Massive, mad thanks and love to @artenikat on Twitter for showering me with her talent in the form of this book cover-ish poster!
a/n: I’ve added a glossary of names and terms used in this story, thanks to the suggestion by @Tsukiryuuu on Twitter 🙂 The link is on this story’s page.
Also, a short note to say HAPPY 3000 DAYS with SNSD to all of us sones & soshi!!!
I used to wonder if stories and movies are correct about the things that happen in the moment pre-death. Well, as it turns out, my life is actually flashing before my eyes as Ms Pink steers us towards the mass of green canopy. From the first birthday party I can remember to the professor whose lecture I will probably miss should I die. But it’s Ms Pink at the helm. And I have faith in her even though my body is obviously prepping itself for the end.
The helicopter is swinging from side to side like a pirate ship ride on earthquake mode. Hands on my harness, I hold on for dear life as the finer details of the canopy become clearer and clearer to us at an alarming rate. The next thing I know, we are plunging into a sea of leaves and branches and the helicopter comes to a crashing halt.
“Ow!” I yell when my head slams back against the seat. “Ow . . .”
I groan. “My head.”
“Don’t faint on me.”
Like I have a choice? “I’ll try not to.”
“Smart mouth. You should be fine.” Ms Pink pulls out two variegated pink guns and a variegated pink backpack from the back of our seats and turns to me. “How’s your leg.”
My face scrunches up.
“Carry the backpack.”
“Taeyeon, we have no time for your ‘buts’. Obey me.” Ms Pink shoves the backpack into my arms. I take it without a word. I have to trust Ms Pink with my life. She’s saved it a few times already so I have no reason to doubt her. She yanks open the door on her side and turns, dangling her legs over the side. “Climb onto my back.”
I clamber over to her seat and lean onto her back, wrapping my arms around her neck. She reaches around and pulls my legs so that they wrap around her waist, turning me into a human koala with a pink backpack.
“Hold tight,” she says. Then, we are falling.
“Huh-ahhh!” I scream and bury my face into the crook of Ms Pink’s neck. Branches are everywhere, scratching my arms, my legs, my butt . . .
Ms Pink lands on the ground with a groan and falls onto her hands and knees. “Get off.”
I fall, rather than get off, and she collapses onto her back, sprawled out like a passed out drunkard on the street. Only, this is not a street. This is—
I raise my head and look around. “Where are we?”
“The deep, dark forest of no return.”
A sickening jolt of dread sweeps across my body from head to toe. “W-What?”
A low, rumbling sound escapes Ms Pink. It’s a really strange sound. Concerned, I push up on my arms to see if she’s hurt. Her lips are pressed and the look on her face spells pain with a capital P.
“Ms Pink! Are you hurt? Where is it? Where’s the pain?”
Ms Pink cups her palm over her mouth and her body trembles. Ignoring the pain in my thigh, I drag myself to her side, anxious to find the wound. Then, I hear it. A suppressed bit of laughter. What?
Ms Pink is almost turning pink in the face when she bursts into peals of laughter. What the fuck?
“Y-You’re not hurt?”
Laughter in endless streams spill from her lips and she’s wiping tears from her eyes. When her laughter is finally reduced to chuckles, I ask, “Why are you laughing?”
She takes one look at me, laughs a bit more, then says, “Your strings are too easy to pull, stupid human.”
“I don’t get it. What strings are you talking about?”
Ms Pink shakes her head as she sits up and looks at me. The pink in her eyes begin to glow as we stare at each other. A moment later, I’m about to look away because intensity of it is almost too much for me to bear but then she cups my face with her palms and strokes my cheeks with her thumbs, locking me in place.
Me? I blink in confusion.
“I’d almost forgotten how beautiful this world can be.” The bold, strong pink of her eyes softens and turns pastel pink as she adds, “Then, you fell into my office,” she pauses, causing a hitch in my breath as my heart begins to pound, “smelling like the sweetest dessert I’ll ever have.”
Dessert? “Er . . .” I’m not sure if Ms Pink has bumped her head and lost her mind or something but this sounds more like a threat than a compliment to me. “We should get going. Seo will be worried.” I try to get up but my thigh hurts and I almost lose my balance. But I don’t.
Ms Pink is on her feet, clutching my waist, her breath hitting my face. “Stupid and useless,” she mutters, then turns around. “Get on my back.”
“So I’m guessing this isn’t really the ‘deep, dark forest of no return’?” I ask as I resume my human-koala-with-a-pink-backpack pose on her back.
Ms Pink stands, her hands on my butt to hold me up, and begins walking at sub-vampire speed. “We’re in Shaw’s thicket.”
“Thicket? But this place looks more like a jungle . . .”
“Shaw was a thicket. It’s how Shaw got her name.”
“A hundred years ago?”
“Long before that.”
“Were you around when Shaw was named?”
“I was born in Shaw.”
I stare at the side of Ms Pink’s face in surprise. “You were born here?”
Ms Pink halts without warning and I would have probably fallen off if I wasn’t clinging on to her so tightly. “Shh,” she tells me.
“What?” I whisper.
She turns to the right and looks at something I can’t see. I squint, trying to see what she sees but she dashes forward again, almost throwing me off. The trees around us are nothing more than a blur and the wind is deafening. I don’t know why she’s sprinting at full vampire speed but my heart is pounding as though it knows something I don’t.
Then, I hear them. Snarls. Growls. The sounds that make up your worst nightmare. Shit. Shit. Shit. I risk a glance to our right. Behind the trees is a flurry of dark shadows. Dark, black shadows. Oh no, not again. Fear swarms my heart as the shadows pull up alongside us. Left, right, they’re around us. I hear their saliva-filled mouths opening, the snapping of their teeth. It’s scary as hell but I’m with Ms Pink and she’s stronger than them, right?
I tighten my arms and legs around Ms Pink and her hands pull me closer to her back as well. The fear-inducing snarls seem to be closing in on us. They’re getting louder by the second even though Ms Pink is sprinting at full-on vampire speed. How is this possible? Isn’t Ms Pink supposed to be faster than them? She’s a princess vampire for goodness sakes.
We’re moving and moving and moving, and then, we’re not. Ms Pink spins around, backed up against a tree, a gun in each hand and faces the salivating vanguards. There are four of them and they are disgusting. I shudder from the ugly vision of their sharp fangs. They remind me of my bite and I’d rather not think about that moment right now.
What? Ms Pink wants me to get down right now?
“Get down.” Ms Pink lowers into a squat. “Hug the tree,” she adds.
None of this makes any sense but I trust in Ms Pink to make the right decision so I let go of her and wrap myself around the tree trunk instead. Ms Pink stands again, her guns pointing to the ground. For two seconds, there is nothing. The vanguards are baring their teeth, their black fur matted with something sticky, something slimy. But Ms Pink remains still.
BANG! A shot rings out. I barely even see it but Ms Pink has already shot one vanguard right between its eyes. A cold sensation, like an ice cube sliding down the length of my spine, hits me as I watch it topple onto its side, its face frozen in a snarl, dead, lifeless. From then on, the fight looks like a video that’s been fast-fowarded at the rate of 16 times. Ms Pink is too fast for them. The three remaining vanguards pounce on her but she dodges one, kicks another and lands on her back, pushing the great ugly head of the third away from her neck. I watch, horrified, but I keep my arms and legs wrapped around the tree. I am determined to hug the tree so tight that it suffocates. It’s the least I can do for Ms Pink.
Ms Pink manages to shoot another vanguard but the second vanguard leaps and knocks the gun out of her hand before she can shoot it too. Meanwhile, the other vanguard is still going for her neck with its fangs, dripping disgusting saliva all over her expensive pink coat and blouse. What can I do? What can I do?
“Over here, mutt!” I yell.
The vanguards shift their attention to me for a mere split second, but that is all the time Ms Pink needs to punch the vanguard at her neck and shoot it. The last vanguard standing doesn’t stand a chance against Ms Pink with the support of the others but to my surprise, Ms Pink doesn’t kill it. Instead, she pulls it close by its fur and says, “Tell your master Princess Hwang says she hates cowards. Tell your master to come straight for me.” She pushes the vanguard away and gives it a shove. “Send the message or meet your death now.” The vanguard doesn’t take another look at Ms Pink. It turns and runs into the shadows, vanishing as quickly as it appeared.
Ms Pink shakes her coat to rid it of leaves and dirt as she turns back to me. Our eyes meet and hers widen as she takes in the view before her. She looks like she’s suppressing a laugh as she trudges back to my side and I know I probably look really silly hugging the tree like a koala but for some reason, I can’t let go. I can’t let go until she tells me to. I want her to know that she can trust me. I want her to trust me.
“You can stop hugging the tree now.”
Like a key turning a lock, her words release the grip I have on the tree and I try to stand. Ms Pink helps me up and wraps an arm around my waist to support my weight.
“Well done, Taeyeon.”
Pride like I have never known blossoms in the dark recess of my heart and bursts into the light. “Thank you, Ms Pink. You saved my life again.”
“Get on my back. We have to get home fast.”
I hasten to obey and Ms Pink gets us home, in vampire-quick time.
Ms Pink chucks me into the bathroom. “Clean yourself.”
“Your wound can handle water now.” Ms Pink pauses with her hand on the door knob. “Clean yourself and wait here for me. Don’t put on any pants.”
The door closes, leaving me stunned by Ms Pink’s orders. No pants? Am I supposed to wait for her in my panties? She didn’t say anything about other clothing though so I probably can wear a shirt or something? Is there even anything in this bathro—my pyjamas. Hanging on the rack that holds neatly folded towels (yes, they are pink). How did my pyjamas end up in here? Then again, do I really need to know? She probably had Seo get it from my apartment while we were away at Melior.
The last thing I want is to be fully clothed and still dirty when Ms Pink returns so I get out of my soiled clothes and hop into the shower. Time to get clean.
Ms Pink still hasn’t come by the time I get out of the shower so I take the chance to admire the beautiful marble flooring and surfaces in the bathroom. Not surprisingly, it’s pink marble but the natural colour of the rock is something that I find soothing to my eyes. Trust Ms Pink to have a designer couch complete with a lush rug in her bathroom. The wall features a full length mirror framed by an intricate carving of angels which looks like something that hopped out of a museum pamphlet. And knowing Ms Pink, it might just be a mirror from the time when she was a human princess.
The door opens as my imagination begins to paint a picture of the young girl I saw in my visions and the present Princess Hwang enters. She takes one look at me and nods. “Good girl.”
The praise sends my heart soaring into the sky. “What took you so long?” I ask.
Ms Pink sits beside me on the couch and pulls my bare leg over her lap. She opens the jar in her hands and rubs the green goo into the skin around my wound. I don’t know if it’s her touch or the goo that makes me feel so good but I don’t even want it to end. But she applies the goo over my wound and produces a roll of bandage and wraps it up.
“Yes, Ms Pink?”
Her face is right next to mine and I can almost touch her with my nose. But she moves no closer as she says, “Are you hungry?”
My stomach growls as if it understands Ms Pink’s question but food is not what I hunger for the most at this moment. Her eyes rove over mine, wandering over the topography of my face, taking in the height of my nose, the pout of my lips. Can she see what I yearn for? Can she understand why I yearn for her when I don’t even know where it comes from?
“You are only human.”
“What do you mean?” I ask, my hunger momentarily forgotten.
“Humans are susceptible to vampiric charms. I am a princess by birth, in death and by resurrection. That triples my charms. Yet, you feel only a tinge of what a human would, not before, but after I claimed you. You read into my memories before I claimed you. You can will yourself to obey me or not. You didn’t die from the vanguard bite. You stood tall before the Sovereign, unaffected by their magic.” Her eyes glow like pink rubies and she leans just that little bit closer but her presence envelopes me like a cloak in winter. “What . . . are . . . you?”
“I don’t know,” I whisper.
“You . . .”
Her voice crawls over my skin, seeps through every pore, and joins the blood flowing beneath. I feel her in me, under my skin, everywhere. “Ms Pink,” I breathe.
Her lips brush mine and they part for her like doors welcoming their mistress.
“Ms Pink.” Seo’s call rings through the door as she knocks on it.
Ms Pink pulls away from me immediately, leaving me desperate for more. “Come in.”
Seo enters the bathroom (which can easily double up as a living room) with a book that looks like it’s seen better years long ago. “Ms Pink.”
I fidget. She sounds grave. It can’t be good news.
“You found it.”
Seo hands the book to Ms Pink. “The book tells of an Erika.”
Ms Pink gasps, which makes me gasp. “What’s an Erika? Why are you so shocked?” I look from Ms Pink to Seo and back to Ms Pink but neither vampire has answers me. They are staring at each other, understanding commuting between their eyes. “What’s an Erika?” I ask again.
Ms Pink’s eyes, glowing crimson pink now, do not meet mine. “Erika. The eternal ruler.”
“The eternal ruler?” I don’t understand a word of this. “Who is the eternal ruler?”
Ms Pink stands and steps away from me. My soul feels like it’s being wrenched from its place inside me when she moves away. Why? She turns around again, her eyes still not meeting mine. Her voice has never been lower when she finally answers me.
“Stupid human. It is you.”