“55 – A wandering priestess came upon a woman watching an idol of Mahadiwa Kalakatri Duumanun. It was devoid of offerings, her spirit house. It did not take long for the priestess to realize that the sarok-wearing woman was Mahadiwa Kalakatri Duumanun. “Uray Uray, o great Batarahara, tell the panganitohan’s servant: what do the ancestors mean when they say rejoice in the glory of combat?”
Mahadiwa Kalakatri Duumanun turned. “No,” she said, and then she walked into her blade.”THE 55 LESSONS OF MAHADIWA KALAKATRI DUUMANUN
Binayaan’s reflexes were much better than Bakong’s. Her rifle was suddenly in her hands—Bakong felt a tinge of sorcery used there—she turned and fired. A spark of purple erupted from the mouth of the barrel, slamming against the kid, who had raised his headhunting axe to block it.
“Stay here, I’ll handle it,” said Binayaan. She leapt out into the clearing in front of the house and followed up by firing three, four, five more shots at the child. An impossibility in the world, since all guns needed long reloading time. It just so happened that shortening that reloading time was the first martial art taught to Baril Witches, those practitioners of the Blasphemous Bullet Style.
The child hurtled toward the far tree, slammed into it, cracking the trunk A moment passed, and Binayaan thought that that was the end of it, but the kid eventually pushed himself off of the bent tree trunk and walked onto the ground.
“You’ve got a lot of mettle, getting up after that,” the Invincible Gun Princess said.
The child shrugged his shoulders. He stretched for a bit, and then readied his axe.
Binayaan called out as she twirled her rifle with surprising speed. “Tell me, then. Who are you? Why are you attacking us?”
“I am Mito, the Datu Slayer,” said Mito. “A god spoke to me in my dreams, so now I am here to kill the moon-haired girl. She is royalty, so she is kedatuan, so she is my prey.”
“You’re going to have a bad time trying to do that, Mito,” replied Binayaan. She fired a few more shots, which Mito expertly evaded, his movements like a blur, like smoke and bamboo.
Bakong watched from afar. The child was covered in tattoos, the usual tattoos of the pinatikan of these islands. However at such a young age… Bakong had never seen something like that. And so close to the face too. The face tattoo, the bangut, was a rarity even in the isles. Only the bravest of the brave, the most elite of elite warriors had those. She had only seen one man with the bangut, and it was her father, the Batara Rajah, the paramount lord of Gatusan.
“I’ve fought baril witches before,” Mito said, twirling his axe. “You’re nothing once I get there.”
“Oh?” She grinned, showing off sharp teeth. “Then get here.” She cracked off a few more shots, an invisible gun diwata instantly reloading the baril. Mito bulldozed through by spinning his axe in a whirlwind, deflecting phantom witch bullets.
When Mito got close, Binayaan stepped forward, turned, and then began spinning her gun about her, using her pohon to fire it at specifically timed intervals. Bullets flew out around her like a circus of death. Mito took a few hits, leapt up, and then plunged with his axe. Binayaan’s twirling rifle came around to block the chop.
Binayaan pulled out a smaller gun now, what looked to be a flintlock: she twirled it, performed a hand mudra with her free hand, leaving the rifle above her, and she fired the gun behind her. Instead of a bullet, a sudden burst of force erupted from the barrel of the flintlock, sending both Binayaan and Mito hurtling towards the tree. Binayaan planted her knee onto Mito’s chest as he slammed into the wood, kicked herself off of it, and then fired three more shots. Three bullets slammed against Mito’s torso.
Blood fel. The bullets fell off as if they had struck hard rock.
The holes smoked.
Binayaan fell to the ground and immediately raised her gun. With a snap of her fingers, her rifle–which was suspended in midair–vanished in a flurry of crimson fireflies, rematerializing in her hand.
Mito pushed himself off of the tree, stepping once again onto the ground. He still gripped his axe, his muscles straining against his arms.
He looked up, and the edges of his eyes were tinged with red.
Before Binayaan could see it, Mito was before her, axe poised in a sideward chop. Bangahom screamed out: “Bayi!” As they blasted themselves with wind and dove to push Binyaan out of the way. They both struck the ground as Mito’s axe cut into the land, sending a huge burst of soil into the air.
“Huh,” was all Binayaan could say.
Bangahom leapt to their feet and helped Binayaan rise as well. “The kid’s a madman. We must travel back to Kiyam’s barge.”
Binayaan nodded. “I agree. Grab Bakong and get out of here. I’ll keep him occupied.”
“But Bayi! It is too dangerous!”
“I can handle it, Bangahom. Quickly now–” before Binayaan could finish, Mito launched himself from the earth, shooting through the air into the house itself. “Lightnings! He’s after Bakong!”
Bangahom sent themself bursting into the air with another concentrated blast of wind, diving through the window into the longhouse. Binayaan entered through the front door, which had been blasted in by Mito’s lunging body.
Bakong had her trident spear out, and she parried a wide horizontal swing by deflecting it down into the ground.
There, Masuna stepped in and knocked Mito back with a quick slam of his kalasag. The entire house shook in their violence.
A wicked gash opened Bakong’s side. Blood poured from it, but it was slow. No doubt her demon heritage did something to stem the flow of the wound. But it was a wound nonetheless. Binayaan winced when she saw it.
Bangahom leapt up onto Mito’s back, and then fired a concentrated gust of wind at the floor. Both the Datu Slayer and the little demon burst into the sky, crashing through the roof and then tumbling through the air. Binayaan grabbed Bakong, who almost collapsed into her sister’s arms.
Masuna turned to Binayaan. “Bring the binukot to the barge, bayi. We’ve no time. The Datu Slayer is out to get her. Her safety is paramount. Do not wait for me. Leave when you can. I am sure she will be safe in the bayi’s arms.”
Binayaan opened her mouth to retort but then shook her head. She rushed over to Bakong, whose eyes fluttered, half-closed. Her face became pale, immediately.
Masuna turned to Bakong, cupping her face with his hands. “Please, bayi. You must go. You have to be safe. Okay?” Bakong could only manage a vague, partly-committed nod. She wanted to shake her head, but Masuna said: “Good girl. Go.”
Binayaan tsked, and then picked her up. The moment Bakong’s fingers left the trident, it dissipated into her demon hand.
Binayaan went through the back door and began running into the city, where the barge no doubt was.
Bangahom tousled with Mito in midair, sending gouts of smokeless fire into Mito. Some of the flames hit squarely upon the tenacious datu slayer’s skin, but it quickly dissipated. It left burns, however. That was how Bangahom knew that the Datu Slayer was being damaged, but the pain meant nothing to him.
Eventually, Mito grabbed Bangahom’s head and flung him straight into the clearing in front of the house, ending their aerial melee. Mito dropped onto the earth beside the smoldering crater of Bangahom, and he raised his axe. “Yawa should stay where they belong. In hell.” He tossed Bangahom into the air–
–but Bangahom managed to turn themself into lightning, and they bolted to a safe spot behind the trees–
–and Mito’s axe bit air. He swung so quickly and so forcefully that he split the air before him, causing a clap of sudden noise as the wind rushed in to fill the space made.
“Tch. Coward. Weakling.” Mito screamed: “Where is the moon-haired one?!” Mito turned to the house, only to be greeted by a hardwood kalasag slamming into his nose.
Mito stumbled backward, rolling eventually onto his feet. When he looked up, Masuna was there, kampilan flashing quicker than light. Mito suffered two cuts and then swung up with his axe, cleaving earth and dust into the air.
Masuna leapt to the side, landed on his feet, and then surged forward, slamming his shield once again into Mito, sending him flying backward. This time Mito fell to his back, dazed just a bit.
But that only caused his wounds to smoke once again.
Masuna positioned himself in the time Mito stayed on the ground. When Mito got up again, Masuna was swinging his kampilan in a circular motion. Mito caught the blade with his hand, turned, and slammed Masuna into the ground.
“Still too weak,” said the Datu Slayer. “This is why I only fight with datu.”
Bangahom leapt into the air then, sending globules of smokeless fire straight at Mito. Mito stepped back, twirled his axe, his entire body, deflecting each fire ball until Bangahom had none left to fire, and Mito ended the movement by throwing his axe. The axe flew like a boomerang through the air, arcing until it eventually bisected Bangahom in mid-air.
Masuna scowled when he saw it.
Before Mito could catch the axe, Masuna leapt up to engage him. A quick exchange, Mito suffered multiple cuts to his hands, but more or less blocked each hit. The axe flew in, and Masuna had to duck to dodge it. Mito caught it and swung down, right as Masuna stepped back. Mito was lightning, faster than lightning: his axe sundered Masuna’s armor, splitting it by the middle, destroying the karabaw hide breastplate. The abaca fiber under armor ripped slightly at the seams, revealing bits of Masuna’s torso, covered in patik, tattoos.
“A warrior that must hide behind layers of armor is not a warrior worth fighting,” said Mito. “What are you? The moon-haired one’s guardian? Lover?”
“Why do you chase after her?” asked Masuna, raising his kalasag.
“I have been told by a god. They promised me the power to do what I do best. What else is there in this world?”
“You must be one of the 87, then,” muttered Masuna. Then, with a louder voice: “If you want her, then you must go through me, first.”
“Easy enough.” Mito launched himself into the air again, going straight after Masuna.
Masuna performed a quick sword anyo, moving faster with the speed of his skill. Then, he uttered a quick and quiet mantra, and then parried Mito in midair. A burst of speed sent his shield bashing him up, and then another swing sent the Datu Slayer flying back.
Mito turned and fell on all fours, dragging across the ground like a demon of war. Masuna, quiet now, focused now, as he sank into that Sword Devil Concentration, was upon him immediately, sword and shield ready, unleashing a tide of iron. Mito roared, and launched up to meet him.
The two of them did battle, an intricate and chaotic dance. Mito eventually managed to overpower Masuna, but the kawal countered him with superior sword and shield technicks. Mito’s unparalleled strength and tenacity, however, would shatter Masuna’s quick parrying shields.
They fought until the sun began to set. Masuna thought that his training in the ways of stamina would’ve been enough to outlast the child, but Mito didn’t seem to be slowing down even in their protracted violence.
It didn’t help that Masuna took extra care to move Mito out of the path of the trees so that the surrounding nature would not be harmed by Mito’s careless struggle.
The fight finally ended when Masuna managed to gash Mito’s back three times, trip him, and then smack him one last time with his kalasag. That particular maneuver only needed to be used once or twice with other foes, but with Mito, Masuna had to use it almost ten times to finally knock the datu slayer unconscious. And even then, as the shield smashed against Mito’s face, the kalasag shattered, breaking into wooden fragments, some wounding Masuna’s arms and face.
Mito rolled onto the floor, finally limp, but still breathing. This was the slowest he had been. It was as if his tenacity allowed him to operate at full capacity despite being inches away from incapacitation.
Night had fallen. The torches of Put’wan had been lit again.
Masuna fell onto his butt, letting go of his kampilan and the shattered remains of his kalasag. His armor had been sundered and rent, and even his abaca fiber undershirt had been ripped away. He sat barechested, his tattoos offering his last layer of protection.
Masuna watched the unconscious body of Mito. He sighed as darkness completely enveloped them, fought away only by the grand torches that lit up Put’wan.
With a sigh, Masuna fell onto his back and rested for just a moment. Bakong and the others were gone now, he knew. But that was all for the better.
He craned his head to look at Mito again. But he’s just one of the 87 Swords of the Star. If he had been sent by a god… then no doubt 86 more follow after Bakong’s trail. Why? She… is not going to stop the hero of prophecy. She is not a warrior. She… all she’s going to do is be married to the Sultanate’s prince.
Masuna thought for a moment about the tasty prospect of simply not following Bakong anymore. He can be a free man now. He had the strength, he knew, to be able to fend off any people that might chase after him for favors. He could start his following, become his own datu.
He sighed. But that is not the strength of my conviction.
Masuna rose to his feet. His sarong hung about him loosely, now. He walked over to Mito and picked him up with a single hand, his lean makeup betraying his innate strength. He carried Mito into Karakasa’s broken home. She has Karakasa now. Karakasa is a much more skilled fighter than I. She will be fine.
He placed Mito onto a silken bed and began heating water. He still had his small satchel of herbs. He used that to create a poultice with boiling water to tend to Mito’s wounds.