0. The Turn of the Moon

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The gentle roar of the mighty Tinago Falls drew the moon goddess, Mayari, to its perimeters. 

The Tao come here to bathe, wash, and worship, their priestesses leaving offerings on top of the boulder lodged behind the waterfall. This has become the goddess's haven on Earth, where she descends from Kalangitan in human form and appearance to bathe under the new moon.

For years the goddess took to this majestic site for leisure that being exposed to the Tao had not been a concern for her. She visits the falls on the third hour when the all the creatures of Earth are fast asleep. But one new moon led a young hunter to the falls, exhausted yet merry after a neighbor's dinner celebration. He was taller than the average man with smooth black hair tied back and woven bands around his arm and wrists. He had the stance, strength, and experience of a great hunter, and so his instincts alerted him at the slight sound of movement far off into the distance.

Crouching with the neck of his spear gripped tight, the hunter approached the rim of the falls. His steps are cushioned by the earth and the hum of the falls, enabling him to move without making a sound. Shielded by tall bushes and younger trees, he rose and saw a woman he has never seen or met in his entire life.

She wore nothing except a necklace donned with a blood red stone. Her hair long and black, her arms moving to the song of the falls, the woman's presence struck the hunter like lightning. He couldn't decide whether to reveal himself or remain hidden to prevent her from running away.

The clouds shifted as time passed. The hunter's lungs hurt from holding his breath for so long that he had to exhale. That single sigh woke the woman from her trance and caused her to turn towards his direction.

Her sharp stare froze the him cold. His heart resounded in his ears and panic overcame his mind—the hunter has become the hunted. Even then, he is determined not to let her run without knowing his intentions.

"I wish you a good evening," he spoke, rising from his hiding spot. He stood at his full height, dropping the spear to the ground and raising a fisted hand to his chest in greeting.

The woman remained silent. She stood with a kind of strength and majesty akin to that of warrior queens and palace priestesses. Yet, he could see that her eyes showed curiosity and fear.

She nodded her head at the hunter, but did not respond.

The hunter took a careful step around the bushes.

"You should count your steps with caution," the woman suddenly spoke. "Else you will not live to see the next sunrise."

"I mean no harm," the hunter assured. He showed both hands and dropped them to his sides. "I decided to visit Tinago Falls to replenish myself, and saw that you had occupied the pool. I did not want to disturb or frighten you, so I stayed behind the bushes—"

"And watched me bathe?" she asked.

Blushing, the hunter chuckled, knowing that he had been caught in the act. Village rules prohibited a man to stare at a naked woman other than his wife, else he would be punished by the woman's father.

"But I'm not from your village," she added, a smile on her face. The hunter gazed at her and felt his face turn warm. He could not take his eyes away from hers; neither could she from his. He could not speak, sing, or shout, but instead took her hand and pressed his lips against her soft skin.

The clouds have shrouded the new moon, and the night brightened against the stars. The crickets and toads sang their evening chorus as the swift wind soothed the village to sleep. The Tao have all taken to their beds, furniture, and floors after a long night of drinking and merriment, never realizing that one of their companions had not returned from his walk yet.

Tinago Falls seemed to glow against the dark. The forest that surrounded the area had grown silent, amplifying the rush of the currents. No one would have noticed movement or breathing, the soft cry between sighs, the turning of the moon to unravel the first shade of dawn. The stars laughed as they sprinkled the last of their light.

The cockerels began to crow.

***

Mayari opened her eyes to the first crow. She listened to the continuous rush of Tinago, the cold surface of the boulder wet and cool against her backside. She turned slightly to look at the sleeping hunter, his body sprawled, his mind deep in sleep. She remembered the smell of lambanog in his breath, the redness of his eyes.

In an instant, a heavy weight pressed against her. The villagers will arrive, searching for their companion.

She touched the hunter's face for the last time and whispered in his ear. Tears fell and kissed his cheeks. Surprised, she wiped her face and touched the blood stone around her neck.

With one final look, she disappeared into the current. 


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