the spot, frowning at the chief's lack of response. From outside, consecutive bell tolls suddenly rang and the people inside the two-story stone house rushed out to see what was going on.Although puzzled, Leyte Baler and the old man followed the chief outside. What greeted them was still the never-changing gloomy skies, with the addition of the bell tolls which heightened the eeriness of the place."Is there any event?
***Within a village nearest to the peak, two women faced off. An encirclement of curious villagers and gossipmongers watched them with unblinking eyes, some of them discussing why a confrontation arose while others marveled at their beauty. Yes, both women dressed in long skirts and traditional shirts were beauties rarely seen in the Underworld. Many curious boys even said that they were not in any way inferior to Goddess Anda in terms of beauty."Ay, the two argued about who is more beautiful,” speculated a bystander."No, I think I heard them quarreling for a guy. Maybe they know each other from the other world and are in love with the same man. However, one of them ended up the real lover while the other one became the trying-hard mistress.""Wrong. The other one is not even a mistress. She is a mere villainess getting in the way of two lovebirds. I think the reason they are both dead and transported into our current world is that the mist
***"P-please help me." cried the girl he remembered to be the first to arrive in Mount Balatukan. She was the schoolgirl from before who was pushed to the rock by her friend.Ley only blanked out for a few seconds before he decided to help. He was neither a saint nor a lawbreaker. However, he was not that heartless to ignore a helpless girl's plea and let her fend by herself.He squatted down to carry the girl, then he asked, "Would it be alright if we jump down the cliff? I'm afraid it’s the only way to reach the forest faster."He saw the little girl hesitated. It was a normal reaction considering that most people hate the pain and fear heights. Ley tried to explain further. "Don't worry, I won't abandon you. If we jump, we would surely get hurt. But at least we would be able to escape from here. The goddesses are both fierce and merciless. They don't care how many people will be caught in their battle. We have no time to dilly-dally. I'll carry