I know how history works once a battle is done and a victor proclaimed. If I succeed in this last task, there will be those who would lift me higher than Lapu-lapu, or Rizal, higher than Christ Himself.
If I fail, well…it won’t matter how history remembers me. But if I succeed I will not allow monuments to be built in my honor. I will not allow a day to bear my name.
I will not be called a hero. Not ever again.
“The witch is dead!”
In the ensuing joyful chaos, Emilio doesn’t bother to correct the announcement, wrong in so many ways. A kulam is no western witch, no follower of the Christian devil, for all that a kulam remembers the dread ways, the old sacrifices. Any Filipino adept in magic would know this, but to the refugees she had persecuted, Luzviminda was simply a terrifying witch. That was enough to turn the man who vanquished her into a hero.
“I knew you had it in you!” Pacifico gives the young man, still squinting in the sudden sunlight, a gap-toothed grin. The former Constabulary officer had possessed three gold teeth before the war: one had been “confiscated” by a Jap, the second he’d lost to a Huk’s fist. The old man had used the last to book passage for his family to the island that the refugees called Malvar. “I knew there was a reason Christ brought us a wizard!”
Clara steps out from behind her father’s sizeable frame, and enfolds Emilio in her arms. The hug is brief, but heartfelt. “What on earth possessed you to go in alone?”
Emilio looks back at the cave mouth, the shadows within heavy and dense. “It was safer for everyone,” he says. “A lot of curses down there. I think someone needs to tell the Council that the caverns must be cordoned off.”
Clara nods, and runs off. Emilio turns to her father. “Thank you. I owe you and Clara more than I–“
“Shut your mouth!” Pacifico drapes a heavily muscled arm around Emilio’s shoulders. “Any debt you owe us has been paid ten times over. You’ve turned the island into exactly what we were looking for–a safe haven.”
“It will take more than a few miles of water to keep Agents at bay. You know that.”
“Without a doubt…but now we have you.” Pacifico shakes Emilio back and forth with gleeful violence. “The hero of Malvar Island!”
Emilio licks his lips. “You’re putting an awful lot of trust in someone you found washed up on the beach two weeks ago.”
“What can I say? I’m an optimist.” Pacifico guides Emilio down to the foot of the mountain, where the rest of Malvar’s new masters are breaking into impromptu song and dance. “You have to admit, it’s served me well so far.”
Emilio just smiles, and allows the lie to grow between them.
Everything began in Bataan. During the war, those of us who could do magic found each other. We were a coterie of sorts, united in power and helplessness. I can never remember the name of the old sergeant who first proposed to bring the Old Gods back, but I remember that he was a kulam, and that made me wary. My first master had been a kulam, and I’d learned early on that it was not the path for me. But as we spent more time in the trenches, choking on dust and clots and hunger, it seemed our one hope of salvation. Not for ourselves, mind you–the “Battling Bastards of Bataan” knew that we were the walking dead, even before ‘Dugout Doug’ jumped ship–but for those who we would be leaving defenseless.
I remember the way the world shook when we finished the first phase of the ritual–most took it for an earthquake, and more than a few thought it a sign of divine intervention. That it was, but not from the God they prayed to, the gentle God who shed blood for His people. No, the Old Gods wished blood shed for them. All the curses of the kulam require death, and this curse would require a heavy toll. In a time of war, however, we were confident those numbers would be within reach.
We just didn’t count on how quickly we would reach our quota.
The dog is feral, although not rabid, maddened by its overnight confinement in a cramped iron cage. For the past week it has been fed little, merely enough to keep it from losing strength, and it stares at Emilio as it gnaws the iron bars. Emilio wonders if it wants him to know it is thinking of his flesh.
“Nasty creature,” says Pacifico. He gives the cage a shake, but the dog refuses to be silenced. Emilio doesn’t tell him that the dog’s temperament says more about its captors than about the dog. They’d done all they could to encourage its aggressive behavior, making sure that it was only fed when it snarled or snapped or bit at humans.
“Please take it down to the edge of the water.”
“As you wish, wizard.” Pacifico maneuvers carefully across the rock-strewn beach, depositing the cage as instructed before resuming his position to Emilio’s right. The older man unslings the rifle from his shoulder.
“I thought you were an optimist, Pacifico.” Emilio takes half of a slim iron bar from his pocket, a segment of what was once a longer piece, and holds it between the tips of his forefingers. The other half of the bar holds the cage door closed.
“Sure, but that’s not saying much.” He hawked and spat. “Any realists slit their throats after the Purge.”
Emilio smiles politely at the other man’s black humor. “Stand ready then,” Emilio says, then moves the iron in his hands sideways. Emilio hears a clatter as its twin is dislodged from the cage’s locking mechanism.
The dog is out of its prison in the next instant, growling savagely as it races up the beach towards its tormentors. It gets about halfway to their position before the air ripples around it and it freezes in mid step.
Pacifico approaches the dog cautiously, rifle still held at the ready. The dog’s eyes roll toward Pacifico when he pokes its flank with the barrel of the gun, but aside from the tell-tale rise and fall of its chest as it breathes, the dog is still.
“See? And you were worried you weren’t up to it.” Pacifico lowers his gun.
“I’m always worried I’m not up to it.”
“And you’re always wrong,” Pacifico points out. He stoops down to ruffle the head of the helpless dog. “So, you’ll be putting these spell-trap-things all around the island?”
“Asog–they immobilize anything with an intent to harm. And yes, that’s the plan.” Emilio takes out the map of Malvar and begins to mentally calculate the time he’ll need to finish the defenses.
Pacifico fingers the charm that leaves him unaffected by the magic of Emilio’s wards–a necessary precaution when testing new spells. “I suppose there’s no way to rig them so they explode, huh?” When Emilio shakes his head Pacifico clucks his tongue. “Pity that.”
The edges of the map crumple under Emilio’s fingers. “I’m not a kulam. Magic like that…it comes with a high price. And not one I could pay on my own.”
“I wouldn’t ask you to boy, not with all you’ve already given us.” Pacifico’s eyes lock on to Emilio’s. “But I’ve been around, danced with a few magic men in my time with the Constabulary. Someday, the Agents are going to come here in force, and when they do…just want you to know that I’m willing to help, however I can.”
The younger man shifts his eyes to the slowly ebbing tide. “If the Agents ever come in force, I hardly think that fighting should be our first option.”
“And you call me an optimist.” Pacifico grins again as he raises his rifle and points it at the paralyzed animal. “What makes you think we’ll have any other option, eh?”
Emilio looks away. “You don’t really know what you’re offering–“
The sound of the gunshot brings Emilio’s head back around. The asog keeps the dog upright for a moment, even with a bullet hole between its eyes. When it finally crumples bonelessly to the surf, Pacifico once again meets the younger man’s gaze.
“I told you. I’ve been around. Just promise you’ll think about it, when the time comes that it’ll take more than dead dogs to keep my daughter safe.”
The American press called our ordeal the Death March, but within the ranks we didn’t call it anything. Names were for a different world, where things needed to be distinguished one from the other–but during the march everything was the same. We no longer reacted whenever our captors discovered new ways to kill or maim an unarmed man. Emotions were ground into a dull, throbbing rage.
All we clung on to was the fact that every headless body the Japanese left along the roadside, kicked into an open ditch, or strung up on a telephone line, served our purpose. We buried our grisly offerings in the mud–a piece of a friend, a superior, a too-sympathetic bystander–and recited the ritual words of the kulam’s curse.
Up and down the line, the adepts worked, and as the march progressed, so too did our curse. By the time the ordeal was finished, our spell was done. All that was left was the wait.
At the prison camps in Capas and Cabanatuan, we passed the days in piss and filth while our magic–our blood, our hate, our sacrifice–eroded a barrier that had stood for almost five hundred years. On April 9, 1943, that barrier fell. We rescued our people.
We doomed us all.
“What are you doing here?”
For all that his gnarled hands have made fists at his sides, Emilio can hear the fear in the old priest’s voice. Father Breuber bars the entry into the spacious, grey-stone structure that serves as both school and chapel. The old American used to teach Latin and Philosophy to some of the leading minds of the generation; now he teaches arithmetic to barefoot eight year olds.
“I have a message for you and Clara.”
The priest reaches out his hand to Emilio, though he holds his arm tight against his ribs, no closer to the younger man than necessary. “Leave it with me and go. I will not–“
“He’s here!” squeals a voice muffled by glass. “The wizard is here!”
Emilio sees the noses flattened against the windows on either side of the doorway, and recognizes the voice of young Jorge. He shakes his head. “The matter is out of our hands now, Father.”
For a moment Emilio thinks that Breuber will refuse him entry regardless, but then the priest turns on his heel and enters the building. The old man’s robe billows out like it’s a ship’s sail, and his anger a stiff breeze.
The main room is full of that special kind of pandemonium that only elementary school students are capable of. They swarm Emilio as soon as he comes in, battering him with insistent tugs and trilling requests. It’s Jorge, however, who clambers up Emilio’s back and wraps his neck in a death grip.
“Wizard Emilio! Teach me a spell! I’ve been good, I swear!”
“You most certainly have not, Jorge.” Clara smiles even as she admonishes; it’s her way. But Clara’s kindness is not the sign of a submissive soul. It is a conscious choice she makes in the face of this new era’s brutality; to spite it, Emilio thinks. She is certainly up to the task of teaching math to rowdy children.
“Children, please, let the man breathe. It wouldn’t do if we suffocated our only wizard.”
Like a long suffering sheep dog, Clara herds Jorge and the other students back into their seats, diverting their energy with seatwork–which, not coincidentally, also serves to keep the old priest busy. Free at last, she gives Emilio a wink and takes his arm. Pacifico’s daughter is not pretty, but she’s earned each of the smile lines on her cheeks, especially after Pacifico’s death.
Emilio feels his chest constrict, but shakes it off. Pacifico’s death wasn’t his fault. If the enemy hadn’t arrived in such numbers, if there had been any other way to protect–
“I apologize for Father Breuber.” Clara takes Emilio to an alcove, away from Breuber’s disapproving glare. “He even refuses to hear confessions now.”
Emilio could tell her why, but instead he says: “The world we live in changes us all, Clara.”
“Not always for the worse,” she says, placing a hand on his. “There’s no call for him to treat you so, after all you’ve done for us.”
“You and the rest of the Council do the real work here,” Emilio says as Breuber joins them. The priest responds to Emilio’s words with a snort.
“You either flatter or patronize us, and I appreciate neither.”
The priest waves a tired hand, a gesture ambiguous enough to be interpreted as an apology. “Just give us the message.”
Emilio hands the letter over, and the two Council members pore over it together. Clara’s face grows grim and Breuber curses.
“Yes, but it’s not unexpected,” Clara says. “Agents have been spotted using heavy machinery.”
Emilio feels his heart sink. “The Dread God has allowed the use of modern technology?”
“The Americans are making a big push down south…and the fact that we managed to throw back an invading force thrice our size probably factored in as well.” She shakes her head. “I still don’t know how you managed to do it.”
Emilio makes a conscious effort not to look at the old priest, even when he hears the old man suck in a sharp breath. “It was an experimental curse. The effects were…beyond my expectations.”
He tries not to think about Pacifico. Tries and fails.
“Well, I hope you have something similar up your sleeve,” she says with a smile, but then her eyes widen in alarm as she sees the expression on his face. “Oh Emilio, I didn’t mean to add to the pressure. I know you’ll do everything in your power, and if that isn’t enough–“
“May I speak to Mr. Alarcon alone, Clara?”
“Father, if you’re just going to–“
“You’ve asked me to bury the hatchet with him. Let me have this, and you will not hear me say a harsh word about your boyfriend, ever again.”
“He’s not my–“ Clara begins, then presses her mouth into a firm line, the scowl on her face at odds with the flush on her cheeks. Without another word, she returns to the students.
“You had better take care of her,” Beuber says as soon as they are outside the chapel.
“I know what you want to ask me,” Emilio says, and his voice is tight with suppressed rage. “I’ve accepted your bile, but for you to ask this–“
“Look at them,” Beuber says, and his voice, free of harshness for the first time in recent memory, brings Emilio up short. The old man is staring through the windows of the chapel, at the children engaging Clara in lively discussion.
“When the time comes,” says the priest. “Take me.”
“You goddamn hypocrite!” Emilio’s cry is anguished, desperate. “You condemn me, deny me absolution, and now–“
Jorge waves at Emilio from within the chapel. Emilio forces a smile as his fingernails cut into the palms of his hands. “It won’t even be enough. Not this time.”
The priest says nothing for a moment. Then, in a whisper, “I know of others,” and Emilio wonders if a man exists in this new world that is not already damned.
I’m not sure how many Japanese nationals were living in the archipelago before the war, but I know the Japanese Army landed at Lingayen with a force of some sixty thousand men. A month after we unleashed our curse, there were less than five thousand Japanese in the Philippines, many of them civilians.
Not that it mattered. The landslides, the lightning strikes, the epidemics, they didn’t discriminate between combatants and innocents–any Jap was fair game. After the brutality of the occupation, none of us were ready to shed a tear. Not until the Purge at least.
That’s when we learned that we had summoned only one of the Old Gods. And his name was Sitan, God of Grief and Affliction.
Sitan’s evangelists spread throughout the country in a matter of days, demanding conversion to his worship or death at the hands of his Agents–shape shifters, disease carriers, fire breathers. What was left of Japanese, Philippine and American militaries formed a temporary truce at, of all places, Bataan. Many from the old Death March coterie joined them, determined to make things right.
No one survived.
The day my peers made their last stand, I took a boat to a small island off the coast of Luzon. It was there that I’d first trained in magic, and I’d hoped that my old mentor would have a way to deal with Sitan. I found her under assault from a ragged community of refugees, but she told me she had nothing to teach someone who had chosen another path. I told her there was power in things other than sacrifice, and she had laughed in my face. She told me I could not protect my new friends from her, much less from Sitan.
She was right. So I offered her a deal.
The darkness of the cave grows no more welcoming, no matter how many times Emilio penetrates its depths. He moves past the wards with ease, even the ones she doesn’t believe he knows about, until he is standing in the middle of the cavern that lies at the heart of this system of tunnels, a spider-shaped cavity in a web of absence.
“I hear you’re married now,” comes a voice both sibilant and abrasive. “Congratulations boy! But shouldn’t you be out on the frontlines with your bride? The island can be a dangerous place.”
Emilio knows better than to look for the old kulam. “Where are they?”
“Find them yourself.”
Emilio takes a safety match from a pocket and runs it against the cavern wall. With a whispered word, the small light blossoms into a skull sized glow which illuminates the center of the cavern, and a pale woman who sits upon a fallen stalactite as if it were a gilded throne.
Luzviminda’s face is still beautiful, youth still coloring her cheeks with a pink that time should have snatched away decades ago. But the march of days has left its imprint across other parts of the kulam’s body, those not as jealously protected by her vanity. The result is a strange amalgamation of beauty and horror: firm breasts bounded by distended, wrinkled skin, delicate arms that turn knobby and crooked when flesh disappears beneath loose sleeves. Patchwork creature that she is, the kulam still radiates power, power that calls out to Emilio now, even more than it had when he still called her master.
“We don’t have time for this.” Emilio keeps his voice under control.
Luzviminda sighs, plays idly with her hair. “What do you need from me, boy?”
“I’ll tell you what I do not need: to be dragged into a missing persons’ investigation!” Emilio runs shaking fingers through his hair. “You’ve kidnapped Teresa and Philip Rodriguez. Why them? Why now? The fleet from the mainland leaves tonight, and we have our hands full making sure our defenses can stand against a force of a thousand.”
“Two thousand. And the fleet is half an hour away.”
Emilio pales. “No. No, my information is accurate.”
“It was accurate yesterday,” the kulam stands. “As you say, we have little time.”
Emilio grinds his fist against the cavern wall, the jagged edges of rock piercing his skin but leaving his dilemma untouched. “We’re not ready.”
“Again, you overestimate the currency of your information.” Luzviminda waves her hands, and the darkness at the edges of the light recede, and Emilio can finally see the people chained and gagged along the far walls of the cavern. Men and women, Japanese and Filipino, united in nakedness and terror.
“Luzviminda…” Emilio’s voice is a whisper, or perhaps a scream heard only from a distance. “What have you done?”
“You sound surprised. Did you not come here, searching precisely for these sheep?”
“I came here searching for two people.” Emilio can feel the eyes of the captives on him, can hear their wordless pleas. At the farthest end of the cave, he sees Teresa and Philip. For an instant, Emilio is stricken by the memory of Jorge’s tear stricken face. Then he looks away. “Who are these others?”
“Malvar has gained quite the reputation–new arrivals come every day. These are people without ties on the island, who will not be missed,” she shrugs, nonchalant, “except, apparently, for one pair, who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Oh dear boy…” Luzviminda shakes her head. “Must you be so obtuse?”
“No.” Emilio takes a step back, his bloody hand cradled against his chest. “No. We only use volunteers. Willing sacrifices.”
“Two thousand zealots. A hundred Agents.” Luzminda repeats, and the edge of her malice creeps into her voice. “The lives of twenty four strangers–“
“I know these people! They have a child–“
“–for the lives of three thousand whom you have sworn to protect.”
Another step back. “You will not sway me with numbers.”
“What of your wife? The one who insists on leading troops into battle? Is she a number to you?” The triumph drips from her now, from her tone and expression, from her lewd gyrations on her throne. “You have no time, boy! You have no choice.”
Emilio does not know how long he stands frozen at the threshold of the cavern. He only snaps back to himself when Luzviminda presses the hilt of the bone knife into his fingers.
Emilio looks up at his mentor, shocked, stricken. “I am no kulam.”
“After tonight, that too will be inaccurate.”
The walls are closing in on him now, the stares, the guilt… “This was not our deal. You said that if I kept people away from the caves that you would help me protect the island, you said–“
“Dear boy, did you think that meant I would do your work forever?” Her still-young fingers close on the bloody hand which grips the knife. “I offer you now that which I have always offered you: power. All the power you need.”
Emilio looks down at his hand. Blood has begun to run down his wrist, darker than he remembers, but in the unnatural light the blade of the knife is spotless. Pristine.
“What will I tell Jorge?”
Luzviminda guides him by the knife hand toward the first sacrifice, a middle-aged Japanese man, small eyes gone wide. Could he have been a soldier? Emilio thinks he could have been.
“Truth or lie, does it matter in the end?” asks the old kulam. “Comfort him with falsehood, raise him as your own, and you’ll have done him no more a favor than if you’d told him the truth.”
A bitter laugh. “What truth?”
Luzviminda runs a strangely gentle finger across the top of his hand. “That you killed his parents last.”
I don’t write this account to justify my actions. If I wanted to retain your esteem I would have simply let you go on believing your parents had been helping a group of new arrivals when the first wave of Agents attacked, the ones who made landfall before the new wards were in place. I told you they’d died in the raid. Like three hundred others.
After the funerals, I returned to the caves, but I never saw Luzviminda again. She must have felt her job was done. But mine began anew.
For the last four years, no servant of Sitan has set foot on Malvar. For the last four years I’ve protected this island. But tomorrow, everything ends.
By the time the ward on this letter vanishes, you will be safe on the mainland, and the battle will be over. I told you I had an important mission for you, and on that matter I did not lie. Your final task is to tell people the truth: about my life, my sins…and this, my final atrocity.
You see, Luzviminda left behind a final gift: an unfinished spell, one that may be able to kill a God. It’s taken me years, but I’ve completed her work. It was simple really…once I knew where I would get the power.
I know you want nothing more to do with me or my words Jorge. But by now the other spell should be active, the one compelling you to see this through to the end…just as I must. No matter the cost.
Emilio waits for the inevitable on top of the Pacifico Watchtower. The Watchtower is the highest point on Malvar Island, and from this height the kulam can see the fleet arrayed before its shores, the largest fleet that the Dread God has ever assembled.
Emilio rolls a set of small, round rocks between his fingers and cherishes the silence. He is not impressed; the Agents and mundane soldiers may number in the thousands, but they have been brought here for one purpose alone–not to fight, but to bear witness.
Of course, the most important witness, the only one who knows the truth, is far away and safe. At the thought of Jorge finally reading his letter, Emilio is surprised that he feels a sliver of remorse. It’s been a long time.
“So you’re the last.”
The God appears before Emilio as if stepping out from behind a curtain. There is no obvious drama to his arrival: no fanfare, no unearthly fragrance. Instead, Emilio gets the sense that reality is streaming away from the tall brown man in military fatigues, as if the weight of his presence renders the rest of reality insubstantial.
Sitan takes a fat cigar from his mouth and blows a lazy serpentine trail into the air. “I thought you’d be taller.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
“Disappoint me? Don’t be ridiculous.” Sitan turns his back on the man, and looks down upon the sprawling, make-shift metropolis. “Who would have thought your little refugee camp would grow so large?” Another trail of smoke. “Tell me, Lord of Malvar, where are your people?”
“In a place where you will never harm them, Dread God.”
“You mean the tunnels beneath the island?” Sitan smiles when Emilio lets a flicker of shock bleed onto his face. “Oh, please. You cannot truly have believed your wards would keep me from finding them.”
Emilio’s skin is slick around the rocks in his hand. “It was worth a try.”
“As was the asog I’m standing on, I suppose?” Another smile, even as Sitan casually breaks the spell. “Oh, don’t look so deflated. It was a finely crafted ward, but I mean you no harm Lord of Malvar.”
Not yet. “Then why are you here?”
“To satisfy my curiosity.” Without visible movement, Sitan is suddenly directly in front of Emilio, shark-black eyes boring into those of the mortal man. Emilio can smell the tobacco on the God’s breath. It’s intoxicating. “It’s been a long time since the age of epics. I wanted to see for myself what a hero of today would look like.”
Emilio reels back, as if from a blow. The God is just playing with him. There is no secret failsafe here, no more reason for delay. With a spastic twitch, Emilio’s hand crushes the rocks.
There is an answering rumble from beneath the earth, low and insistent, as the boulders from which he chipped these smaller fragments are themselves reduced to rubble. Sitan raises an eyebrow at the relatively miniscule release of magic–and then suddenly turns his gaze to the waters below. One by one, miniature vortices are forming around the island, and the deep rumbling is replaced by a more ominous sound: rushing water. Emilio wonders if the God can hear the screams as the sea rushes into the newly open, tightly packed tunnels beneath Malvar.
“There are no heroes here,” he says. “Only martyrs.”
The last words emerge as a high pitched laugh as the power begins to flow into Emilio’s body, siphoned from the deathtrap below, from the screams of the drowning. The potency of ten, a hundred, two hundred lives fills Emilio within the first second, the violence of the water’s surge battering bodies into walls, funneling survivors into carefully designed cul-de-sacs.
Thirteen thousand souls. That was what was required to kill a God.
Five hundred. One thousand. Emilio rises into the air, power crackling from his fingers as he simultaneously defends against hostile magic, and weaves the most complex curse he has ever attempted.
Two thousand. Four thousand. His other wards are going off now, triggered by the touch of sea water: flame and acid and gas, unleashed upon the already doomed. More. Faster. Six thousand. Seven–
And then, inexplicably… the dying stops.
“No,” Emilio cries out, in a voice loud enough to cause the Watchtower to shudder. Sitan stares up at the kulam, and the smile on the God’s face grows wider.
Desperately, Emilio strikes with all he has, with every ounce of stolen power. It is not enough.
“What have you done?” Emilio floats back to the earth, clutching at fading strings of spent power, and coming up empty.
The God is nonplussed. “I? I have done nothing…except, perhaps, foil a heinous plot.”
Sitan points toward the west, and Emilio has a second to see thousands of people streaming from one of the tunnel entrances before pain lances through his chest.
“Of course, I did have a little help.”
Emilio hits the rooftop hard, and the sound of bone breaking is loud in his ears. Clutching his shoulder in pain, the kulam pushes himself to his knees in time to see Jorge reloading the still smoking rifle.
Emilio feels his sanity fray. “You shouldn’t be here. You–“
Emilio stops when he sees Sitan waving a sheaf of papers. His letter to Jorge.
“It seems that my advance scouts picked up a stray boat on the way here. And when I saw such a fine ward on the envelope…” The God shrugs. “What can I say? Curiosity got the better of me.”
Jorge fires another shot, and blood blossoms from Emilio’s gut. The kulam falls over, but with his good hand he claws his way toward Jorge, toward his apprentice of four years.
“You…you foolish boy. You’ve ruined everything…”
“Ruined? Ruined?!?” the young man rails, his voice ragged. “You murderer, you traitor, you–!”
“Enough, Jorge,” says the Dread God, his hand on the young man’s shoulder, a position so painfully familiar. “A hero does not draw out the act of justice.”
The young man reloads, tears in his eyes and hate on his lips. Emilio could stop his heart–he has enough power for that, even now. Instead, he looks at that ugly, distorted expression, and tries to reconcile it with a face pressed eagerly against a chapel window.
The kulam rolls on to his back, the cloudless sky a canvas for the sins of his past.
“Goodbye,” says the voice of the God in his ear. “Of all that I have wrought, I think I am proudest of you.”
I do not ask you to forgive me, Jorge. In fact, I tell you these things because I know you will not forgive me. That is why I am confident you will perform this final task, whatever you may now think of me. Or rather, because of it. Even if I survive Sitan, now I know that my good name will not. You will not let them put me on a pedestal. You will not let them use me as a symbol.
You will give me what I deserve.
– Emilio Alarcon.
Paolo Gabriel V. Chikiamco has placed in the Palanca Awards (Short Story for Children category) and his stories have been published in the Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, The Farthest Shore, A Time for Dragons, and Philippine Speculative Fiction volumes V and VI. He is also a slush reader for Fantasy Magazine, and serves on the legislative staff of a member of Congress, two jobs which have more in common than he’d care to admit. Rocket Kapre, his publishing imprint dedicated to publishing and promoting speculative fiction (prose and comics) by Filipino authors, can be found (along with USOK, his online Pinoy SF webzine) at www.rocketkapre.com.
Image is from Wikipedia.