Ms Pink is beyond cruel. After days of merciless training, I am sent to class. On a Saturday, no less. Ms Pink is heartless. Judging by the way she looks at me, she knows what I am thinking but makes no comment. A few silent minutes later, I am dropped off at the steps of the main building on campus. Ms Pink’s flashy car and my overwhelmingly pink jacket attracts quite a few stares so I enter the building in a hurry instead of watching Ms Pink leave.
Once inside, I slow down and stroll down the corridor to the lecture theatre. It is ghost town in here since it is a Saturday and the whole place seems is a little eerie. My footsteps are all I hear for a while until a second pair of footsteps join mine.
“Taeyeon, wait up.”
The voice belongs to Max so I stop to allow him to catch up. “Hey.”
“What happened to you?”
“Mmm? What do you mean?”
“There’s a bruise on your neck.”
“Ah.” I pull up the collar of my jacket, my cheeks colouring a little. “It’s nothing.”
“That doesn’t look like nothing.”
“It’s just a bite. Anyway, how was your week?” I ask, hoping to change to subject. Thankfully, Max does not push on.
“Nothing much. Other than a few interviews, I’ve been going to the gym and just hanging out with friends.”
We walk the last few metres to the lecture theatre and Max holds the door open for me. I give him a smile and enter first, leading the way to our regular seats at the back. I can’t explain why, but something is amiss. Whether it’s the atmosphere in the theatre or something in the air, I can’t tell but I can’t shake the feeling that someone or something is watching me from somewhere.
“Do you find it a little weird in here?” I ask Max, wondering if I’m the only one who feels this way.
“Weird?” Max looks around. “What’s weird?”
“I don’t know. Just my imagination I guess. Something feels off.”
Max snorts. “The only thing that’s off is this lecture.” He snorts again. “Something’s not right with the prof’s brain. Who schedules Saturday lectures when there are five other days to choose from?”
“I know, right.”
I sit through the lecture on borderline discomfort. Despite my nonchalance, I am bothered by the invisible yet tangible oddity hanging somewhere around me. Is this a result of the training I have undergone for the past few days? Looking around the theatre has rendered no clues so I give up trying to figure it out.
Max asks me out for dinner but I decline politely. Dinner is reserved for Ms Pink. Sunny comes to mind randomly as I walk out into the sunshine. I miss her. That girl must be enjoying herself with Summer right now. It must be nice to have a girlfriend who doesn’t mind letting her skip a few lectures. In fact, it had been Summer’s idea for Sunny to join her in Lamod for fashion week. And here I am, with a strict vampire girlfriend who insists on my good attendance in school—a girlfriend who isn’t even on time to pick me up.
“Hey blood bank!”
“Y-Yoona?” I gasp and stare, unblinking as the woman sends an impish grin my way. “What are you doing here?”
Yoona’s grin turns into a pout and she casts doleful eyes at me. “That’s not exactly the type of welcome I was hoping for.”
“I am just surprised to see you.” Is she the reason why I felt strange in the theatre? But she wasn’t in it.
“Well, I am sent here to pick you up. For a price, of course.”
Yoona’s grin is back. “10 cc.”
“Oh come on. I’ve missed your blood. The replicas just don’t work the same as yours.”
“Replicas?” My blood has replicas?
“Mhm,” Yoona replies with a nod. “Gotta make do with second best when you’re not around to contribute some blood for the better of mankind.”
“How do you replicate my blood?”
“I got it analysed. It’s not too difficult to replicate the composite but there’s something about your blood that makes it impossible to replicate a hundred percent.”
“So you are producing blood? Literally?”
“No, silly,” Yoona laughs. “I simply take the lethal portions of your blood, reconstruct the composite of elements and stuff them into bullet shells. They aren’t as lethal as your blood though. Your blood is the best.”
“Well, if you’re using my blood for a good cause, I suppose I can give you 10 cc of it . . .”
Yoona hugs my arm and squeals, “Yes! You’re the best!”
“Uh . . .” I clear my throat as awkwardness threatens to seep in, “if you’re here to pick me up, where’s your car?”
“Car?” Yoona laughs yet again. It is beginning to irritate me. Why is she always laughing at me? “Slayers don’t do cars. Slayers don’t want to be stuck in traffic when there is an emergency.”
“You don’t have a car? What do you drive if you don’t have a car?”
“I have a ride. A cool ride on two wheels.”
“Come on.” Yoona tugs on my arm and drags me along with her to the parking lot. And there, under the glaring sun, is her bike. There are a few but there is no mistaking Yoona’s bike. Black and titanium silver streak across the body of the bike like any other cool bike available out there but what gives it away is the silver streak that zigzags into the jagged letter S. S for slayer, I’m sure.
“It’s a little too obvious, don’t you think?”
Yoona shrugs. “People don’t know what it stands for. Those who know, need to know.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I want the supers to know if I’m in an area. Let’s just say it lessens my workload when they do.”
“Are the supers really afraid of you? I mean, they could just kill you, right?”
Yoona grins. “Well, I’m still alive, aren’t I?”
“What’s your protection?”
“Being a slayer comes with certain abilities.”
“So were you hanging around, keeping an eye on me in class?”
A blank look answers me. “No, I only just arrived.”
“What exactly do you want to know? Ask and maybe I can answer.”
“I’m just confused. Ms Pink says I’m in danger. She says things are in chaos. Yet she drops me on campus and disappears? I mean, what if I am kidnapped or killed here?”
“Ah . . .” Yoona’s knowing smile eats my patience.
“Tell me. Please.”
“Campuses are off-limits.”
“What? Off-limits to?”
“Trouble. Both supers and humans have it on the treaty to keep campus zones war-free.”
“That’s . . . amazing. Like, has this rule never been broken?”
“Supers go to school too, you know. So it was agreed upon that it is beneficial for everyone to keep these zones trouble-free.”
“Why would supers need to go to school?”
“How else would they learn? And some are turned at a young age, while they’re still schooling. Anyway, there’s no lack of places for trouble to roam about so if any super or human tries to pull anything illegal on campus, there’s gonna be hell to pay.”
How interesting. So did Ms Pink go to school too? She must have. How would she have learnt so much otherwise?
“Put this on.”
A shiny pink helmet is thrust in my cringing face. “Why is the helmet pink too?” I groan.
“Your dearest Ms Pink had it made for you.”
“Can’t I wear yours?” I ask, looking longingly at Yoona’s gleaming black and silver helmet.
“Uh uh. Specific orders from the boss herself. I have no plans to jeopardise my source of good quality blood.”
With a great sigh, I take the shiny pink helmet from Yoona and put it on. My fate is a sad one. Very sad fate.
We are speeding along the expressway when Ms Pink starts talking to me.
Her voice gives me a shock and I almost forget I am on a bike as I straighten up instinctively. “Ms Pink!”
“Don’t let go of the slayer.”
“I-I won’t,” I say, tightening my arms around Yoona’s waist.
“Change into the clothes on the table when you get back.”
“You will see them the moment you enter. Change into them and wait for me.”
“Okay . . .”
“Yes, Ms Pink.”
I can almost see the smile on Ms Pink’s face and suddenly, I can’t wait to get back.
The problem with life is the way it likes to go against your deepest yearning. Like now. The moment my conversation with Ms Pink ends, the sky turns dark and rain falls. Clouds sweep in and block the sun, darkening our surroundings considerably. Lightning streaks across the sky above and shortly after, roaring thunder rings in my ears. It is scary, being in the open in this weather and I tighten my hold on Yoona’s waist. We exit the expressway and travel down a road devoid of traffic. How strange that the road can be this empty at this time of the day.
Yoona turns into an alley and we are surrounded by tall buildings with barely any space at our sides. That’s when things get strange. The buildings seem darker than usual even though the sky isn’t getting any darker. In fact, some of the clouds have parted and I can see the sun peeking through but none of the sun’s rays are shining down on us in this alley.
“Hold on tight! Something’s wrong!” Yoona yells, taking her eyes off the road for a second to look over her shoulder at me. And that’s when several grey beasts leap out in front of her. My eyes widen in shock. Yoona turns back to the front. And we slam right into the grey beast wall. For some reason, my arms never let go of Yoona even as we sail through the air, accompanied by the sickening low growls of the beasts. My arms are still around Yoona’s waist when we land on the ground with a breath-stopping bump, sliding a short distance before coming to a stop.
“Yoona!” I cry in concern when the slayer does not move. “Yoona!” I pull my arms from her to grab hold of her shoulders, rolling her onto her back. I can see her eyes through the visor. Bad news. They are not open. “Yoona!” I scream, shaking her a little, hoping desperately for some sign of life. Unfortunately, there are none.
Giving up on Yoona for the time being, I turn to the silent grey beasts that have surrounded us. They remind me of vanguards but their coats of fur are grey instead of black. Grey. That’s not a good colour for me. Grey is not a good colour. Period. I crouch low on the ground beside Yoona as the beasts advance on us. Hope is running thin. Then a quick movement at the side proves to be Yoona pulling out a handgun and with a tilt of her head, she fires two shots into the largest grey vanguard-like beast.
It collapses onto its side with a whine but there are nine other beasts to go.
“Yoona! You’re not dead!”
“I was only playing dead, silly. But we’ll be dead soon if we don’t do something about the other nine.”
The nine snarl and leap as Yoona speaks and she managed to get another shot off before one of them sinks its fangs into her arm, forcing her to drop the gun.
“No!” I cry out in anger and lunge at it, trying to pry its jaws open. “Let go!” I shout, my mind wild with self-preserving rage and the grey vanguard whines as it releases Yoona’s arm and slinks away. But the ordeal is not over. The grey vanguards transform into men in grey suits before my very eyes, much like Helene’s men in black and one of them kicks Yoona’s gun away.
“You have to come with us.”
“Who are you?”
“You will find out soon,” says another man in grey.
Yoona rises to her feet, shaking her arm out. “We’re not going anywhere. We will fight if we must.”
“Then you leave us with no choice.”
The eight remaining men in grey move forward, one of them lunging at me first. I scramble to the side, dodging him and Yoona delivers a swift kick to his leg, sending him to his knees. Her knee lifts, connecting with his face and I hear a blunt crack. He slumps to the floor, out cold, with blood streaming out from his nose and I stare at Yoona in awe. That was so cool!
My distraction proves to be my downfall as I find myself grabbed by two men in grey and my arms are locked behind my back. Yoona is busy fighting off the other men so I am left to my own devices. Possessing no knowledge of martial arts, I resort to kicking wildly, catching one of them in the shin. Unfortunately, that results me my legs being held together by one of them and I am hoisted face down on their shoulders with one insulting hand grabbing my butt to hold me fast.
“Yoona! Help!” I scream, while bucking my body as much as I can to make things difficult for my captors. She is still exchanging kicks and punches with the five other men but manages to deal a hard blow to one of them in the chin, sending him to the ground in a heap. But I see two of them transforming back into grey vanguards and pouncing onto Yoona, knocking her flat on her back. She rolls to her side, dodging a lethal foot aiming for her neck and pulls out a shuriken. Before I can see what is happening, one of the vanguards slumps to the ground and the other follows right after.
“Hold up your arms.”
This voice. I know this voice. Twisting my neck around to check, gives me the greatest surprise of my life.
“Hold them up!” he yells at the three men who are wrestling with Yoona.
The men carrying me make a dash for it but Max tosses two metallic flying objects at them and the next thing I know, I am crashing to the ground with them in a heap. The helmet I am still wearing protects my head from turning into mush but my neck bears the brunt of the impact as I lie awkwardly on my side. The men are groaning so I kick them away and scramble back onto my feet, running back to Yoona immediately. She bundles the men’s wrists and ankles together with cable ties and together with Max, all ten greys are bundled up and immobile.
Only then do I turn to Max, allowing my surprise to sink in. “Max, are you—what are you? How did you know—what’s going on?”
“I would love to tell you everything but before that—”
Something pricks my neck and I touch it. “What is . . .” My vision blurs and darkens. Then nothing.
“Taeyeon . . . wakey, wakey . . .”
I don’t want to open my eyes. Leave me alone.
“Wake up, Taeyeon . . .” Something tickles my nose. “We don’t have all day . . .”
“Just five more minutes,” I groan.
Something cold is pressed against my neck, shocking me into opening my eyes with a gasp. “I’m up, I’m up. What—” I pause in mid-sentence as memories come rushing back and sit up with a start. “Where am I? Where is Yoona?” I ask, while putting more distance between Max and myself.
“You’re in my safe house. I’m sorry I had to knock you out but I don’t want you or Yoona to know how to come here.”
“Max, I don’t know what you’re talking about. And my head is throbbing.”
“It’s a mild side effect of the tranquilizer I used on you. I gave Yoona a higher dosage. She’s still out cold but she’s safe in the next room.”
“Why are you doing this? What are you? Who are you?”
“I’m here to save you from the vulks.”
“The grey wolves. They’re vulks.”
“And how would you know that?” I ask, struggling to come to terms with who Max really is.
“I can’t say.”
“Then I can’t trust you.”
“You have to believe that I am trying to help you. You are under the influence of a delusional princess vampire.”
I am on my guard instantly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Tiffany Pink. Founder of PINK fashion empire. You’ve been spending time with her.”
“You would know that. I introduced the two of you in Artsupp.”
“Then you would know that she is in cahoots with Helene.”
“Helene is her vicist. I wouldn’t say they are cahoots.”
Max shakes his head. “You see, they have fooled everyone. The story about Yoohuan. Their hundred-years-long ‘cold war’. Everything is an illusion. Everything is a cover they devised to fool everyone.”
“And why would they need to do that?”
“They want you. They need you. You are their ultimate weapon against all the supers who are trying to stop them.”
Max nods. “I understand it is difficult for you to believe my words. Tiffany Pink has successfully made fall in love with her. She has been very smart—playing her game to a T and outwitting even the Feds. To be fair, the Feds have been plagued by many problems of their own so someone like Tiffany Pink would have no trouble pulling her act off in front of them.”
“I don’t get what you’re trying to say.”
“Taeyeon. I can’t be sure of the sort of lies she has been feeding you. But I believe she has used the love card as a reason for keeping you by her side. I also believe she is using the same card to justify all her actions—cruel or not. You saw how Olympias died. But do you know that Helene’s ties with Olympias run deeper than anyone else? I’m sure they have told you about Charles and his corruption. While I do not deny his offences, did they tell you that Helene was one of the backers that helped Charles to his current position?”
“No . . .”
“There are many things Tiffany Pink has not told you. There are many secrets she has been hiding. Her secrets, Helene’s secrets. It is a messy web and you are stuck in the middle of it because Helene wants to be the queen of the super universe and her fille is happy to help her. All these vanguard attacks are from supers who are trying to stop Helene. But with Tiffany Pink helping her and Helene’s wide and deep connections, it is too difficult.”
“Ms Pink has never wanted any of this,” I say, refusing to believe any of Max’s claims. “She could have joined the Feds but she rejected all opportunities.”
Max simply smiles and shakes his head. “Taeyeon, Tiffany Pink does not need to be in the Federation or Sovereign to wield her control over them. In fact, it suits her purpose to stay out. Helene wanted her to get in but she has resisted, an act that adds to the realism of their extended cold war. It was so convincing that most of us discounted them, thinking their power reduced by their separation. Sheer genius I would say, sheer genius to paint Helene as the unreasonable vicist forcing Tiffany Pink into helping her, since it is not uncommon for the ancient supers to be power hungry.”
“But Yoohuan . . . she died . . .”
“Yes. They claimed Sesgo is the one who destroyed Yoohuan. They blame Praeson for it too. But the complete truth is unknown to most. Their act is flawlessly convincing. Elaborate and extravagant to the point of incredible realism.”
“Do you know what happened to Yoohuan?” I ask, my curiosity ever so strong when it comes to Ms Pink’s past claim.
“I don’t know much, to be honest. But I do know enough to tell that Sesgo was set up to take the stab; her tendencies to transgress used against her to great effect.”
“Max, as much as I would like to believe you, I cannot. You still have not told me who are you—what you are. I can’t take your words over Ms Pink’s. She has been open with me. I know who she is. I know what she is.”
“Do you really?” Max holds my gaze and for a second, his eyes look like marbles, glassy and shiny. “Declining to tell you because of certain reasons I am unable to disclose is far more honest than telling you all sorts of half-truths, designed to weave a story that paints a false picture to serve a selfish purpose.”
I have nothing left to say. But Max is making some sense. What is the truth? And how can I find it?
“I don’t intend to hold you here for long. Just long enough to tell you this. Please think about what I have said but please don’t tell Tiffany Pink about any of this or you might be harmed.”
“Yoona already knows about this. She will report it to Ms Pink.”
“Yoona’s higher dose will wipe her most recent memories. I will hypnotise her and put in a story to explain the time lapse.” Max smiles. “Ice cream.”
“I called you for ice cream and Yoona brought you to meet me for some ice cream. That will be the story. Understand?”
I nod, not really knowing what to do but glad to know that he doesn’t plan to hurt me or Yoona. Getting out of here is my first priority. The truth will have to be pondered over later.
“Bye, Taeyeon. Thanks for coming when I called.”
Feeling dazed after everything, I simply wave back at him as Yoona starts her bike (which remained magically scratch-free after slamming into the grey vulk wall) and say, “Bye.”
The voice in my helmet speaks again. “Taeyeon.”
“What is taking you so long.”
“Ice cream.” The word finds its way out before I realize I have spoken.
“Come back now.”
“Yes, Ms Pink.”
Shortly, after getting back to Ms Pink’s apartment (Summer’s to be exact), I going about doing things, not feeling like myself. It is as though I am outside of my body, watching myself. Taeyeon is telling Ms Pink about her lecture. Taeyeon is telling Ms Pink about the ice cream she did not have. Taeyeon is entering the bedroom. Taeyeon is changing into a big, loose t-shirt (pink, of course) that falls to her thighs. Taeyeon is walking out to the living room. Is this what it is like to be possessed? It certainly feels like it.
“What is wrong?” Ms Pink asks. She has noticed the oddity. “Are you sick?” she asks, raising a hand to Taeyeon’s forehead.
“Ms Tiffany Pink.”
Ms Pink looks at Taeyeon, her eyes narrowed and suspicious. “Taeyeon?”
“What happened to Yoohuan exactly? I want to know everything about her.” Taeyeon almost gasps at herself then suddenly, I am back in my own body, seeing things from inside out.
“There is no need to talk about this,” Ms Pink answers.
“I need to know,” I steamroll on, unable to stop now.
“You don’t need to know.”
“If I don’t know, I can’t stay here anymore.”
Ms Pink’s eyes are orbs of dense pink. “You are asking for a spanking.”
“Why did you stop talking to Helene for such a long time?”
Ms Pink’s voice is so harsh that I don’t even recognise it anymore. Perhaps Max is right. I really don’t know Ms Pink at all. “I don’t know who you really are. I don’t know what the truth is anymore.”
“What kind of truth are you looking for.”
I lock my eyes with Ms Pink’s, holding them steadfast. “The truth.”
“There are many truths.”
“I don’t want to play games. I just want to know if you really stopped talking to Helene for a hundred years because of Yoohuan.”
The way Ms Pink looks at me is beyond strange and conflicted. I don’t get it. Why would she look at me like that? Unless . . .
“Who told you to ask me this question?”
“That is not important.”
“It is very important.”
“If you’re not going to answer my question, I’m not going to answer yours.”
A fiery force field encroaches my personal space. It is Ms Pink’s anger—recognizable by its intensity. But I am not affected by it. I am able to project a wall of my own, protecting myself from the fire.
“Taeyeon, who did you talk to today?”
I want to tell Ms Pink but something stops me from saying his name. Instead, I say, “The truth, Ms Pink. Tell me the truth.”
“You can’t handle the truth.”
“I have proven that I can handle more than you think,” I retort, maintaining my fiercest stare. Then, after the longest stare, just as my eyes are beginning to burn, Ms Pink finally speaks.
“Fine. I will give you the truth.”