Day 1 of the Hike: Taming a Tikbalang
At around eleven, the group decided to take a rest. They just had a demanding, long walk and have not seen the end of the slope yet, nothing remarkable had happened in the past hours, no enchanted creatures which they were thankful for. It was just silence, the cold of the mountains, and their heavy breaths. Needing to conserve strength, each of them understood the need not to talk and instead savor the view of pine trees which can seldom be seen in the province they're from.
"Diwata Pulag," Roberto said. "I sounded silly right?," He added with a laugh. Diwata is another term for engkanto and pretty soon a girl with long blonde hair and white dress emerged carrying baskets of foods. Her eyes were blue and her lips were the color of roses. With their previous encounter from engkantos, the group was surprised and immediately activated their godly power.
"Sorry," Samel said as he deactivated his power. "We're just surprised and we had this bad experience with engkantos."
The girl just smiled and handed them the food. Then she disappeared immediately. The group shared the food, rice with fried fish, a bowl of vegetables, and bananas for each of them.
"This feels like home," Roberto commented as he gobbled up the food. The bowls of food prepared for them was enchanted, refilling automatically once emptied.
"Just don't eat too much, you wouldn't want to hike with a heavy tummy", Sam said.
After eating, the diwata appeared again, silently taking the basket and vanishing without a trace.
"If not for all that we've gone through I'd say this is a high-class hike. We have food ready and all." Roberto commented. Then suddenly he heard something, the sound of hooves. "Hey guys, you heard that, sounded like horses." He asked.
Elle and Sam nodded and all three of them stood up to look for the source of sound but they have seen nothing around them. "Must be a passing mythical creature again. Let's just rest for a while here then continue our hike, maybe let's say another 30 minutes."
"Sure," Elle answered as she leaned on a tree beside her. "I still can't wrap my head around that's happened. Before all this we're just in our homes, preparing for our last year in high school. Then this. If we ever go back unscathed, do you think they'll take our memories of the hike? or maybe even replaced it with something we did not really experience? Only one of us will be chosen and after that what then?" She continued.
"Yeah, but I would not want to dwell on that. I'm more focused on surviving this whole ordeal and going back to my father", Roberto answered.
"We didn't even have a choice, we're like babies being thrown into this pit full of monsters. They expect us to emerge victorious because we have god blood pulsing in our veins." Samel said.
After a while, they continued their journey, with Roberto taking the lead, Elle at the middle, and Sam at the last of the line. The path was steep but wasn't slippery. The sun had also been covered by the tall trees shielding the warmth they would have appreciated for as the elevation increased, the more numbing the cold got.
Then suddenly, all of them were startled by the sound of fast-approaching hooves. All of them in response activated their god powers and soon they saw it. Behind them were horses, not horses per se but a half-human, half-horse form. The head and feet are that of a horse but the muscled chest, arms, and legs are that of a human. The half-horse humans or half-human horses have also very long legs and about 9 feet tall, wearing brown cloth in a skirt-like manner around their waist extending to the middle of their thighs. Four of them had dark color while one had a white color. The one with the white color was surrounded by the other four.
"Hey," Samel called out before he can stop himself. He removed his backpack and then summoned his sword.
"I wouldn't do that" Primo who had appeared the moment Sam activated his power said. "You would not want to face the consequences later on. Tikbalangs are known to be vengeful creatures."
"Holy hell!" Roberto exclaimed. "So those are tikbalangs. I heard about them and I also fear them when I was young. I imagine them having a scary face but look at them, except for their red eyes their faces look like normal horses."
What Primo said seemed not to have stopped Samel as he run towards the Tikbalang with his sword ready. The tikbalangs saw him and were taken aback by his green glow. They might have sensed his powers and all four of the dark-colored ones immediately run off, leaving the white one alone. Samel approached the white tikbalang who looked relieved after the other four left. At first, the tikbalang just stared at him and at last it spoke.
"You should not have done that now you earned their wrath. But thank you for taking their attention off me. I'm Duffu by the way". The tikbalang said.
"I thought they were hurting you and I haven't even realized what I was doing until now", Samel said, surprised that he immediately acted to save the white tikbalang.
"That's your demise young one, there are things you need not interfere, you have your journey, and me, I have mine. If I let them hurt me, well they won't kill me and I'll live through it. I'm a peace offering to their kind, my white tikbalang family sent me over to the black tikbalangs and from then on, I became their source of amusement". The tikbalang said.
"That doesn't sound right. Will you ever return to your family?" Elle asked. She and Roberto are now up close and were listening to the conversation.
"I don't think so, it was a permanent arrangement between families." The tikbalang answered. "I better get going. A piece of advice, the most I can do for you, if ever you feel like you're going in circles, that means the tikbalang had enchanted your path which I know they will do to you soon. You have to call out to them even if you can't see them and request for a fight. They might have scoured earlier as if afraid because they have not observed you from a distance yet but once they understand what you are, they will answer your call of challenge and that's the only way for you to tame them and give you back the straight path towards the camp", The tikbalang said. "And remember, during the challenge, see these three gold hairs I have on my mane, one of you should be able to pluck the three golden hairs from one of them. You need to tame just one, for you to be guided back to the right way. And remember you can't kill them or you'll be forever trapped in the trail " The tikbalang continued and with that, it galloped away from them towards the trees, then disappeared.
"Challenge a tikbalang? Do you know how crazy that sounds? They're strong creatures and you're all exhausted by the fight you had." Primo interjected.
"I'm sorry guys, I should not have done whatever I did to provoke them," Samel said.
"You better be", Primo added
"C'mon Primo. It's really okay. Sam, we would have done the same, it was just you're quick to react than us", Elle replied. "C'mon let's continue our journey and we'll tame tikbalangs when the situation calls for it".
They switched off their powers and continued their laborious walk, stopping from time to time for quick rests. Then talking about their lives back home, like how Roberto would steal his neighbor's wifi password and commented that he gets back and if he wins the favor of the gods, he won't have to struggle with the wifi as he'll be rich by then. Sam and Elle listened and laughed. Then, they all saw the end of the slope and the roof of the small hut.
"That should be the campsite!" Roberto exclaimed merrily. His pace went faster than normal seeing the roof.
"Hey guys, is it just me or it looks like we haven't advanced father than we were before? Look I can see the campsite but it looks like it's the same distance as I have seen it before." Elle commented.
"You're right. Do you think this might be what Duffu told us earlier? " Samel asked, now activating his power as Elle and Roberto followed. "But let's try to advance one more time. Here, one of my spare ropes, let me put this on the base of this tree and see what happens after we walk away."
They traversed again, following the golden marks but soon find themselves back to that tree where Samel left his blue rope."Roberto, do your thing and annoy them, I think it's time for us to challenge them," Samel concluded.
"Hey ugly tikbalangs, if you can hear me, we challenge you for a fight, come out and face us, the ever-powerful half-gods," Roberto shouted.
At first, nothing happened, then the ground they're standing on, moved as if in a circular motion, like a roulette being spun. The motion ended after several minutes, leaving the three of them dizzy, and far ahead of the trail, they saw three tikbalangs with their mouths open as if in a smile.
"You fools, you think you can defeat us. No one has tamed our kind for hundreds of years," the tallest of the tikbalang said.
"What choice do we have" Samel answered. And with that the sound of hooves echoed in the slopes as three of tikbalangs headed straight to where they're standing.