It was summer. The sky was clear and the wind was gentle.
Elo and his friends stood near the edge of a mountain. Sitting on their wooden vehicle, they enjoyed the majestic view in front of them. A huge tree towered above the mountains surrounding it. Water flowed around the tree, and down the terraces that were carved from the mountain. The terraces glow with the golden hue of the rice grains that swayed with the wind.
"Ready?" one of the kids asked.
Everyone agreed and the children cried at the top of their lungs racing down the slope. They rode a two-wheeled wooden vehicle, each one carved with a ferocious animal. They bragged as they continued their feat.
The kids landed on a pile of dried stalks halfway through the mountainside. It was where their houses stood. Having done it many times, they called it a day.
"Hey, that is your father's pandayan, right?" one of the kids asked as they approach Elo's house.
"Can we take a look inside? Your father does a lot of cool stuff for the village so I bet it would be awesome!"
"No. Pa said kids are not allowed in the pandayan."
"So you haven't been inside of it?"
Elo shook his head with his friends smiling at each other.
They convinced Elo to sneak inside. Though he refused at first, his friends were persistent and he agreed. He always wanted to go inside his father's workshop.
When they were sure that no one can see them, they slid inside. The smell of coal and iron filled the room. There was a furnace on the other end. On the sides were racks containing the finished iron tools for the field. A rack also contained sharp steel blades that the kids dare not touch. A table with a hammer and anvil stood at the center.
"I hope we could see your father forge a tool."
'Yeah, me too' he thought. He had already asked his father about this several times but his reply was always a no.
"Alright! We better move before someone sees us." Elo said.
As they walk out of the pandayan, their heart froze as they saw a huge man in front of them. Both his hands were on his hips. His eyes were hazelnut and he had long curly hair. A thud sounded as he stepped his wooden foot as he walked toward them.
It took a few moments before the kids were able to move.
"Sorry, Mr. Oga! We'll not enter your workshop again!" the kids cried as they scrambled out.
Elo, too, ran away from his father caught him by his clothes. He sighed as he apologized to his father. Astonished, his father took him inside the pandayan. He was prepared to be scolded but there he was sitting on top of the barrel inside his father's workshop.
"Are you going teach me how to forge now?!" he cried in excitement.
"Let me think about it." his father teased him.
Oga then went to the side, picked an ore, and placed it on the table. "What do you see?" he asked.
Elo wondered. To him, it was just an ordinary rock but he did not know why or what the question is. But seeing that his father was waiting for an answer, he replied "A rock. plain old rock."
Oga smiled. "Yes, yes. Of course. It's a plain old boring rock, of course."
He took the rock and started the furnace. He melted the rock and placed it into a mold. It was a long and arduous process of heating and pounding with his child watching each step. When done, he placed a dagger with a wavy blade on top of the table.
"Now, what do you see?"
Elo's eyes widened and gaped his mouth. The only words he could utter were "It's beautiful!"
"My child. A rock is only a rock to ordinary eyes. But to a panday, a rock could be a dagger, or a sword, or an ax, or a tool, or about anything it could be. Do not go on looking at things as they are but also, what they could become."
Elo thought of what was being taught to him and wondered. "Pa? What do you see of me?"
Oga was about to reply when blood flowed out his mouth. He fell to his knees and behind him was a man with silver hair.
Elo's blood boiled in rage as everything turned pitch black.
Still gasping for air, he cried as he finally crawled out of the mud. Along with him were the boys of his age, each struggling to get out of the muddy pit.
It was a cleansing ritual on the eve of Garadan. Each balang candidate, a bagito, meditated for several days in a pit without eating or drinking. The elders then filled the pit with mud, covering each one completely. The mud was then set to dry and each bagito should be able to get out of the ground before dusk. To those who don't, it would become their grave.
Sometime later, Elo washed his body alone on a river. He separated from the rest as he needed time to calm down from his anger. He remembered that grisly moment that took place nine years ago like it happened today. It was the night when the mages led by Kraal killed his father and all the people of his town.
While washing by the river bank, he heard the dried leaves rustling behind his back. Out of nowhere, a wild boar appeared and attacked him. The boar was taller and had a huge body. It had black hair and a warty face. It also had two huge tusks pointed at him.
Without fear, he jumped at the approaching boar and punched it between its eyes. The beast fell before him, panting.
He heard a man walking towards him, clapping. "Well done," he said. The man's voice was deep and low.
It was the Ma-Lakan, one of the Balang's nine kings and the most powerful one. He had a huge frame and a muscular body. His head was bald and did not have an eyebrow. His skin and eyes were the color of dried blood.
He gestured at Elo and then the latter threw his sword at him. He removed the blade from the sheath and noticed that it remained unused.
"Same as always. Not a drop of blood, not from a man nor from a beast."
"I told you many times before, that my sword would only be tainted with the blood of one man. But do not worry, it would be of use soon."
Ma walked towards the boar and to Elo's surprise, the king plunged his sword through it. The beast stopped breathing in an instant.
"In this world, it is inevitable that we will take other's life. Be it for duty, or for protection, or for any other reason. But never do it out of vengeance."
"It's justice that I seek, not vengeance."
"Do you know the difference?" Ma asked as he slowly pulled the sword from the boar.
Elo did not reply.
"The difference between the two is what happens to you. With justice, you would be able to keep who you are with what you are fighting for. With vengeance, you became like your enemy - you end up doing the things that they did."
"Whatever you want to call it, it does not matter anymore. I died the moment they took everything from me."
The king slid the sword into its sheathe before giving it back to Elo. "Vengeance...is a futile pursuit," he said before he left.
Elo was about to follow him when he noticed that the boar grunted. The beast rose and walked away.