by Cesar Miguel Escaño
Kashif’s suspicions took seed on the first day of his apprenticeship to Master Djibril, head of Datu Tarruk’s kitchens. His master used a barung, a fighting blade used by Moro tribes, instead of a kitchen knife to cut meat and vegetables.
The barung was the preferred short sword of many Moro warriors who usually carried two swords, one long and one short, into battle. The blade was shaped like an eye opened midway. According to legend, it was shaped this way because of the sword’s speed in combat. It could kill between eye blinks. When Kashif asked his master if he should also use a similar blade in the kitchen, his master laughed.
“Oh this,” Master Djibril said, lifting the pahon made of carabao horn. He deftly flipped the blade over and pointed the curved pommel bearing a Datu’s family crest toward his apprentice. Kashif recognized the crest of House Hussin. The crest showed two kampilan arranged diagonally, forming an inverted V. The sharp edges of their blades faced each other, joining together at the tip. In the space between the handles was a message inscribed in Arabic: Siufan ‘aqwaa mean.
Kashif’s eyes gleamed as he translated the inscription in his mind, Two swords are stronger together. Seeing the crest of House Hussin piqued his curiosity. Their Timawa were renowned as the most skilled sword masters in the galaxy. Many allied houses usually sent their Timawa Mubtadii to House Hussin to train in swordsmanship.
“This is an old friend. Very useful in the field. I learned how to cook while using this blade.” Master Djibril’s eyes glazed over as he examined the blade forged and crafted from the finest star alloys. “Never got used to holding a kitchen knife,” he added, glancing over to the rack of knives at the foot of the counter beside the wall.
Kashif’s suspicions grew when Master Djibril assigned him on the fourth day of his apprenticeship to cut the carcasses of cattle and sheep in the freezer into smaller pieces. “Mubtadii, use the panabas wrapped in cloth in the kitchen locker.” Then his Master left with the Datu’s servants to purchase meat from the marketplace. Before leaving, he told Kashif that he preferred to personally inspect animal meat before buying. Animals killed for their meat needed to be properly drained of blood, following the teachings of the Koran.
Kashif admired the craftsmanship of the panabas he retrieved from the kitchen locker. The panabas was a long forward-curved sword used by the warriors in fighting against large opponents and creatures with armor-like skin. Its bulb-like pommel led to a handle four to five feet long. The long handle of a panabas allowed sword makers to etch on its surface prayers to Allah for victory and protection in battle. Inscribed into the handle of the panabas in Kashif’s hands was the Shahada, a religious creed taught to all Muslims: There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet.
Other swords had writings from names to poems inscribed on the blade. The panabas needed none. Its fearsome length, averaging four feet, promised only death. The width of the blade was thinnest at the hilt and gradually thickened along the curving blade pointed forward at its target. Thickest at the tip, the blade resembled a butcher’s cleaver. Moro warriors often carried a panabas on their backs as a third sword to the kampilan and barung on their waists when fighting in territories occupied by jinn races with stone or steel-hard hides.
Kashif made a few practice cuts in the air before he went inside the walk-in freezer. Within the cold chamber, meats were impaled on hooks hanging from the ceiling. He gripped the long handle of the panabas with both hands. Seeing his reflection on the blade, he felt like a Moro warrior.
But wielding the panabas proved more difficult than he expected. More than an hour passed before he was able to finish slicing through two slabs of meat. Many of the chunks he had cut were too thin or too thick. His master would definitely notice his sloppy work when he returned from his errands. Kashif rested the panabas against the wall beside the freezer door and stepped outside into the stockroom to take a breather. While resting, he noticed a robot butcher hidden in the corner. The robot was covered in a thin film of dust but appeared to be undamaged.
Upon closer inspection of the robot, Kashif found all of its parts intact. The only thing missing was a battery inserted into its power slot. Kashif left the stockroom and returned with a charged battery that could fit into the slot. After he inserted the battery, the robot twitched and shook itself awake. Kashif smiled at his good fortune. He began cleaning the robot thoroughly with a rag. The last thing he needed was his master finding dust on the sliced meat.
The robot performed its job perfectly with the first two meat slabs, making cuts of the right size and thickness. While the robot was cutting the third carcass, smoke started coming out near its ears. Kashif approached it from behind to turn off the power mechanism on its back. When he was a foot from the switch, the robot spun around, backhanding him with the flat of a blade. The blow knocked Kashif to the floor, depositing him on his rump. The robot headed for him, its twin blades slicing through the air.
Kashif rolled to the side, putting a meat slab between him and the robot. Its blades lopped off the top and lower end of his meat shield. He jumped to his feet and backpedaled until he crashed against a wall. Pain surged across his back as Kashif grimaced in pain. When the pain receded, Kashif realized that he was trapped. The mad robot continued advancing on him like a bull waving its sharp horns. As the swirling blades drew closer and closer, Kashif knew his end was at hand. He took a deep breath and opened his lips to say a prayer.
Before he could utter a word, the robot stopped advancing. It collapsed, its knife hands clattering noisily on the metal floor. Its head fell forward and landed between Kashif’s feet. As he stared wide-eyed, the robot’s eyes flickered for a few seconds before its lights vanished completely.
Kashif raised his gaze and found Master Djibril shaking his head.
“Master! Thank you for saving me!” Kashif prostrated himself. His forehead touched the cold floor as he held back tears. “Forgive me for my foolishness.”
“Stand up, Mubtadii. You cost me a cattle carcass whose price I will gradually deduct from your monthly salary. As for the robot, the cost is my good sense. I should have thrown it out right after I took over the Datu’s kitchens.”
Master Djibril kicked the robot’s severed head with his boot. It rebounded off the far wall, the sound echoing inside the metal walls of the freezer.
Kashif stood up on shaky legs. “Master, are you not firing me?”
Master Djibril’s eyes bore into his apprentice’s sockets. “Don’t make me change my mind.” He relaxed his grip on the handle of the panabas Kashif had left outside the freezer. “The fault is partly mine for not teaching you how to wield this blade before I left.” Then he shook his head, “You were supposed to fail. That was my intention.”
“I am grateful for your mercy, Master,” Kashif bowed his head, tears streaming from his cheeks.
“Your gratitude is appreciated, Mubtadii.” Master Djibril rammed the pommel of the panabas on the floor. The sound resembled a judge’s gavel hitting the table. “Let us go outside and warm ourselves before you clean up the mess you made here.”
After the incident, Kashif had been in a constant state of unease. His master had told him to come to his office after dinner. His gentle tone, which never wavered even when he and his fellow mubtadii made a mistake, made it difficult for Kashif to guess his master’s intentions. As he slowly climbed the steps to Master Djibril’s office, he whispered a dua imploring Allah in times of anxiety, Allaahumma ‘innee ‘a’oothu bika minal-hammi walhazani…
Master Djibril’s door loomed at the top of the stairs. When Kashif reached the last step, he paused, his foot heavy on the stone floor. He closed his eyes and sighed, leaving his fate to Allah, ’Aehad bikuli shay’ ‘iilaa Allah. Then knocked on the door.
Kashif stepped through the doorway and found his master’s gaze away from him. He wore thick glasses as he cleaned a metal object on his desk. Kashif looked closer and saw that his master was holding a kampilan handle with the blade missing.
Why is it missing? The question held Kashif in thrall as his fingers lingered on the doorknob.
“Mubtadii, close the door behind you. The night air chills the bones of an old man like me.”
Kashif jerked in realization and glanced over his shoulder at the doorknob glued to his fingertips. His face blushing, he let go. “I am sorry, Master. Forgive me for my impertinence.”
Master Djibril smiled. “You, impertinent? Hardly. Foolish and curious are more appropriate descriptions. Knowledgeable, yes. Knowledgeable about weaponry and the warrior’s hands that hold them. That much is obvious from the way your eyes lingered on the blades I was holding and the way I handled them.”
Looking at Kashif, Master Djibirl gestured to the empty seat in front of his desk. “Come sit. Your eyes tell me you have a lot of questions about this sword.” Kashif sat down, his hands lay stationary on his lap as his eyes surveyed his master’s desk.
Master Djibril gently placed the kampilan handle beside a kamagong scabbard with rattan bindings on both ends. Sword and scabbard were positioned in the middle of a leather roll with a felt interior, a usual wrapping for storing antique weapons. At the base of the kampilan handle was a carved hilt depicting a Bakunawa, a giant monster in ancient Philippine mythology, opening its jaws wide to swallow the moon. The other end of the handle was connected to a cross guard shaped like the vinta used by ancient Moro seafarers.
Even with the blade missing, Kashif imagined the fine blade leading from the cross guard. The kampilan blade was known for its distinct tapered profile. The width of the blade was narrowest at the area protruding from the cross guard, gradually widening until it ended in a trapezoidal-like tip.
Master Djibril smiled. “I can see that you are trying to recreate the blade in your mind, imagining its shape, feeling its sharpness, tracing the script of the Shahada inscribed upon its surface, a trait all Timawa weapons possess.”
“Yes, Master. The entire blade is missing. This means it was purposefully removed, not broken, since old kampilan are always kept with their broken or jagged blades intact to symbolize valor in battle. This is the first time I am seeing a kampilan with an empty blade. Why is this so?”
“Answering your question is not a simple task. This sword and I have a long history.”
Kashif leaned forward in his chair and listened to his master.
I joined the household of Datu Tarruk as an uripon child. He took pity on me when he saw me scavenging among the ruins of a village destroyed by a rebel group in one of the space colonies in the Tarruk kingdom. He asked me where my parents were. I answered that my family had been killed in the fighting.
I was six when I entered the Datu’s household. One fateful day, the First Timawa of House Tarruk happened to see me playing Red Pepper, a hand-slapping game. I had gotten so good at playing the game that when the First Timawa saw me, I was already the best among the uripon children in the household.
After my last match of the day, he asked me if I wanted to join his ranks as a Timawa Mubtadii. The speed of my hands was a good foundation for swordplay, he said. The First Timawa brought me before the other Timawa of the household. To become a Timawa Mubtadii, I had to pass a series of tests for hand-eye coordination, agility, and stamina. I passed their tests. I was eight when I became a Timawa Mubtadii.
After my first four years as a Timawa Mubtadii, the First Timawa of House Tarruk deemed me skilled enough to be sent to another House for further training. I was sent to House Hussin whose Timawa are known as the deadliest among the Moro kingdoms. I was sent to Datu Hussin’s palace in the Crab Nebula.
When I arrived at the throne room, the Datu welcomed me along with his only daughter, Sita. He said it was propitious that I had arrived since I was the same age as his daughter who was twelve. Beside the Datu, Princess Sita smiled and spoke. She said that she was happy that she would have another playmate and another person to talk to. The Datu patted her head and said that I was there to protect her, not play or talk with her all day.
While the Datu and the Princess talked, I noticed the head of a blue-skinned humanoid peeking from behind the princess’ chair. He looked like a boy around my age and that of the princess. The most striking feature about him was not his blue skin but the obedience collar around his neck. I didn’t know then that this blue-skinned boy would become one of my closest friends in Datu Tarruk’s household along with Princess Sita.
The First Timawa ordered me to accompany the Princess whenever she was outside the palace walls. I didn’t need to actually protect her because several Timawa bodyguards always stood nearby. In case an enemy got close to the princess, the last line of defense was Ibn, the blue-skinned boy. The First Timawa said that Ibn was as deadly as any Timawa in the princess’ personal guard. He was a jinn.
All shapeshifters are called jinn. Jinn who accept their territories being annexed by a Moro House are considered allies while those who resist annexation are called “Shaytan Jinn.”
I spent four years at Datu Hussin’s palace before I was recalled to House Tarruk. My apprenticeship as a visiting Timawa Mubtadii was only supposed to last for two years, but Princess Sita had requested that my stay be extended because she felt safe around me.
It was in the second year of my service that I almost lost my life. Jinn assassins ambushed the Princess and her guard while we were visiting the marketplace. Ibn and the other Timawa guards fended off several attackers while I grabbed the Princess’ hand and ran into an alleyway.
It was a trap. The alleyway led to a dead end. When we turned around, a jinn assassin dropped from the rooftops, cutting off our escape. As he rushed forward, his hands transformed into sharp talons. I drew my blades and blocked his assault.
The blade of my kampilan shattered midway as I parried a large swing meant to remove my head from my shoulders. My opponent’s eyes monetarily followed the fragments scattering in the air. It was the opening I needed. I stabbed the shattered sword into the base of his neck, driving the blade upward until only the hilt remained. My opponent dropped to the ground.
I turned around and faced the princess. Princess Sita was on the ground, leaning against a wall. She was in tears. She met my eyes and then her gaze went downward. I followed her gaze and saw that my shirt was stained with blood. Blade fragments were sticking out from several wounds. My shoulder throbbed painfully. I saw that it was bleeding profusely from a large gash. My kampilan shattering had failed to stop my opponent’s attack completely. I tried plugging the wound with my hand before I blacked out.
I awoke in my bed with the First Timawa standing by my bedside. It had only been a few hours since the attack. The Timawa bodyguards had killed off the jinn attackers while Ibn had mortally wounded the two who tried to get into the alleyway. He praised me for saving the princess.
When I had recovered enough to stand in the throne room, the Datu himself thanked me for my bravery and for saving his daughter. Princess Sita had been concerned about me the entire time I was unconscious and promised to nurse me back to health. I blushed. I tried to hide the color of my cheeks by bowing my head. Everyone in the throne room laughed at my reaction.
I went on one knee and told the Datu I could no longer continue my duties as a Timawa Mubtadii. With my kampilan broken, I would have to return to House Tarruk in shame and leave the Timawa ranks.
The First Timawa of House Hussin held my unwounded shoulder and pulled me up. He explained that Timawa Mubtadii were not yet married to their kampilan. They could break as many kampilan as they liked before they were raised to the rank of Horohan. The Datu said he would break tradition by giving me my own kampilan tumao before my formal ascension rites as a full Timawa. Consider the royal blade his personal gratitude for saving his daughter, he said.
I waited for a month before I received my new kampilan. The Datu’s finest blacksmiths took weeks to forge the layered blade and ensure its make was of the highest quality. They said it would never break unlike the kampilan I had lost.
Princess Sita presented my kampilan tumao to me. I noticed that the folds of a silk handkerchief peeked out between the rattan bindings wrapped around the handle. She explained that it was tradition to wrap cloth inscribed with talismanic writing around the handle of a kampilan. This was to ensure the kampilan would never slip from its bearer’s hand during battle. The handkerchief, the princess said, was hers. She used it to plug the wound on my shoulder after I blacked out.
Princess Sita also revealed that she had taken strands of her hair and attached them to the hilt. According to her, the reason for this was so I would always be carrying a part of her with me. I spent two more years with her and after four years of service to House Hussin, I was due to return to House Tarruk.
On the eve of my departure, Princess Sita spirited herself into my room through a hidden passageway. She professed her love for me and told me she knew I felt the same toward her. I told her I could not love her back because we belonged to different classes, I was a Timawa and she was a Tumao. She said that we should escape to a distant colony far from her father’s kingdom.
I told her, “In another life, we would be husband and wife. In this life, we cannot be.”
Princess Sita retreated into the hidden doorway. I could hear her sobbing behind the wall. Ibn showed his face to me after she left and said that he would have helped the two of us escape the palace. I told him that I was leaving the princess’ protection in his capable hands. He gripped my hand and promised me he would protect her to his last breath.
Ibn was the one who bid me goodbye.
The princess did not see me the morning of my departure.
After returning to House Tarruk, Datu Tarruk congratulated me for a job well done at House Hussin. My reward was being sent to patrol duty at a remote outpost on the fringes of the Tarruk kingdom. Every day, there were skirmishes with Shaytan Jinn who refused to accept Datu Tarruk’s rule. My fighting skills were honed through constant combat. Each time my kampilan took a life, I was reminded of how I had wounded my beloved Princess Sita.
When I became of age, I returned to House Tarruk. In the presence of the Timawa in the palace, Datu Tarruk raised me to the ranks of the Timawa Horohan. During the induction ceremony, he asked me to name my Kampilan Tumao. I named my blade “Amira,” my Princess, after my lost beloved.
After several years as a Timawa Horohan, I returned to House Hussin under unusual circumstances. House Hussin had started marriage negotiations for Princess Sita. She was to wed a prince of House Oldon, an allied house. But before the wedding ceremony, the Princess eloped with Ibn.
Datu Hussin personally asked for my aid as I was close to the Princess and Ibn during the time I spent at his house. He said that I might possess insight into Ibn’s mind that would allow me to follow his tracks and find out where he had taken her. He wanted the matter to be dealt with as discreetly as possible.
The Princess’ rooms, Ibn’s quarters, and the palace grounds yielded no clues to allow me to track them down. The First Timawa let me stay in my old room. That night as I lay in my bed, I remembered the secret trips the three of us took outside the walls.
It took some time before I found the wall tile that unlocked the hidden passageway. I followed the footsteps of memory leading outside the palace grounds. An obedience collar lay on the ground just before the hidden doorway. Princess Sita had removed the device for Ibn could not have done so himself. The trail led me outside the doorway and up the hill where the three of us used to watch meteor showers together or just to gaze at the stars. Princess Sita used to point to an invisible spot in space where she imagined Cygnus 6 was, declaring that she would go there someday.
The next day, I requested Datu Hussin to allow me to complete the mission on my own. I intended to retrieve the Princess without killing Ibn. The Datu gave me two days to return. After that, he would send his royal guard.
The trail led me to Cygnus 6, the colony at the edge of the Moro kingdoms. Because of its location, I deduced what the Princess and Ibn were planning to do. Outside the colony was a stargate connecting to the next region of charted space. This area contained pockets of civilization but was largely lawless and unpoliced.
My ship caught up with theirs as they were preparing to jump beyond Moro territory. I tried hailing their ship but they refused to open communication channels. My guns targeted their superluminal engines so that their ship would fail to reach the required speed to access the stargate. I continued to try to communicate with their ship but all channels remained silent.
After disabling their ship’s guns, I expected them to stand down and surrender. Instead, their ship changed direction and headed for my ship, intending to ram it. I evaded the attempt only to see their ship heading for the colony at full speed. The ship was too far away and moving too fast for me to target its thrusters. I watched as the ship crashed into the roof of the colony and exploded on impact.
The explosion scattered debris in every direction. Retrieval units could not collect enough pieces to reconstitute the bodies of the passengers who perished. However, enough DNA was retrieved to confirm the identities of two deceased, a human and a jinn.
At Datu Hussin’s throne room, I knelt in shame and narrated what happened. A police report from Cygnus 6 corroborated my story. I presented the Princess’ ring which I had retrieved from the wreckage. It was the only recognizable object that survived the explosion.
After my report, I remained on one knee and presented the blade from my kampilan. I had removed the blade from the handle, intending to present it to Princess Sita’s father. I had failed my mission. My request to act alone compounded my failure and loss of honor. I no longer deserved to wield a blade I had named in honor of Princess Sita. I was no longer worthy of being called a Timawa.
I returned home to the palace of House Tarruk. At the throne room, I declared to Datu Tarruk and my fellow Timawa that I was now al’armal. I requested to the Datu to be assigned elsewhere under his rule. He sent me to the palace kitchens where my swordplay would translate to knife work.
I started as a Mubtadii cook like you and eventually became head of the Datu’s kitchens.
After listening to Master Djibril’s story, Kashif had only one question to ask. “Do you ever regret giving up being a Timawa?”
Djibril took a series of deep breaths like how one collects air before plunging beneath the water and answered in a soft voice, “Certainly, yes.”
“Then why did you stop? You were a great warrior. You were married to your sword.”
Djibril smiled faintly before answering. “I was married to death. I loved fighting so I took pride in killing. With Ibn’s death, I lost all passion as a warrior. When Princess Sita died, my warrior’s pride died with her. A warrior without any passion and pride is no warrior at all.”
And with that, Master Djibril dismissed his apprentice for the night. He remained at his desk trying to identify where he had gone wrong. He was not supposed to tell Kashif about the hidden passageways in Datu Hussin’s palace and their secret trips outside the palace.
His kampilan, Amira, lay in the middle of its leather wrapping like a lover waiting to be held.
The folds of a faded floral handkerchief peeked from between the rattan bindings of the handle, reminding him of the veil Princess Sita wore outside her father’s palace. The black tassels extending from the edge of the pommel winked at him, like how the princess playfully batted her eyelashes at him whenever she turned around as she walked ahead. Back in the palace, she told him that she liked teasing him during their walks outside, pretending to run away at a moment’s notice because she knew he would always follow.
Even now, my thoughts follow her, Master Djibril told himself.
Alone in his office, he sighed loudly and shrugged his shoulders.
The appearance of his apprentice was a sign, not his presence but his name. “Kashif” meant “revealer” and “uncoverer” of secrets. Since moving into his office and storing his kampilan in a locked box, Master Djibril had always meant to retrieve it one day to remind himself of what he had lost. The years passed though like the stellar winds and Djibril found himself an old man, forgetting where he had placed the key to the locked box where he kept his kampilan.
Master Djibril examined the barung in his hands. The glint of its blade reminded him that he could not bear to part entirely with his past. He had reasoned long ago that the other two swords he carried in battle, the barung and the panabas, were unnamed and did not need to be locked away. He had kept them around in the kitchen until he no longer noticed or cared what happened to them.
His apprentice’s curiosity about his barung and his mishap with the butcher robot had unlocked more memories he had long forgotten, memories of his ill-fated reunion with Princess Sita and Ibn. Holding the panabas in his hands had made him recall the location of the key to his kampilan. Master Djibril had then opened the closet in his bedroom and found a dusty rolled-up mat hidden at the bottom. Inside the mat, the prayer mat he used as a Timawa, a silvery piece of metal waited to be found.
Master Djibril had held his breath as he picked up the key, turning it over and over with his fingers as if to make sure the object was real and not a figment of his imagination. He had curled his fingers around the object and squeezed it until he felt a sharp pain against his skin.
The sensation had reminded him of the time he hid in the shadows of an alleyway in Cygnus 6 waiting for his quarry. Djibril did not notice at that time that he was gripping the handle of his kampilan tightly, until his hand left his side and noticed a stinging sensation radiating from his palms and fingers. He had been waiting for Ibn and Princess Sita to split up before he confronted her abductor.
The opportunity arrived when Ibn stepped into an empty alleyway after purchasing food supplies for what was sure to be a long journey. Djibril stepped out of the shadows in the alleyway. “What are you doing with the Princess?”
Ibn glared at Djibril. “I’m not doing anything on my own. Sita wanted the two of us to leave.”
Djibril shook his head. “The Princess is not in her right mind. You have poisoned her thoughts.” He unsheathed his two swords from his waist. With his right hand, he pointed the tip of his kampilan at Ibn and kept the shorter barung at the ready in his other hand. “What the two of you are doing is haram. For the sake of our friendship, I will give you a chance to set things right. I leave with the Princess and I never see you again.”
Ibn scoffed. He dropped the bags he was carrying and removed the cloak draped over his green body. “Who are you to lecture me?” Ibn said, baring his teeth. “You weren’t there to see how miserable she became after you left. Her title, her father’s honor, the palace and her father’s kingdom, these things imprisoned her worse than the obedience collar they placed around my neck.”
“I don’t want to raise my sword against a friend, but duty compels me if you continue along this path.”
Ibn shook his head. “I won’t leave Sita’s side. I am not a coward like you.“
Djibril’s eyes flared. He raised his swords and charged toward Ibn. The jinn raised his arms and transformed into a tentacled monstrosity.
The first time he fought a jinn, Djibril was badly wounded. After years of experience, fighting them had become second nature to him. Djibril’s movements were swift and precise. He had fought enough jinn to know their weaknesses.
A flurry of tentacles flew toward Djibril. Each tentacle was tipped with a sharp talon. Djibril dove to the side and slashed at the tentacles after finishing his roll. The tentacles were too thick to sever with his swords but the wounds still spurted dark blood.
Djibril observed the depth of the cuts and backpedaled away from his opponent. Ibn remained fixed where he was standing while more tentacles sprouted above his torso and headed for Djibril. He sidestepped each blow and slashed each tentacle as it flew past him. The cuts were getting deeper as each tentacle had to narrow and stretch to reach him.
Eventually Ibn had to move from where he was standing, Djibril knew. He kept sidestepping, slashing, and backpedaling while waiting for the right moment. His blades cut deep enough to make Ibn scream in pain. He began retracting his tentacles to keep his balance before he could move his feet. The opportunity to counterattack had arrived. Djibril charged at Ibn. The flurry of retreating tentacles provided the perfect cover for his assault.
Ibn caught sight of Djibril only a few meters away after all his tentacles receded into his body. A tentacle erupted from Ibn’s chest and hurtled toward his opponent. Instead of meeting the attack with his swords, Djibril leaped through the air and sailed over his opponent’s head. He turned in mid-air and swung his kampilan at the side of Ibn’s neck.
His blade was inches from severing a carotid artery.
“Stop! Please stop! Both of you!”
Djibril turned his blade at the last instant. The flat of his kampilan hit the side of Ibn’s neck. The blow knocked Ibn to the side as Djibril jumped beyond the reach of his tentacles.
Djibril sheathed his sword.
Reciprocating the gesture, Ibn transformed back to humanoid form.
Princess Sita was running from the end of the alleyway. She passed Djibril and embraced Ibn, “My Beloved…” She looked at Ibn’s body covered with cuts.
“You worry too much for me when you should be worrying about yourself. You shouldn’t be running,” he said, holding her cheek.
Princess Sita put her hand on her belly and massaged it gently. Then she turned to face Djibril and glared at him.
Djibril raised his palms in a gesture of peace. “I am only doing my duty.”
Princess Sita lowered her eyes. “I suppose we can expect you to take me back to my father.” She began sobbing. Ibn held her as she cried.
As the Princess’ body shuddered, Djibril could not take his eyes off the slight curve of her belly. Ibn, a jinn, was a trained killer but the way his hand held Sita’s waist told Djibril that he was prepared to sacrifice his life for her and their unborn child.
Sayf Al’Iiman, Djibril spoke the Sword of Faith credo of the Timawa Order and closed his eyes. He prayed silently before parting his lips to recite the Oath of the Timawa, I wield the sword not for myself but for Allah… I deliver His justice, not my own…
When Djibril opened his eyes, he knew what must be done.
Following Djibril’s instructions, Ibn and Sita bought two flesh mannequins with their programmed likenesses at the black market. They exchanged clothes with their clones and had them return to their ship docked at the port. Sita and Ibn thanked Djibril and said they would name the child after him. Djibril bowed to them.
He then turned to Princess Sita. “I may have left your side many years ago but you have never left mine.” Djibril drew his kampilan with the blade still sheathed and presented it with both hands to her, spoke in a gentle voice, “This is the kampilan you gave me. I named her Amira.”
Sita’s eyes glistened with tears as she looked at the kampilan. “I am glad that she protected you like how you protected me. Even if I could no longer hold your hand after we parted, I am gladdened that your hand was safe holding hers.”
Djibril bowed his head and said softly, “I am sorry that I was cruel to you. It was not just for your sake but also for mine.”
Sita wiped away her tears with her hand. “I could not understand why you refused me. We were little more than children. We knew love but did not understand what it meant. You were wise beyond your years. Even if we escaped, we could not have gone as far as Ibn and I have done now. You would have been put to death and I would have had to bear the guilt for the rest of my life.”
Djibril took the kampilan and placed it into the holster at his belt. “Then let me do one last thing for you, my Princess, and my friend,” he said, glancing at Ibn who grunted.
“Let me bear the weight of your freedom, your lives, and the life of your unborn child,” he said, glancing at Sita’s belly. Djbril went down on both knees as if preparing to prostrate himself in prayer. “Allah Shahadati. As Allah is my witness, Iet me be your protector for the rest of your lives and mine.”
There wasn’t much time left, Djibril knew. The flesh mannequins bearing Sita and Ibn’s likenesses had just entered the ship they used to enter Cygnus 6. Since the doppelgangers were mindless and could not follow complex instructions, Djibril had programmed their ship to execute a complex series of maneuvers, a dance between ships that was purely smoke and mirrors.
The firefight above the colony needed to be believable. Mid-flight, Djibril would try hailing the occupants of the other ship. They wouldn’t answer. He would fire at their gun turrets and missile arrays, disabling their weapons. A brief chase would ensure. It could only end one way. The ship being pursued would crash into the invisible barrier protecting the colony, killing its occupants instantly.
After he retrieved the Princess’ ring from the charred ruins of her ship, Djibril talked to the police authorities of the colony and made a formal report detailing what happened. They readily accepted his version of events since official and public cameras had recorded the gunfight and chase between the two ships above the colony. Everything was settled except to depart Cygnus 6.
Djibril gripped his sword with one hand as he climbed the rope ladder to his ship’s cockpit. Just as his hand reached the highest rung, a flash of light filled the sky behind him. When he turned around, the light was already gone. He gazed upward to the four rings of the stargate set above the colony. The flash of light had come from there. Whenever a ship passed through the stargate, all four rings flashed in unison. The resulting illumination blanketed the area in white light.
It had been the ship carrying Sita and Ibn, Djibril knew. He whispered to the distant stargate, Adhab mae Allah.
His eyes lingered on the silvery rings floating in space before he looked down at the kampilan he carried in one hand. He wondered why he had pulled his sword from his belt before he climbed the ladder. Perhaps, he reasoned, it was his sword that sought his hand. His kampilan, Amira, needed to be in his hand one last time before Djibril departed and resumed his mission.
He had grave news to tell Sita’s father.
It would be his last act as a Timawa.
About the Author: Cesar Miguel “Miggy” Escaño lives in Tacloban City, Leyte. Before moving to Tacloban, he was a reporter for BusinessWorld and a teacher at the Ateneo de Manila. He was a fellow for fiction at the 56th Silliman University National Writers Workshop in 2017. His story, “Little Star,” was recognized with an Honorable Mention at the 2018 Nick Joaquin Literary Awards by Philippines Graphic Magazine. His story, “Amira,” was also named Honorable Mention at the 2019 Nick Nick Joaquin Literary Awards by Philippines Graphic Magazine. He has three sons and he loves telling them stories at bedtime.