I don’t know how I got home but I managed to, somehow. And now, as I stand in the bathroom, staring at my reflection, I am amazed at how calm I am. There’s no flipping out, no tantrums, no punching of pillows; none of the usual things I do when I am stressed or upset. Does this mean I’m not affected by the ‘secret’ Yuri told me? I doubt that. It must be shock so deep that my mind has yet to register it and therefore, yet to panic over.
Yoona. Who would have thought. Ms Pink might be a three-centuries-old princess vampire but I am only human. How am I supposed to handle this knowledge? How am I supposed to react to this? I’ve been giving my blood to this woman. 10cc each time. 10cc of my blood going to the bloodline of Yoohuan. I don’t know how I should feel about it. Do I sound petty now? Maybe. But I don’t care. I’m not happy about it and I have every reason to feel this way.
My room is my hiding place for the rest of the day. I don’t even go out when Sunny comes home. It’s like some kind of dark cloak has fallen over me, wiping out all the light in my world. Plainly speaking, it’s a really, really sucky feeling and I hate it. I try to distract myself. I have games on my phone that I haven’t played since meeting Ms Pink. I have my sketchbook for drawing and colouring. I have the bed that I’m lying on. And music on speakers. But no matter what I do, the discomfort just doesn’t go away.
A strange draft has entered my room. It’s swirling around me. A presence. Wrapping around me. Stopping me from breathing. It pulls me. I know it is here in my room but I can’t open my eyes. I’m stuck in my sleep. There’s no way out of this lucid dream. Only, I know it’s not a dream. I try to grab at something. The sheets, my pillow, anything, but I’m dragged away just the same. Screaming. In my head.
“You can open your eyes now.”
The voice is deep and strangely familiar, growling like a dangerous beast. But the gentle tone belies the frightening sound so I remain impressively calm as I bid my eyes to open. The sky opens to me, and I am dazzled by the shimmering light of a million stars in the azure sea high up above.
“Wow . . .”
“The sky has charmed you, I see.”
Sitting up, I look away from the breath-taking sight to meet my captor. “G-Gerant?” The same angry-red horns, mess of brown curly fur and steely black eyes as big as cannon balls are illuminated by the moon and stars. He, should I say, is intimidating to say the least. But a gut feeling tells me I am not in danger. “Why are you here? Where am I?”
“You’re in the Dark Thicket.”
“The Dark Thicket? Are we still in Shaw?”
“Yes, we are.”
“Shaw is bigger than you realize. We are in a part of Shaw that people don’t venture into. It is for us, beasts of the superworld.”
“Why did you bring me here if it isn’t for humans?”
“When I first saw you with Her Highness, I knew you possess something special. Something that makes you stand out from a crowd of a billion. You have a charm, quiet and unassuming but the power within you does not escape my senses.”
“How . . .”
“I am a creature of two millenniums. I have had time to sharpen my senses so nothing escapes me.”
“Which means you knew?”
Gerant nods slowly, his great red horns tilting against the deep blue sky, great black orbs reflecting me in them.
“Did you tell anyone?”
“No, I did not.”
“It is not my business.”
“But I am here now. You brought me here.”
“The political landscape has changed. It is beginning to affect the beasts of the Dark.”
“I don’t know how I can help you though. I’m quite useless. I’ve brought nothing but trouble for Ms Pink.”
“You are going to be a formidable force in time. It will come to you eventually.”
“You might have to wait a long time.” A cool breeze sweeps by, making me shiver. “I’m nowhere near the state you’re talking about.”
“Did you feel that?”
I stare into Gerant’s giant black orbs. “Feel the breeze?”
“That was not a breeze.”
Spooked to the core of my bones, I look around, expecting to see a ghost or something creepy that will give me endless nightmares. Nothing. There’s nothing.
“That was energy.” Gerant grunts and shifts a mammoth of a hoof. I watch as he rises with surprising agility, making moving that mountain of a body look effortless. He towers over me, a tiny mite of a human, standing tall like a heap of five or six elephants combined. “Her Highness has been training you, attuning you to the movement of energy, widening the range of your senses. But it is not enough.”
“Does she know you took me here?”
“She does not. I sent my captes to bring you here.”
“Your captes?” I am confused now. Does that mean— “Wait. The captes at my window. Those belong to you?”
“I did not sent captes to your window. That must have been arranged by Her Highness to protect you.”
“Well, they didn’t protect me from you.”
Gerant chuckles, which technically sounds more like a thunderstorm rolling across the sky and it gives me a rude shock. “With all due respect, Her Highness does not know them better than I do. All captes are summoned from this thicket by me. So naturally, the captes at your window would join mine when they appear. But they are most effective against everything else—everyone else.”
My eyes narrow into shrewd slits as I evaluate Gerant’s words. “Ms Pink trusts you.”
“Not so much trust, as understand. Her Highness understands that I have no wish to join in the trivialities of that world, that I would not aid or sabotage any side involved.”
“But you’re kind of helping me right now, aren’t you?”
Gerant chuckles again. It isn’t as shocking as the first time but I would rather not hear it again. “I am not helping you. I am helping myself. And the beasts in this thicket.”
“In doing so, aren’t you getting involved?”
“My, my, you do have many questions, don’t you?”
“Ms Pink has commented on it too. She . . . didn’t use to have much patience for my questions.”
“That sounds like Her Highness. Always passionate. Always eager. Her impatience is a product of them. But to answer your question, what I am doing right now is neutral to the situation.”
“What are you doing right now?”
“Introducing you to the beasts of the Dark Thicket.”
Upon Gerant’s words, eyes light up in the trees and bushes surrounding us. I turn around on my feet, looking into the darkness as more and more pairs of eyes, some yellow, some green, appear. At first, all they do is blink and stare. Then, after a long tense moment in which I keep perfectly still, hardly daring to breathe, they begin to step out from the shadows in droves. To my utter horror, these are the very beasts that have pursued and hunted me previously and I find myself shrinking back, hiding behind Gerant’s mighty hooves.
“Do not be afraid. They will not harm you.”
“I—I don’t exactly trust vanguards after being repeatedly attacked by them. And the yenews, the patagons, the borens . . .” I shudder as the memories of these men-beasts flood my mind.
“Morph, please,” says Gerant and they nod.
I watch from the safety of Gerant’s hoof as they begin to transform into men. Shaggy men but men nonetheless. They are fantastically hairy which is fortunate for me because they aren’t wearing anything. Not even the smallest pair of briefs.
“They look . . . so wild . . .” I whisper.
“They are wild. They roam among the trees across the vast land as they wish. There is nothing to stop them from living their lives freely. And I want to keep it that way.”
Sometimes, the key lies in what isn’t said.
“Is there someone who might interfere with the freedom here?”
Sad eyes meet mine. “Every now and then, some humans wander in here and destroy our land. That is understandable since humans are . . . clueless. But some time back, there was a vampire who was sniffing around and cutting trees down. That is a violation of the law. We are protected and this land is ours so the law protects it too. It is not a good sign when a super breaks this law. It can only mean there is a scheme hatching somewhere.”
“I remember meeting you on the way to see the Sovereign and I think I remember you saying something about a vampire and a tree. That was long before everything happened so you are right—there was a scheme but the mastermind is gone now. Olympias was beheaded by Kharne.”
“Things are never as simple as they appear to be. It never is in politics.”
“It sounds like you learnt it the hard way.”
“Two thousand years of existence will do that to you.”
“So instead of defending your land in the world of politics, you are introducing me to your friends so that I will defend the Dark Thicket for you?”
“You are perceptive.”
“I’m not sure you’re placing your trust in the right place. This entire land is a great responsibility and there is a high chance I might fail. Too many lives are at stake.”
“Living for this long, you’ll learn many things. One of them is reading the stars. I chose tonight because the stars are at their best. Just look. Look at the millions of stars in the sky tonight. Yet, what this spectacular view really tells us is the sheer number of stars that have already died.”
Just like that, Gerant has ruined star gazing for me forever. Damn it.
“Their final moment of life that once was, is visible right now. That is a great gift to us, from a place so far away we can only dream of ever getting there. And in them, lie the secrets of the universe. The way they twinkle, the way they shimmer, the way they are facing—these factors tell a story. They tell us history. But because light travels much faster than anything else, it is like a cheat that brings you the answers before the questions even appear.”
“And how does any of it apply to me?”
“You see, you are thinking outside-in, when really, it should be inside-out. The stars tell the story of the universe they saw along the way here. That means we see the effect before the cause.”
“I still don’t understand. How do you see anything? What exactly do you see?”
“Energy. Starlight is a form of energy. And knowing what happened along the way is essential to the reading of energy movements, energy forces.”
“So the energy from the stars is telling you I will help you one day?”
Gerant almost smiles. “Something like that.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“Look into their eyes. Look.”
Trusting in Gerant, I take a cautious step forward and face the crowd of men-beasts. Looking carefully at them, I realize that some of them are actually female. Some of them look older, some younger; each different in their own way. They aren’t like the ones who attacked me.
“These are wild. The ones you encountered never got a chance to set foot in this natural habitat. They were bred for the purposes of their owners’ choice.”
“I see . . .”
“You have seen enough. It’s time for you to leave. I hope you will remember what you’ve seen and felt here when the time comes.”
I must have been knocked out because I don’t remember coming back to my room but here I am when I open my eyes, sun streaming in, giving everything a warm orange glow. In a way, it almost seems like a dream but I know without a doubt it wasn’t because something inside of me has changed. Dreams don’t do that to people. Only experiences do.
Sunny is at the breakfast table when I step out of my room. I join her and we talk randomly about our plans for the day. But my ears prick up when she brings up this morning’s news.
“The entire family. Two adults, two kids. Killed. Blood drained.”
“Yeah, scary, right?”
“When was this?”
“Just an hour ago. The neighbours discovered it and the news went viral.”
An hour ago. Which means Ms Pink might be busy again . . .
“I hope they catch the murderer quickly. I don’t feel good knowing that such a violent person is wandering around.”
Or vampire . . . “I hope so too.” Then Ms Pink can come back earlier.
An e-mail comes in while I’m browsing the internet randomly.
Subject: See Me
It is time for me to deal with you.
You Belong To Me,
Several minutes later, I am still staring at the e-mail when a subtle shift in the air alerts me to Ms Pink’s arrival. I look up just in time to see her entering through the window, crouching to get into my room.
“Ms Pink, you’re—”
Hands clamp onto my face and I am lifted up from my chair as lips crush mine. The unexpectedness of the kiss renders me compliant at first and I return her kiss instinctively but a part of me remembers what I have been planning to say to Ms Pink and pushes her away.
“Wait,” I manage to say before Ms Pink can kiss me again.
She halts, hands still holding my face, hungry eyes fixed on mine. She doesn’t say a word. All she does is stare, and wait.
“I have something to—”
“Yoona and Yoohuan. Is that what you want to talk about before we have sex?”
“We aren’t necessarily going to have sex but yes, I want to talk to you about them.” Extracting my face from Ms Pink’s hands, I turn and walk to my bed to sit. “Yuri must have told you it.”
“All she said was: I told Taeyeon about Yoona.” Ms Pink sits beside me, our arms touching. “She didn’t tell me anything else.”
“Am I in trouble for going to High Society without telling you?”
If Ms Pink’s eyes are any indication, the deep pink in them pretty much guarantees my impending punishment. But I am ready for it. Nothing is going to stop me from talking about this.
“Before you punish me, tell me the truth about Yoona.”
“What do you want to know?”
“I can’t tell you everything.”
“There is no need—”
“For me to know everything.” I stare right into Ms Pink’s flaming eyes. “I know. And I agree, for the most part. There isn’t a need for me to know everything. But this part of you, this bit concerns you and me. I would be lying if I tell you it doesn’t affect me, even though I trust you.”
“No, you don’t trust me. That is why you need to know.”
“I do. I trust you have not cheated on me after things got serious. But that doesn’t mean I don’t mind giving my blood to the descendant of your very first love.”
“Fine. If you must know. Yoona is the great-great-great granddaughter of Yoohuan.”
“Great-great-great granddaughter . . .”
“Yes. Yoohuan . . . she was already a mother when I claimed her. Back in those days, women became mothers before the age of twenty and Yoohuan was no different. Especially being the beauty that she was. But her husband had died and left her with no protection from the world of bastards so I stepped in and claimed her.”
“You didn’t claim her because you loved her?” I ask, surprised by this little twist.
“I fell in love after, not before.”
“What about her child?”
“She had just one son. After her death, I sent him away to a wealthy family. I did not interfere with his life, but I did keep tabs on him so I knew when he in turn, had a son too. And a daughter. His circumstances were rather unusual, however, and his two children had different mothers. Then his son had a son too and it went on and on until now. Yoona.”
“What sort of feelings do you have for Yoona?”
With eyes of light pink, Ms Pink smiles and says, “Whenever I look at her, I can’t help but feel like a mother. I loved Yoohuan and Yoona is her descendant. So to me, Yoona is like a child, regardless of her present age.”
“What about her slayer abilities?”
“Yoohuan was a powerful bait. That’s part of the reason why I claimed her. So it is no surprise that Yoona is a strong slayer.”
“Never once have you ever felt a spark of romance in Yoona?”
Ms Pink shakes her head. “I watched Yoona grow up. She is like a great-great-great granddaughter to me.”
“So why have you never told me about this?”
“There’s no need for you to know.”
“I really, really dislike this principle of yours. I may be a stupid human to you, but there are things that I should know, things that I need to know.”
“Yoohuan died a hundred years ago. If I were to tell you three hundred years’ worth of everything, half of your life will be over by the time I’m done.”
“But Yoona’s relation to Yoohuan is more significant. Yoohuan was your first love after all. A very passionate and tumultuous first love.”
“After all this time, those feelings have changed. The passion is gone.”
“Fair enough,” I relent, having gained a partial understanding of Ms Pink’s reasoning. “So Yoona is more like family to you now.”
“That’s what I said.”
“Okay. I understand.” A pout springs onto my face. “Doesn’t mean I’m not jealous.”
Ms Pink barely moves but a fast hand grabs me and I end up lying face down over Ms Pink’s lap. “I have given you the explanation you seek.” Her hand smooths over my butt cheeks. Squeezing, rubbing . . . “Next, your punishment.”