A FIRE IN THE SOUL

by Shirley Siaton-Parabia


"You are the Chosen One."
          The Chosen One. To this very day, those words echo through my consciousness whenever I look at the other mountains surrounding my home. I live in Himalay, which had the highest of peaks, the most mysterious of forests, the most dangerous of paths.
          Himalay is a place of convergence. This is where the most powerful forces of the land breed, where the wings of the bat are eaten for lunch, the blood of the tiyanak is used to spice flavorless meat, and where the sunrise is first seen.
          Today that beauty is no more. Our entire tribe, the fierce and agile Baraws, had been plagued by a half-seen creature called the Serpent. It first devoured our entire livestock, and proceeded to raze our fields and orchards with a mere breath. The strongest of men have been gathered to face this creature, but each of them sang their final dirge in its merciless jaw.
          My name is Uryana. I am the only child of one of Himalayís most powerful warriors, Pandukaw. He too met his last breath in mortal combat with the Serpent. When the number of able-bodied Himalay men slowly dwindled to a scary trickle, the elders gathered round the villageís Bonfire, the fire that never went out even in the most violent of storms, and prayed fervently for salvation to the anitos.
          Then the Apo, the wisest and oldest man in our village, shouted for everyone to hear that Anak ni Pandukaw was the one destined to face the Serpent, so as the fire had said to them.
          That was me.


"You are the Chosen One, Uryana Anak-ni-Pandukaw. What say you?"
          I stared at the wrinkled, brittle face of the Apo, trying to divulge a hint that the Elders were merely joking, that I, a girl of no more than seventeen cycles, was the one destined to fight the Serpent.
          "Apo. I am not a warrior." I stood before the Elders, who looked back at me with blank, unyielding eyes.
          The Apo pursed his rubbery lips. "Ah. But are you not the fastest runner of Himalay?"
          "The gods have gifted me with light feet, Apo, not hands that could easily draw blood."
          The Apo roared with laughter. "The Serpent has no blood, foolish child! It is a being of fire, not a being of flesh and soul!"
          "Is that why the warriors--including my father--could not defeat him?"
          "Yes. The spears and the arrows and the knives all melted."
          I swear I could hear the screams of the warriors as their souls strove to stay in the flesh. "I see." For a moment, I looked around at the women and children and the handful of elderly men left in the village. I had no idea how to become their savior. "Then...then...I accept, Apo."


I stood on the Bato-talum, a sharp and jagged piece of rock jutting from the depths of the earth, and stared at the horizon as it accepted the waning rays of the sun into its bosom.
          "Uryana?"
          I looked at my mother, Sulaya. She was removing a leather rawhide string from around her neck. I saw that it was a necklace--my fatherís necklace. From the string hung a shiny piece, a whitish jewel.
          "That is my fatherís, is it not?"
          "Yes." My mother fastened the string around my neck. "It is a talisman. A trabungco. Its light is from the essence of the Serpent. It has fire within, fire that would give you the Serpentís own strength, fire that would make you defeat the Serpent. Your father...he gave it to me before he left to fight."
          I felt the sharpness of the jewel of fire as I touched it. I also felt the coldness of the spear that I carried across my back.
          "Mother, it is best you leave now. It is nightfall. Soon, the Serpent will come here to Bato-talum, to look over the land and see where it could next strike."
          "May the gods watch over you, Anak."
          "Thank you, mother." I watched her leave, scurrying to the safety of the village. Whereas her eyes shed the tears, my heart cried in return.


"Ssss. Anak ni Pandukaw."
          When the last ray of sunlight had disappeared, the Serpent had materialized right beside my rocky perch. It was made not of scales, as snakes should be, but of fire, a molten swirl of claws and tentacles and fangs.
          I backed away from it, feeling its sulfurous hot breath against my skin, melting my resolve to fight.
          It laughed, a high, echoing laugh that seemed to come from the depths of hell.
          "Sssss. You are afraid of my fire? Hasss...hassss...hasssss..."
          The fire from the Serpentís molten body made something on my chest flash. I looked down and saw the trabungco, gleaming with its power.
          Fire that would make me defeat the serpent. Immediately, I felt its power surge through my veins, filling my soul with searing white-hotness and strength. I scrambled to my feet.
          "I, too, have that same kind of fire."
          And I, Uryana the Swift, ran through the forest.
          The jewel on my necklace lit my path. Heedless to the Serpent chasing me, heedless to the fact that it was a breath away from burning me to oblivion, I followed the trabungcoís guiding light.
          I reached a cliff. It gaped towards the open sea, the blue-black-white canvas of tossing sounds and salty foam. Below, the water crashed against sharply jutting rocks of the coast. There was no other path but the one through which I ran.
          I saw the Serpent slithering down the path towards me, hissing as it did, burning everything in its wake.
          It is a being of fire, not of flesh and soul.
          I grabbed the necklace off my neck and held it against the dusk. It shone like a firefly.
          "Here, Serpent. Take your strength with you."
          The Serpent pounced on my bait. It sliced through the air, trailing balls of fire, diving for the shiny trabungco. Then I swiftly ducked out of its path, sending the molten snake down the cliff and into the cold foam below.
          I saw water hungrily devour the fire, putting it out, and I knew that it was over.


"You are indeed the Chosen One, Uryana."
          My mother met me with a hug after the Elders had sung me songs of praise before the Bonfire.
          "No, mother. The trabungco did it. It was fatherís talisman that made me win. It gave me the strength to defeat the Serpent."
          And my mother laughed as she had never laughed before.
          "You are indeed a foolish child, Uryana. That was a piece of shiny rock from the stream, not a trabungco! It was your fatherís, yes, but it had no special powers."
          I was dumbstruck. "Why did you tell me--?"
          "When you were first born, an ermintanya told me that I would have a warrior-child who would have great fire in its soul."
          "You were merely trying to--"
          My mother nodded. "It took something to let the fire in you come out. But it was there inside of you all along."


Now I stand on the Bato-talum, watching the sunset. I fiddle with the shiny rock and watch the waning rays of sunlight play on its countless facets.
          I take off the necklace and put it in my pocket. Then I listen to the beating of my heart.
          It is here where the fire had always been.


This work is copyright 2000 Estudyante Network Magazine and Shirley Siaton-Parabia.
Please do not take, repost or distribute in any form without express written permission.