In the year 2022, four significant events took place in the Philippines that altered the course of its history. The first was a significant and disturbing drop in energy supply and resources. Blackouts first became commonplace in the provincial areas, then fanned out until candlelight became the prevalent source of illumination throughout the land. Metro Manila remained one of the few places with power. It was predicted that the entire nation would be completely blacked out in seven years. Pictures from the orbiting International Space Station showed half the country engulfed in darkness every night. The second occurrence was a diaspora of Filipino citizens to more energy-sufficient countries. Those wealthy enough to leave the country with their families and belongings did so, and very quickly. The economy collapsed. A large number of vehicular accidents, especially plane crashes and boat sinkings, occurred in just the first six months of the year because of widespread panic. Those who could not leave ventured into the remains of the capital and took stock of the many vacated residences. Only the wealthy and strong-willed stayed. They constituted a small but still powerful elite class and governed the nation’s capital.
Third, with the human presence significantly diminished and the return to candlelight throughout the Philippines, species such as the kapre (giant), the manananggal (local vampire), the duwende (dwarf), the diwata (faerie), and other benign or malevolent creatures of folklore and myth stepped out of the woods and took refuge with people in the cities, returning to the land that was once theirs. Such bigotry existed within the country, however, that humans and these creatures could hardly get along. Even the species of folklore themselves could not remain peaceful within their own kind. As a result, The Mythology Segregation Act of 2022 became law. It permitted creatures that were human-eating and nightmare-inducing to stay only in tall buildings—away from the sight of ordinary citizens. They were given a pension by the surviving government and fed regularly in exchange for their living spaces. Those that remained peaceful were allowed into ordinary human society. Such conditions strained the fabric of social activity, so much so that bloodshed occurred every so often and remaining hospitals were stretched beyond their capacity. One species that reached the brink of extinction were the diwata. Though they were peaceful in nature, aspects of their being (such as the scent of their skin and their unrivaled beauty) made other species feel threatened. Attacks were frequent.
By the end of 2022, the last diwata had died. No one knows exactly how it happened. Three well-known faeries were still alive in the final weeks of 2022 and were kept in captivity. One escaped. The other two died due to their failure to breed. And then there were no more sightings.
Two myths exist concerning the last diwata, the one that escaped. The latter surfaced just recently, which is why I am here at 94 Xavierville Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City to investigate. In retrospect, the story is more a rumor than a lead. It has been a decade since the last sighting so I cannot take this lead seriously. And the source itself may not be as reliable as previously thought. Heading towards the address on foot, I notice the shanties scattered throughout the area. Arranged in rows of six and stacked one on top of the other to conserve living space, these little homes of scrap and pig iron are in far worse shape than those that surround the old commercial complexes like SM Megamall. Mud-caked and shirtless children run throughout the streets. One of them happily pulls on a plastic-bag kite that rises only a few feet off the ground.
Sitting in the middle of these shanties is a monolith, a skyscraper without a name but called simply the “Amando Flores Building” after the corporate giant who financed its creation. Rising up to 121 floors, it is the tallest building that stands in the Philippines today. From the horizon, it looks like a gleaming silver needle penetrating the heavens. It is so high that clouds constantly obscure the top of the structure. Its base consists of six gigantic bamboo-like supports arranged in a pattern that imitates flower petals. The configuration is thought to have certain cosmological significance, recalling the cluster of six stars hovering overhead every night from the constellation of Libra and the six final words of the late President Ocampo, “Six pillars of faith [bind] us together.”
In the past, the tower used to house mostly the offices of commercial enterprises. Near its peak was an observation deck, and on the highest accessible floor a large swimming pool and garden. Due to lapses in maintenance, years of neglect, and loss of electrical power, the tower fell into disrepair. The government then decided to house a number of mythological species (specifically the malevolent ones) in it. Since 2027, forty Filipinos have been allowed to set foot inside the tower every year to maintain it: technicians, janitorial staff, etc. It should be noted that only fifteen or so from the annual staff ever make it out unharmed.
I arrive at a very small house made entirely out of wrought iron a block away from the building. The doorway, shorter than the average fifteen-year-old child, opens to reveal an old man with thinning hair who could have been mistaken for a child if not for his wrinkled skin. With the pointed ears, the man is clearly duwende, a dwarf. His name is Ilik and he speaks to me in WoodSpeak, a language locally known as Kugaran and one that once accompanied the precolonial Philippine written language known as Baybayin. These mythic types are known to speak it fluently. He asks if I am the one who wants to know about the last diwata. I respond in simple WoodSpeak and ask if he understands English as well. He does. I enter his small house—nearly breaking the ceiling with my entrance—and sit on a large clearing of soil.
The story of the last diwata begins after her death—when the old and frail kite maker, Arthur Kadampog, a man who once worked in the Amando Flores Building as a janitor, was accused of murdering the last of the Philippine faeries.
It is said that Arthur, in his younger years, had volunteered to be a janitor on the tower’s annual maintenance crew because he was terribly poor. Before his ill-fated end, he was well-known for his thorough kite-crafting skills and his knowledge of the myth-folk—their secrets, strengths, powers, and vulnerabilities. He knew how to serve tobacco to a lecturing kapre or the safe way to handle the lower half of a manananggal. All this knowledge paid off as he ventured higher and higher up the tower. He was able to avoid and protect himself from the terrible forces that resided within the building and do his job at the same time.
On the day Arthur reached the highest accessible level, he found the escaped last diwata bathing in the pool. It is not known how exactly she had ended up there. Some say she had forged documents to occupy the highest floor of the building. Others say that she had used her disarming beauty and natural abilities to charm and ensnare potential enemies and make her way to the top and hide. And still even a few others say she was smuggled there by the previous maintenance crew in a bid to save her species. Whatever the case, she was the last of her kind, and she was greatly desired.
He spotted her bathing in a shallow part of the pool, her milky white skin smooth from the clean water. She sang to herself and lapped at the water playfully. Running down the length of her arm, inscribed in green, were Alibata symbols. It is often said that these people inscribed ritualistic poems on their skins—Ambahan—to tell what they were and what they did. The hair on her head, wet and tangled, fell down her back and her bosom like damp vines. And as for Arthur Kadampog, who watched unseen and unheard from the side, it was no surprise and wonder to anyone who had heard the story before that he had fallen hopelessly in love with the creature.
Seizing the chance to capture her, Arthur crept towards her belongings that lay on a wooden bench by the pool. By the time the creature realized she was no longer alone, it was too late. In the young man’s left hand was the faerie’s jagged knife carved from encrusted coral. He used the knife to draw blood from his tongue—a symbolic act of kinship and peace. In his right hand was an object far more important: the faerie’s wings. According to the old unwritten rules, whosoever takes the wings of a faerie may control her.
Seeing her powerlessness, the creature bowed her head and drew her own blood by biting her tongue. That night, the two made a fire and bound themselves to each other in marriage, and then they sealed their marriage by making love, the fire taking away their separate spirits and forging them into one. In the middle of their lovemaking, the creature sealed the ritual by finally whispering her name: Maria Kalan.
The two met in secret every month at the top of the tower. Knowing they couldn’t be seen together because of Maria’s notoriety as the last diwata, they decided to find another way. Arthur couldn’t climb the tower from the inside without being killed—he could fool or charm its malevolent inhabitants only so often—so he fashioned himself a beautiful kite, one that caught the light like the prisms of a kaleidoscope and was as large as a human being. By attaching an exceedingly long piece of rope he fashioned from the fallen locks of a kapre, the young man could maneuver the kite to the top of the building and climb the rope to his lover. And the two would be together.
The story does not end on a happy note, however. A year after the two had first met, the manananggal that lived on the upper floors caught sight of Arthur climbing the rope one day and decided to see for themselves what was going on. Upon catching sight of Maria Kalan on the topmost floor, they were shocked at the sight of their natural enemy, the diwata. But as soon as they saw that she had no wings and was completely unarmed, they waited until he had gone and then attacked. So violent was their assault that when Arthur found her mauled and lifeless body later, his wailing drew the attention of those living on the lower floors. When they arrived at the scene, they found Arthur holding Maria Kalan in his arms, blood soaked. He cried out that the last diwata was murdered but no one would believe him. Without the wings, the creature in his arms looked nothing more than a mere human. Arthur Kadampog was accused of murder.
Only his descent into insanity saved him. Arthur lived the rest of his life in shame, making his kites in silence and in bitterness. No one disturbed the old man. His insanity was punishment enough.
This story was often used as a cautionary tale with little girls about the dangers of men and how falling into early commitment could put them in danger. Many a little girl would often cower in fear as their mothers told them the story. Likewise, the story was told as a cautionary tale to little boys who grew arrogant at such a young age.
The second tale—and probably the more recent of the two—seems to have woven itself into the first and takes place years after the original story.
The story begins once again with Arthur Kadampog, though it is unclear if the man encountered the building at 94 Xavierville Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. What is only certain is that the old man was indeed a kitesmith, completely destitute, and slightly delirious. He had married a frightening old woman who left him. He was not alone, however. People who passed by his home noticed that he had a helper. A little bright-eyed girl named Anita, she seemed just as reclusive as the old man but incredibly devoted to him. She was Arthur’s daughter.
Anita, though she loved the old man, knew nothing of her mother. And whenever the subject of her origins came up, Arthur would quietly tell her, “When I’m finished,” and secretively worked on another of his kites. Every time he would finish one, he would place it in a cabinet that he kept locked in his room. By the time she was fourteen, she had stopped asking.
On her eighteenth birthday, however, things changed. Anita had come home from a day of kite flying and found her father sitting outside. She could tell that the old man was terribly sick. His skin was clammy, his breathing shallow, and his voice easily lost in the wind. He was shivering badly. She brought him inside.
“What’s wrong?” Anita asked.
There was a look of guilt in his eyes. She felt inadequate and useless.
“What will I do once you’re gone?”
“There is a way to ensure your future. Before I die, there’s something you have to do for me. Do you remember my locked cabinet? I have the key. Open it and bring my most prized kite to me.”
“How will I know which one you value the most?”
“You don’t have to worry. You’ll understand once you open it.”
After being given the key, Anita rushed to her father’s cabinet and opened it. Within it were many kites but one stood out. It was like nothing she had ever seen before. Shaped like the wings of a butterfly, the kite fluttered easily in the breeze that was her breath. Even in the dimming sunset, the kite’s surface reflected the light so intensely that she thought she saw gleaming fire light—and it all came in strange shapes and colors. So large was the kite that she had to stand on a stool just to match its height. And its surface—softer than silk and more beautiful than any embroidery—was a delight to feel and touch.
“This is the one,” her father said upon her return. “This is the last thing I ask of you before I die. Do you remember the story of the building so tall it reaches beyond the skies?”
“Good. You must climb it to the very top.”
“What will I find there?”
“The last diwata. And a way to live on once I am gone.”
Anita suddenly grew frustrated. This may have been the last chance to know about her mother. It was very selfish of her considering that Arthur was dying, but she couldn’t help it. Who was she? Was she beautiful? Why did she leave? She felt it was time he told her. But she held these thoughts at bay and turned to his request.
“If I am to go up the tower, I will need protection. I have heard of it and of the beasts and creatures that reside within. You told me these things in your story.”
“You need not worry because you will not approach them. I climbed the tower once before on a kite as beautiful as the one you carry in your hands. That kite is long gone. But you may use this new one and climb up the rope it trails behind.”
Arthur seemed to be raving, spouting his last words before the final release.
“I don’t think I can do this. I don’t even know why I should.”
“I have always loved you and I ask nothing more. Furthermore, this is a task you must perform. I am sorry I cannot explain this better.”
“I don’t want to do this. I do not want to risk death.”
“Do not do this for me but for yourself—for the right to understand your place in this world. It is the biggest act of love I can ask of you and the biggest act of faith in your future that you can perform.”
Outside the city, past the village where the batibat take shelter, beyond the war-blackened river that was once called The-River-Pasig, a tombstone of Arthur Kadampog has these words, his final ones, engraved on it.
Anita Kadampog arrived at the Amando Flores Building early the next morning. A woman guarding the entrance greeted her upon her arrival but asked why she was there.
“I’m going to the top of the tower to find the last diwata.”
“The last diwata was killed many years ago. Who are you?”
“You are the daughter, then, of the man who killed her?”
“I am the daughter of the man who loved her.”
“I heard of his death. I am sorry for your loss. I’m sure he cared for you. But there is nothing to be gained by climbing the tower. There is nothing waiting for you up there. You will only end up sliced and bitten and decapitated by those who reside within the building. There is no safe way up.”
As she said this, Anita unfurled her father’s prized kite and released it into the breeze. A strong updraft caught it easily and lifted it into the clouds, pulling the lengthy piece of rope along with it. It was graceful as it danced in the wind—as if some cosmic hand was pulling it through the sky on a delicate piece of string. Both the girl and the young woman watched as it disappeared above the cloud cover that shrouded the top of the tower.
Quickly Anita tied the end of the rope to a large metal pole cemented to the ground. And as soon as the rope became taut and firm, gently swinging side to side, the little girl—who had never climbed farther than the ground would let her—freed herself from the earth and began to ascend.
“Good luck,” said the guard.
And before she knew it, the girl that smelled of fresh cinnamon and whose skin was paler than the moon’s was nothing more than a speck inching its way up to the heavens.
Matthew Jacob F. Ramos is a college student majoring in both creative writing and information design. Jake writes both science fiction and fantasy with strong local themes. “The Tower and the Kite” is his first published story.
The above illustration of a diwata is by John Paul “Lakan” Olivares (used with his permission). John chooses to go by the moniker “Lakan”, an ancient word meaning “warrior chieftain”, and which is from his people, the Tagalog (“Taga” or from and “Ilog” or river, which means people of the river). To read more about him and to see his other pieces, click here.