The wait is unbearable. I really don’t know which is worse: Witnessing Ms Pink’s punishment or losing the right to be with her during the lashing. But I don’t have a choice in the matter so enduring my ignorance is what I have to do right now. Ms Pink had requested for a private chamber so that only four Feds would be present and it was granted. I know she wants to spare me the pain of watching but I really want to be there for her too. How I wish I could stand by her side and hold her hand.
Two hundred lashes. The methods of the Feds have not moved on with the times. Then again, it is hard to change old habits and we’re talking ancient habits here. Cruel and inhumane. But these aren’t humans we’re dealing with. I really have to wrap my mind around this fact. I have to be able to deal with them on their terms if I am to have any chance at beating them one day. One day. Just as Ms Pink said.
“You are very special.”
It is Yaelhu who speaks to me as he slides onto the seat beside me. I’m not sure what he’s up to so I remain silent and wear a polite smile.
“You are human, yet you can easily stand amongst the likes of Kharne, Miras and Princess Pan Ni. And to be the object of Princess Pan Ni’s affections . . . tell me, what is it like to be you?”
Yaelhu tosses his head back and laughs. “Yes, yes. Of course. It can’t be easy. But to be you, a mere mite of a girl, to be able to command of these ancients. It is incredible.”
“I am just me.”
His dark eyes burn into mine but I refuse to look away. “You really don’t understand how much power you hold.”
“I don’t hold any power. Everyone here is stronger than I am.”
“Do you really think so?” His eyes flash with deeper meaning. “You know what’s going on. You know why nobody is attempting to kill you. Your act doesn’t fool me.”
“What are you rambling about now? Leave the poor girl alone,” says Ayers, taking a seat on the other side of me.
“Don’t you wish you were like her? Effortlessly commanding so much power in her hands.”
Ayers side eyes Yaelhu. “It can’t be easy to be in her position. And she is in grave danger all the time. All it takes is a tip of the scales and she will—”
“Aye, aye.” Yaelhu flicks his wrist at Ayers with contempt. “You’re a wimp. Afraid of everything. You worry too much.”
I tune them out and focus on the frightening bit mentioned by Ayers. All it takes is a tip of the scales? What scales? What will it take to tip it? And what’s going to happen to me when it tips? This is the problem with Ms Pink keeping too many secrets. After everything we’ve been through, I’ve only just learnt a little more about her beginnings and how she came to be. But there is a whole new world out there I have yet to learnt about. The world that Ms Pink works and plays in.
“What is stopping the scales from tipping over?” I ask.
“Greed. Blackmail. You know, the usual.” Ayers says it with a smile but my insides feel anything but happiness.
“So it’s like a stalemate situation?”
“You could put it that way. But if any side loses a player, things will change.”
“Lose a player?” I don’t quite understand.
“That changed many things. We got a new Sovereign who is at loggerheads with Helene, which is good for us.”
Yaelhu nudges Ayers. “You’re talking too much now.”
But Ayers simply shrugs. “She’s human. And Princess Pan Ni already knows all these.”
“Wasn’t Olympias at loggerheads with Helene too?” I probe as subtly as I can.
Ayers snorts. “Olympias? No. They may hate each other but they would never kill each other. They’re the only four remaining ancients. Together they hold immense power.”
“But Kharne—” I begin to say but Ayers cuts me off.
“He’s the suspicious one. People think he’s all brawn and no brain but who knows if that was a shrewd move on his part to gain more power.”
“This—the politics is too much.” My mind is clogged with too many conspiracies and speculations.
Yaelhu shakes his head. “Welcome to the real world. Play the game, or be played.”
I am about to ask more about this game we’re playing when the doors slam open. I shoot to my feet and stare in horror at the bloodied body that Yuri and Miras are hauling.
She is unconscious.
“Ms Pink!” My tears are everywhere but I don’t care.
Yuri bends low and puts her lips right on my ear. “You better be worth it or I will kill you with my bare hands.” With that, she stalks away, leaving Ms Pink lying on the floor, a bloody mess.
“Sintix, some help here please,” Miras pleads and I can see that she is trembling slightly. I step aside to give Sintix space to wave his crystal wand over Ms Pink’s limp body and that’s when Charles walks into the hall, wielding a whip and leaving a trail of blood behind him.
A cry of rage bursts from within me and I launch myself at him, meaning to claw him to death but Kharne picks me up and holds me in the air.
“Stop your nonsense,” he roars, “or you will get the same punishment.”
“Kharne, she is upset. Put her down.” Edith’s calm voice soothes the commotion somewhat and Kharne does as he is told. But not before muttering a threat to separate my head from my body should I misbehave again.
“I am sorry. I know this looks terrible.” Edith holds my head away from Ms Pink and forces me to look into her eyes. “But she can take it. She did not faint from her injuries. She fainted from her trauma.”
My eyes widen. “T-Trauma?”
Edith nods and says quietly, “You should know the story.”
At once, I understand and I nod, calming down a little. “But she lost so much blood . . .”
“They will feed her some blood and she will be alright. Take good care of her tonight. She might get night terrors.”
I nod with vigour. Determined to care for Ms Pink the best that I can. “I will.”
“Good. Now, let Sintix heal her with his crystals and you will be on your way.”
“Thank you, Edith.”
The woman smiles and I can see right into her kind eyes. I am glad to have at least one good person and I smile right back, hoping she understands my meaning.
Yuri carries Ms Pink into Summer’s apartment and looks around, her face scrounging up in disgust. “This is where Pan Ni has been holed up in for the past couple of weeks?”
“Mhm. This is her sister’s apartment.”
“Her sister.” Yuri makes a sound out her nose which suggests she doesn’t think much of Summer. “Human. They are only sisters in name. Another load on Pan Ni’s back.”
Another load? Meaning one of the loads is me then. I decide it is wiser to hold my tongue for now. Yuri is obviously in a raging bad mood.
“Pan Ni has no business to be living in this squalid place.”
“This place isn’t squalid.” And it’s Summer’s apartment too!
Yuri turns her flashing red eyes on me. “Shut up. You’re the reason why Pan Ni is in this state so you’d better take care of her and nurse her back to health.”
“Of course I will. I love her and I will do everything for her,” I retort, angered by Yuri’s accusing tone.
Yuri stares at me for a moment and it would seem as though my declaration of love has silenced her for a beat. Then, she puts Ms Pink on the couch. Thank goodness Ms Pink isn’t bleeding anymore or the couch would be stained and I wouldn’t know how to explain it to Summer . . .
A bottle of green goo is shoved into my hands. “Put this on her wounds. And stay close. The night terrors will get her.”
Appearing to be satisfied with me at last, Yuri leaves the apartment like the wind and I’m left standing beside the couch where Ms Pink continues to ‘sleep’. I’m not sure why she’s still sleeping but it must be part of the healing since Yuri didn’t seem to think it odd. Looking around, I push the coffee table out of the way and lay some thick blankets on the floor. That will be my place for the night. Right beside my precious princess vampire.
Ms Pink tosses and turns for the first two hours and the green goo gets on the couch all over. In the end, I settle for laying a blanket under her so it doesn’t dirty the couch. She’s mumbling but I can’t make out anything she’s saying so I coo and hum and make what I hope are comforting sounds to settle her down. When I think about it, she’s literally like a baby having a restless night. And although I’m tired and in need of sleep, I keep myself busy. Wiping her down with a wet towel whenever the green goo gets onto her face, keeping her hair out of the green goo, keeping her flat on her back on the couch, just doing these things takes up all my time and I keep at it relentlessly, actively ignoring the fast fading whip marks all over her skin.
Four hours into her ‘sleep’ is when the ‘night terrors’ begin. It involves her screaming, almost crying, trying to get away from someone or something.
“Stop!” she screams at one point. “No more!”
Then it hits me. Her torture. She’s reliving her life of torture before she escaped it. The lashing she received must have triggered it. And that’s why both Edith and Yuri mentioned her night terrors. Does it mean both Edith and Yuri know about her past? If that is so, why Edith? Is she to be trusted too?
Too many questions swarm my mind so I set them aside and focus on Ms Pink. I pat her, whisper nice things in her ear and hug her when she gets more violent, flailing her arms and legs around. It is tiring but I stick at it and the hour passes.
Finally, she calms down and settles into what I think is deep sleep. This time, she’s smiling.
“Taeyeon,” she whispers and turns onto her side.
My heart thumps so hard inside me when I hear it. Like seeing the sun after a stormy night, warmth explodes all over me and I hug her, even though she cannot hug me back.
“Ms Pink,” I whisper in reply and tuck her in tight before finally sitting down on my heap of blankets to keep watch for the rest of the night.
Someone or something is nudging me but I want to sleep so I try to ignore it.
Someone or something is spanking my butt. Ow! My eyes spring open when it hurts. “What? What?”
“Why am I naked and green? And why are you here?”
I take one look at Ms Pink and her blazing pink eyes and laugh. “Naked and green?” I would laugh some more but Ms Pink spanks me again.
“Why are you here? Did you stay here all night?”
“Yes,” I say ruefully, rubbing my smarting butt.
Ms Pink frowns. “I told them to keep me away from you. It must have been Yuri. She never listens to me.”
“Why would you tell them to keep me away from you?”
Ms Pink takes hold of me and looks me up and down. “Did I hurt you last night?”
I shake my head. “You didn’t hurt me at all. Except maybe when you hugged me too hard at one point. It felt a little like you were trying to squeeze me to death.”
“I could’ve killed you. You shouldn’t have been left alone with me.”
“I don’t think you would’ve killed me. You smiled when you said my name.”
“Mhm,” I reply with a smile. “That’s how much you love me.”
Ms Pink tries to frown but fails. “I didn’t want you to see my night terrors.”
“Edith and Yuri warned me about it. I was prepared.”
“Those two. I will give them a piece of my mind.”
“No, please don’t. I think they knew what they were doing. They knew I wanted to take care of you. Yuri was angry with me but she still let me stay the night with you.”
“Why was Yuri angry with you?”
“She said I’m the reason you’re staying in this apartment. And I’m also the reason why you were punished.”
Ms Pink grabs my face and holds me still so our eyes have to meet. “Don’t listen to her.”
I try to nod but can’t. “It doesn’t bother me. I know you won’t want me to feel guilty. So I’m taking good care of you to make it up to you.”
“You don’t have to make anything up to me.”
“Well, I’m taking care of you because I love you. Not because I’m sorry.”
Ms Pink smiles. “Good. That’s what I want to hear.”
“What is it, stupid human.”
“You’re so different this morning. It’s not like you at all.”
Ms Pink’s eyes flash ardent pink. “I’m not different. I’m just injured. I’ll be back to normal by midday.”
“I like you like this too.”
I nod and smile. “Mhm.” And I fight to keep all of my guilt and apologies down below the surface. “I love you, no matter which shade of pink you are.”
Our lips meet in a voracious kiss and it isn’t until my hand lands in a patch of sticky green goo that we stop and pull apart.
“Now we have to clean you up too,” says Ms Pink with a devilish glint of pink in her eyes.
I grin. “Yes, please clean me up, Ms Pink.”
Wrapping my legs around her waist, Ms Pink hugs me to her body and carries me into the bathroom, leaving a trail of green footprints all across the floor. But right then, I don’t really care at all. Because Ms Pink is well again and despite all the chaos that’s happening in the world out there, we’ve got each other. And that’s what matters right now.