Even more questions pour into my mind as Helene’s minions in black strap me to a black metal chair. Contrary to my imagination (highly influenced by sci-fi movies) the chair is not swamped with wires running about all over the place. In fact, the chair must be running on wi-fi because not a wire is in sight. And perhaps, I should not call it a chair. It is much thicker and taller, almost like a throne but not quite as elaborate and glittery. It is also capable of reclining so it reminds me of a dentist’s chair but even more clinical.
“What does this do?” I ask the minions but they don’t answer me. Instead, they open the box on the floor in front of me and out comes a shiny black helmet. I get a glimpse of reflective hexagons lining the inside as it goes over my head and covers me from forehead to neck. Then, out come black gloves and those are pulled over my hands. “What are they for?” I ask, not really expecting an answer from these mute minions.
As expected, they troop out and push the metal door shut, sealing the room with me in it without an answer. The silence is eerie at first. Unable to see over my shoulder with the neck strap holding my head down, I can’t help but imagine all sorts of horrifying creatures lurking behind me. The sense of ‘things’ wandering around me is not helping to calm my nerves either. Then, I hear a scream as the lights go out. Belatedly, it occurs to me that the scream was mine since my throat is slightly sore and the next thing I know, I am screaming again at the ‘things’ that are attacking me.
Cold hands are sliding over me like snakes. I’m not even sure they are hands but they are touching me everywhere. My arms, my legs, my face, my neck and I am helpless to stop them. But just when I’m about to burst into tears, the lights come back on and I can breathe again.
“Ms Pink,” I call between pants, “what was that about?”
“What . . .?”
I take a deep breath and a portion of calm returns. Ms Pink had explained I wouldn’t come to any harm during this test and I should remember that. Ms Pink wouldn’t promise it if she couldn’t guarantee it. So with an injection of faith, I take another deep breath and this time, my heartbeat slows to a less erratic rate. The light goes off again and this time, my eyes squeeze shut but I don’t scream. Well, at least I don’t scream as loudly as before. The slithers all over my body are still creepy but it is possible to psyche myself into getting used to it. With all my focus centred around keeping myself calm, I barely notice it when the lights come on again.
“Well done, Taeyeon.”
Ms Pink’s praise never fails to make me smile.
“We have the information we need. My men will bring you to us. Follow them.”
“Okay.” I follow the minions in black down the dungeon corridor, eager to see Ms Pink and Helene to get some answers. A hole opens up in the floor in the middle of the corridor and some of the minions yelp in surprise. I’m surprised too; I was not expecting holes in the floor and neither was I expecting to see minions in black turning on each other. Two minions in black are pushed into the hole but they manage to grab the minions who pushed them and a tussle breaks out. Sensing that something is up, I begin to back away. My first instinct is to return to the room I just left but not two steps later, a minion pulls me back and twists my arms behind me. “Ow!” I cry out and even though it is the faintest sound, I can hear Ms Pink’s voice in the room I had just left.
“Help!” I scream as loudly as I can, hoping that Ms Pink would hear it and come and save me.
Walls descend from the ceiling around us and they must be really close to us because they appear almost immediately. Once they arrive, a full fight breaks out with Ms Pink flashing her sharp teeth, snarling and sinking her vampire teeth into a minion’s neck. Helene on the other hand, grabs a minion and cuffs him with astonishing efficiency (none of this should astonish me anymore but spending two months away from Ms Pink has rendered me a little more susceptible to astonishment now. She delivers a ruthless punch to the minion’s face and it’s a clean knock out—Helene would win every single boxing title there is, with a fist that flies that fast. On the other side, Ms Pink has ripped out large chunks of the minion’s neck and it is a sight that I can’t stand looking at for more than two seconds.
“Stupid human. You’re shivering.”
“I-I am o-okay, I-I j-just—”
“Shut up.” Ms Pink pulls me into her embrace and I relish it, as bloody as her clothes are. “I’m taking her.”
“I’ll get it out of this piece of trash,” says Helene, a voice that I am beginning to recognise by sound. “Go with her.”
Then we’re moving, at vampire speed.
“W-Why d-does e-every-o-one want to k-kill me?” I ask, as Ms Pink carries me in her arms.
A skilful arm swings me around and holds me horizontally. “Ms Pink!” I yelp as I am dumped on a soft, bouncy surface that I discover to be a bench of some sort.
“Sit up.” Ms Pink sits on the spongy bench beside me and pinches my neck with two fingers. Barely ten blinks later, Ms Pink releases me. “You are unharmed. Don’t worry.”
Using my bare hands, I wipe Ms Pink’s face. She allows me to do so, and moments later, she is staring at me sans blood that was smeared over her jaw and chin.
“Does it bother you?”
“A little. A princess should not have blood all over her face.”
“I am a vampire princess.”
“So blood on your face is second nature to you?”
“This is not the first time you have seen this.”
I shake my head. “This is the first time I have ever seen you ripping the throat out of someone.”
“That was not a someone. That was a threat to your life.”
“So part of it was anger?”
“It is normal to be angry when someone tries to hurt you.”
Ms Pink’s savage nature is food for thought, but a more pressing question is waiting to be asked.
“Ms Pink, what are we going to do now? What’s going to happen to the traitors?”
“You are to rest. Helene will get the information we need.”
“Helene has powers to do that.”
“I see. And what about me? Why am I the target? Haven’t you proven to the Feds that I will not harm anyone? Why is this happening?”
Ms Pink directs her blazing pink eyes at mine. “The chaos I mentioned. This is what it looks like.”
“I don’t get it. Why were Helene’s minions fighting each other? Did some of them turn traitors?”
“They have taken another side, different from us.”
“And which side are we on?”
“Our own side.”
“Which is? For peace? For war?”
Pink eyes rove over me. “The shivering has stopped.” A brief smile. “You will be fine.”
“Thank you for saving me.”
Fingers dig into my hair behind and pull me in for a kiss. A hungry kiss that takes all of me. “You are mine. No one will take you away from me.”
“You are mine too,” I declare with ferocity that surges from nowhere.
And Ms Pink laughs.
“Those two were acting under orders from Charles.” Helene’s face is an expression of rage right now.
“Charles?” I exclaim. “Isn’t he one of the Feds?”
“We know he was in cahoots with Olympias. Or rather, he was making use of her influence and power. Now, he has moved on to more under table tactics, using dissent, greed, anger to recruit more minions to further his agenda.”
I could have sworn Helene said ‘minion’ with a bite. Did Ms Pink tell Helene about the nickname I used on them?
“Who else is with Charles?” Ms Pink asks.
“Sesgo, Tatua, Vandyke, to name a few.”
Sesgo, the witch-like woman who wanted so badly to lay on hands on me. “She is with Charles too?”
Helene and Ms Pink turn to me. “Sesgo?” Helene says, “Yes, Sesgo has always operated with the darkest of the dark. She is power hungry. But why do you mention her especially?”
“Ms Pink . . . has never allowed Sesgo to lay her hands on me. I’ve always wondered why.”
Helene smiles. “Sesgo carries a curse. She can put a curse on you if she touches you. That is her curse. And that is the curse that befell one of Pan Ni’s claims. The curse that ruined our relationship.”
“Yoohuan?” I ask, remembering the name Praeson had mentioned before. “But wasn’t Praeson the culprit?”
“Enough,” says Ms Pink.
Helene casts Ms Pink a glance but continues, “Praeson was jealous. He should never have led Yoohuan to Sesgo, knowing what Sesgo is capable of.”
“Stop it,” says Ms Pink, louder than before.
This time, Helene obeys. “Pan Ni can tell you the rest if she wants to.” She rises from her throne. “The war is about to begin. We have to act faster than they do. I will summon those with us to come here. Pan Ni, you have till then to decide how we will use the Erika.”
I look at Ms Pink, not comprehending what Helene means but clenched, shaking fists indicate the vampire princess is not into answering questions right now. I would be smart to hold my tongue for the time being.
I have lost all track of time. There are no clocks, neither are there windows, so I can’t tell day from night, not unlike a typical casino. But in this place, the stakes are much higher than wealth; it is life at stake instead. On top of that, most of my day is spent in the same cold, stark empty room, fending off more captes every other hour in the darkness. By the time I am let out of the room, there is little left of my soul in me and I collapse on the bed in Ms Pink’s room.
“What time is it?”
“I was in there for that long? No wonder I’m starving,” I groan.
“You did well this afternoon.”
“You are more resistant to shocks and fear now.”
“But I’m not resistant to hunger.”
“Stop whining like a kid. Your food is coming.”
“I’m not whining. I’m really tired. And hungry.”
Without any warning, Ms Pink rolls me over and gives me a resounding smack on my bum. “Stupid human. You need to grow stronger. Any of us could overpower you otherwise.”
Pressing my cheek into the pillow, I grumble, “I don’t understand any of this. How can things change so much right after the sixty days? Why is the whole world out for my blood? Why do I have to go through all these tests? Why? Why?”
Ms Pink spanks me again then pulls me into her arms. “You have to hold on.”
“Hold my hand.” I watch with pleasure as our fingers interlace. “The only good thing that changed after sixty days is your reappearance in my life. I just wish everything else did not have to follow.”
Opening my eyes in surprise, I regard Ms Pink carefully. “Do you really feel the same? But you’re one of them.”
Ms Pink snorts. “If I could, I would avoid everything.”
“But you’re strong. You’re resilient.”
“I am also almost three hundred years old. And I did not have an easy time growing up.”
“Speaking of which, why was Praneos in the room yesterday? And why does he know all those things about your childhood?”
A laugh rings out and Ms Pink’s eyes are dancing with amusment as she says, “That was not Praneos.”
“What? Was he Praeson then?”
Ms Pink frowns. “No.”
“But it was one of them. It’s only been sixty days, I haven’t forgotten what they look like.”
“That is one of the abilities of the captes. They are able to group up and impersonate. Those memories were Helene’s. She wanted to use the image of a person you hate to trigger your emotions.”
So that’s why I could feel something touching me. “What are captes exactly? Why can’t I see them?”
“They have the ability to absorb light or reflect it. They are invisible when they absorb light and by grouping up and reflecting light, they can create the illusion of living things or objects.”
“How big or small are they?”
“They can split or join at will. Like water droplets in space.”
“That’s amazing. But what are they used for other than frightening the heck out of me?”
“Captes are neutrals. Helene invited them from the deepest part of the dark forest a long time ago.”
“So they are basically harmless?”
“Yes. They can’t kill. They can only deceive.”
“Deceiving can be harmful too.”
Ms Pink’s answer is short but meaningful. Deceit is not always harmful because right now, I would feel a lot better if Ms Pink would lie and tell me that everything is alright.
It finally hits me the next morning that captes are how Helene’s ‘doors’ work. The disappearing bricks aren’t really bricks at all. They are captes. That explains a lot. At the same time, I also wonder how captes can be controlled.
“How do you make a capte do something?” I ask Ms Pink as she cuts up her blood pancake. After yesterday’s bloody experience, I find her bloody pancakes nauseating so I try to focus on my regular pancakes instead.
“You need to possess supernatural energies in you. Captes only understand the supernatural language of our energies.”
“Does the Erika energy count as supernatural?”
“The Erika’s energy is not supernatural. It is anti-supernatural. Think of it as a very strong magnet that can destroy the magnetic fields of others, like your phone, or your cards.”
“So technically, I am your enemy.”
Ms Pink slams her fork and knife on the table. “You are not my enemy. You are my lover.”
“But I will destroy you. You said so yourself.”
“Not if you learn how to control it.”
“But what if I can’t control it?”
“No buts. You will.”
“I said no buts. I will help you.”