After the Hi’lay ‘Qaho, on the Slopes of Apo Namalyari

The death galvanized his battered courage and Pipit lashed out at the next aswang with all his might. The blow cut the monster in half, splattering him thoroughly with its viscous grey blood. The creature’s blood smelled far worse than its breath, like the redolence of flesh rotting in water. The boy involuntarily dropped his weapon. The stench made him physically ill.

Another monster jumped from behind and the two rolled down the small mountain outcropping, with the aswang’s bony hands clutched around his throat. Pipit struggled to fight it off but was instantly mesmerized by the creature’s face. Despite the yellowed eyes and the pallid grey complexion, its features were almost comely, like that of a young maiden’s. Something about the monster’s burning eyes bothered him. They seemed to want to warn him of something. Her tongue touched his skin, and suddenly the words “talinhaga” and “skin-walker” formed like pictures in his head.

“Skin-walker?” he wondered what the strange word meant.

The aswang rubbed her thigh on his and he smelled a distinctly musky scent, like that of an alamid, the palm civet, heady and unctuous. He followed the scent to its source and realized belatedly she was naked. Pipit gasped when he felt a slimy sensation on his neck and breast. To his horror he realized that he could not move. The aswang’s long, tubular tongue started snaking towards his navel. The tongue lightly caressed his stomach, looking for the spot where the boy had once been attached to his mysterious mother. Locating it, the aswang’s tongue released a sharp harpoon-like barb. But before it could pierce the opening, the creature let out a scream of intense pain.

Durus Mata stood over the pair, throwing a mixture of vinegar, ash and salt that melted the aswang’s back like strong acid. “Away with you demon,” she shouted. “I do not wish to kill you.”

Pipit pushed off the struggling creature. Before it disappeared into the darkness, she flicked her tongue at his face one last time. This time, words of clear warning tattooed themselves in his mind: “Run away, Dark Heart.”

“She wasn’t going to hurt me.” Pipit told the seer, slipping out of his daze and picking up his whip from where he had dropped it.

“She already did,” the Mother Augur said grimly.

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