“I admire her looks and fashion-sense but definitely not her attitude,” Ricka said as they had their last stop. It was already dark outside and they made several stops along the way for lunch and a little bit of stretching. Now, they had a stop at another restaurant for dinner. “Do not speak to me unless you’re spoken to.” Ricka mimicked. "She thinks she’s really all this high and mighty”.
All of them were on three separate tables. The organizers along with Merle and Edgar were on a table located near the window. From what it looks like, Aki lead the conversation with Anita still looking sullen and uncomfortable. Because each table only has five chairs, the boys had to be on another table away from the girls. Roberto's voice can be clearly heard on top of the conversation hum with the boys following with laughter from whatever funny remarks he's making. They look like as if they're enjoying the journey.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” answered Elle. “She looks like she can hear anything you say, I can feel her gaze on our table even if she’s far from us.”
“Ooops if she does hear what I said then I hope she realizes that no one likes her. If she does not like what she’s doing why didn’t she had someone do it for her”. said Ricka.
“Just like us, goaded to do things she does not like to do. Just like how my parents pushed me to be on this arrangement despite my protest”. Ave, the curly-haired petite girl answered as she eats the last slice of the apple pie on her place. “But thankfully on the brighter side, we have Aki, hot with his tattoos and fit body.”
“Yeah at least we have him for eye candy. He does look strict though and he makes me remember all those warriors on Greek mythology movies”, Jen giggled.
"Yeah look at all the ladies in this restaurant eyeing Aki with interest." said Chris. "Anyway, guys don't let anyone spoil our fun. It's our first time to visit the mountain so Let's just ignore her as she wants to be ignored." She added as the rests of the girls nodded and continued eating.
After the dinner, the bus resumed travel and Merle soon announced that after an hour they should reach their destination. It was almost eight in the evening when at last the bus had its full stop. They have arrived in the place where the ritual before the climb will be done.
There was a brief explanation on the online invite saying that the ritual is done to show respect to the mountain and not just this mountain but several other mountains within the archipelago where mountain grounds are considered as sacred. From the road, nothing can be seen but row and rows of pine trees divided by a 10-foot tall brass gate that soon opened to reveal a guardhouse. From the guardhouse, the next prominent structure that can be seen is a huge pavilion. There is one main path lighted by the yellow glow coming from street lights. The main path branches off to several paths leading to several cabins which can accommodate 4 people. The path then extends to a main three-story building behind which is a vast grassy lawn. The place is eerily quiet except for the occasional hoots from nocturnal birds.
After disembarking from the bus and saying their awkward goodbyes to Merle and Edgar who looked relieved, the boys were guided towards a cabin farther than the girls by Aki. Their shelter for the night is the 7th cabin on the right side of the main path. Samel was quiet as Rob leads the conversation with Aki asking about his tattoos. Karl and Sebastian listened intently not contributing much to the conversation.
Anita then told the girls to settle down at the fifth cabin on the left side of the main path. Ricka was still sulking and tried to ignore Anita as much as she can while Elle walked nonchalantly. Chris and Jen were giggling about something while the short girl named Ave looks smitten by Anita’s radiance.
Anita was in deep thought while leading the group of girls. Observing the young ones, all of them looked so ordinary that she can't believe that soon one of them will replace her brother. Thinking about her brother, she refused to believe what Abba said about her brother's death, a death of a god after centuries.
They reached the entrance of the cabin and Anita watched the girls settled down inside the cabin, choosing their bunk bed for the night. She gave them a curt instruction about the ritual and dinner before leaving them on their own. She slipped through the divine space, a dimension hidden from the human eyes, and joined Merle and Edgar the anitos or spirits created by Abba to transport the kids safely. The spirits have shed their human form, their human skin, and bones replaced by nothing but bluish smoke. No eyes or ears are visible except for one circle of gold light the size of a tennis ball hovering in the middle of their form. As soon as she entered the divine space, Anita immediately transformed into her true form. She’s wearing a flowy blue dress covered with diamonds as fine as the sand and a gold belt around her thin waist, her dainty feet hovered above the ground. Her radiance cut through the dark space where the two spirits are waiting, bowing, and afraid to look straight into her eyes.
Abba, the God above Gods asked her to look after the selection of the replacement of his brother Dumakulem, the mountain God and she treated it as a mockery. Apolaki the god of warriors or known as Aki to the kids enjoyed and treated it as an honor but not her. She wanted to be on the frontlines searching for her brother’s murderer.
“You have served your purpose, you may go back to Abba and tell Him that I, goddess of wind and rain Anitun Tabu will see through the end that the right one will take over my brother’s mountains.”, Anitun Tabu or Anita said.
The spirits kept their heads down, with Anitun Tabu’s goddess form, they’re not allowed to gaze straight at her unless spoken to. The goddess is known for her attitude and even her family can’t control her impulsiveness when it comes to striking someone dead when she wants to. “Go forth spirits, what’s done have been done and we’ll wait what all of this will bring upon humankind”. Anitun continued.
In a blink of an eye, the spirits followed their awaited command and Anitun was left all alone within the divine space. She contemplated for a while and as she was about to exit the space only Gods and their spirit servants can access, she saw Elle. The girl is seated on one of the benches outside the cabin with her headphones on, for a moment, Anitun was sure that Elle could see her as the girl stared long at where she stands. But Anitun chased the thought away, the girl has not even been awakened yet. Anitun decided to stay on the divine space for a while to observe. Soon enough, Elle went back to the cabin where the rest of the girls are.
“And I was reporting everything to my mom about how this whole hike. How am I supposed to tell her now how shady this feels like? I thought we would see more people than us in this place but so far I have only seen the security guard at the entrance. This place is weirdly quiet and I haven’t even heard a single transportation passing by the area since our bus left the place. Hey Elle, you’re back, how’s outside?” Ave told the group and then greeted Elle as she entered their cabin. She’s sitting cross-legged at the top of the double bed she’ll be sharing with Elle. Ricka has the single bed to herself while Jen and Chris shared the other double bed.
“Well, same noiseless place when we enter it. I was waiting to see some kitchen staff outside, you know for dinner but haven’t seen anyone. Does anyone of you feel this strange vibrations prickling your skin? I felt it since we entered this place?” Elle asked. She’s not worried but she felt this strange sensation the moment they entered the place.
“Yeah, I thought it’s just me and my fear about this whole journey. I wonder why our parents agreed to this whole setup. “ Ricka answered while opening a bag of chips. “But guys hey, we have each other and that comforts me. All of us feel normal except for the organizers. Even Merle and Edgar have weird vibes. And remember when Anita called Merle servant? Who does that these days? We’re past the royalty days”.
“Maybe we’re just all tired with the journey. C’mon hopefully by tomorrow once we have gotten the sleep we need, we’ll be more optimistic and hey, we’ll meet other hikers along the way right? This is a known camping ground and I’ve searched for photos from the internet, I’m really looking forward to the sea of clouds.” Jen replied.
“You’re right. I was looking forward to that too and the biting cold.” Chris answered.
Everyone was reminded of the excitement they felt when they did their research about the highest mountain in Luzon, Mt. Pulag, and began to talk more about the trail and what they brought to the hike.
“So, I’ve been dying to ask you this, guys but who’s your pick among the pretty girls we have on this group”, Roberto asked the guys as they unpack some of their things needed for sleeping.
“Shouldn’t we talk more about this ritual before the climb? I did my research online but haven’t found anything about it. I found some but just about rituals done before climbing on Mindanao mountains but not here in Luzon.” Basti asked diverting the topic off what Roberto wanted to discuss.
“I found that strange too but just told myself that it could be something different for us as this trip is not your usual hiking trip” Samel answered as he looked at Karl who was just silent in the corner with nothing to add. He noticed that the guy has been quiet compared to the rest of the group.
“C’mon guys loosen up. You’re all taking this seriously. This is supposed to be a fun and exciting trip and you’re ruining it by overthinking.” Roberto butted in. “What do you say Karl? You’ve been quiet this entire time.” Rob asked stating the obvious. Everyone went quiet waiting for a response from Karl.
“Sorry if I seemed aloof, like you this trip does not make sense to me too. My family, we don't really have much." Karl said with discomfort apparent on his voice. "And suddenly I have this opportunity. I mean have you ever asked why you? I can’t wrap my head around this and the shock of travelling, my first time.” Karl added with a sigh but with a hint of joy.
“I guess that’s the better question to ask. Why us on this trip? But as Rob said, let’s stop overthinking and just enjoy this whole trip. By dinnertime, I guess we can ask our questions.” Samel said.
“But man, don’t you think that our organizer Anita is hot? I’ll pick her over the girls.” Rob answered while laughing. As expected, no one answered his jokes and outside, a strong passing wind can be heard.