Lakkos. Ttrowtos. Qas Sogok. Erika. Black Death. Blue Death.
I wake screaming just as a creepy, swirling cloud of darkness swallows me whole. I am alone. In the dark. Ms Pink had gone somewhere with Helene for the past three nights and hasn’t returned yet. All three nights have me waking up screaming just as I did during the last week of my sixty-day separation from Ms Pink. It worries me.
Like the past two nights, my body is warm and the heat is building up from the inside, impatient to push through my skin. It’s like a fever but different. It’s more like a fever that is angry. A fever that wants to be unleashed. A fever takes almost an hour before it subsides, burning up all the strength I have in me.
When I finally get myself out of bed, it’s not dark anymore. Light has broken through and is lighting up the room. It’s a weekday. I have to go to work.
A lot has changed at Rainbow since I started working here. The exterior of the lobby, for starters, is now as luxurious as PINK’s lobby. An as-large-as-life rainbow literally looms up ahead as I climb the stairs. It glitters in seven different colours and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were visible from space, just like PINK is.
Upon entering the lobby, the illusion of the sky is painted across the ceiling and paintings of great fluffy clouds stretch over the walls, end to end. The reception counter is a cartoonish rainbow sitting on two fluffy white clouds. And above the head of the receptionist hangs the name of this subsidiary company, in case anyone hasn’t caught on yet. R. A. I. N. B. O. W. Each letter a colour of the rainbow, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.
The button lights up in running colours when I press it. The elevator doors are rainbow-striped while the interior is full of fluffy clouds again. Eight levels take just seconds in the elevator but my office is on the third floor so I get off on third and head for my office.
I don’t really know why, but I get an office all to myself. Maybe it’s because I’m the only product marketing designer. Maybe . . . it’s Ms Pink. But she had promised not to make any special arrangements for me. Then again, a princess vampire like Ms Pink is bound to break a few promises every now and then. Whatever the case is, I’m not complaining. Having an office to myself is awesome.
Taking out my personal set of colouring tools, I set up my design desk for the day. But before work can begin, coffee is required. A trip to the pantry and a casual chat with a co-worker later, a steaming hot mug of coffee sits on my writing desk. I sip at it, browsing the internet for ideas and inspiration. This is one of my slower mornings.
By lunchtime however, things are heating up. A stroke of inspiration struck about an hour ago and I’ve been hard at work on my tablet ever since, after sketching the idea on my sketchbook. Now, as the clock ticks to one, I have produced, digitally, an entire set up for the display of a new line of cosmetics by playing around with curves and colours. I’m sure the team will like it.
After saving a copy of the files, I start the export process. This is usually the part that makes me a little nervous but this time, I feel something more than nerves. Something cold trickling down my back. Something chilling that completely unsettles me. The hairs on my neck and arms are standing. Something is wrong.
I stand and back up against the wall behind me. There’s something at the door. All my senses are pointing at it. Someone knocks on the door.
“Taeyeon, are you in there?”
I recognise the voice. It belongs to the receptionist. “Yes, I am.”
“There’s a couple of nice gentlemen here to see you.”
“I-I don’t have an appointment today . . . do I?”
“Yes, they have an appointment with you at one o’clock.”
The clock ticks to one right as she finishes her sentence but I’m pretty sure there is no appointment. “I don’t think—”
The door opens. Instinctively, I press my back up against the wall, wishing it would disappear and let me out. The man who steps in is remotely familiar. I have seen his heart-stopping handsome face before. But I can’t recall the time or place.
“Good afternoon, Ms Kim,” he begins with a bow as two more handsome men enter my office and stand behind him. “Do you remember who I am?”
I shake my head, unwilling to let go of the wall just yet.
The man steps forward again and the men behind him close the door. His wholesome grin looks suspicious to me. “I am Ariz. A member of the Sovereign.”
“T-The Sovereign? But why are you here?”
“I am here to invite you.”
“To a party?”
Ariz’s grin widens. “You are cute.” He takes another step closer and my heart thumps faster as I try not to panic. “It is not a party. But it could be, if you are wise.”
My eyes blink rapidly out of nerves and uncertainty. “I’m not wise.”
“You may surprise yourself.”
“It doesn’t happen to me.”
Ariz shakes his head with a smile. If I weren’t feeling trapped and in danger, I would probably be gushing over his deep set eyes of an unworldly swirl of green and blue and his chiselled nose that looks like a god personally designed and crafted it. “Ms Kim Taeyeon. You will not regret accepting the invitation.”
“Is that a threat?”
“It is a piece of wisdom.”
Narrowing my eyes, I try to assess if Ariz is to be trusted. “Why will I regret if I don’t accept?”
“You may lose someone you love.”
My heartrate doubles. “Someone I love? Who?”
“Who do you love?”
“I love my friends.”
“Who do you truly love?”
“Why are you doing this? You are a Sovereign member. This is wrong.”
“There is no right or wrong. There is only a way or another. You have been invited kindly, but you did not accept. Therefore, it is only reasonable to give you a good reason to accept the invitation.”
“It is not an invitation if I am forced to accept it.”
Ariz moves so quickly that his face is an inch from mine within the span of a blink and I stop breathing as fear seizes me. My fingers curl into my palm. My teeth clench. My eyes burn. His eyes are mesmerizing and I’m moderately aware of a circle of power around me. Then it hits me. I’ve seen that look in Helene’s eyes before. Ariz is trying to control my mind! But fortunately, I am not affected by his efforts. Instead, I allow anger to fill my heart and will myself to unleash my rage.
“You will not die by my hands today. But you will die tomorrow when you find out what you have let happen.”
A loud grunt, followed by a roar tears at my ears as Ariz flinches and takes a step back. At once, the two handsome men behind him pull off their clothes and transform into large foxes, dark brown and terrifying with their menacing sharp teeth. “Aza fanova!” The foxes revert into human form, and pick up their clothes, donning them at lightning speed.
This would be comical on any other day but not today. Still holding on to my anger, I take deep, chest-heaving breaths as I keep my eyes on Ariz and his patagons. “Get out.”
“If I leave without you,” Ariz’s eyes are blazing turquoise now, “your lover will die.”
“Who is my lover!”
“Very smart. Why does Pan Ni say you are a stupid human when you are so clever?” Ariz laughs. “Was she trying to lower my guard to make it harder for me?”
Stupid human. How does Ariz know about this? Did he hear it from Ms Pink or through a lapse of Ms Pink’s castle security? “I can’t trust you.”
Ariz draws out a pink gun. It is unmistakably pink. And I only know one princess vampire that owns a pink gun. “This bullet contains your blood. If I shoot you, it will hurt, and I will still take you from here.”
All of my anger evaporates with an exhale of defeat. If Ariz has Ms Pink’s gun . . . there are two possibilities. One, Ms Pink is his ally and he’s bringing me to help her. Two, Ms Pink is his enemy and he’s bringing me to her to torment her. Neither scenario lessens my worry, however, so there is only one thing left to do.
“I accept the invitation,” I say in a low voice.
“Smart. You really are smarter than she said you are.” Ariz nods at his patagons. “Take her.”
The two men move to my side immediately.
“I won’t run,” I say.
“I know,” Ariz replies with a smile. “They are only escorting you to our mode of transport.” He bows. “I formally thank you for accepting the invitation.”
“You haven’t told me what I’m invited to,” I say as we begin walking out of my office.
“A meeting. Underground.”
“Follow me and don’t say a word.”
The receptionist is still hovering outside my office when we step out. She smiles at Ariz and asks, “Would you like to leave now?”
“This way, please.”
It is the weirdest thing. I’m sure Ariz has done something to the receptionist. Some kind of mind control. Thankfully, it doesn’t work on me. I guess there are some perks to my blood after all. As we get to the parking lot in the basement, an idea occurs to me.
“Where is your car?” I point to Ms Pink’s not-a-gift to me. “Mine’s right here.”
Unfortunately, Ariz doesn’t bite. “We will take mine. Keep walking.” Then, turning to the receptionist, he smiles and pats her shoulder. “Thank you for sending us to our car. You may get back to your work now.”
“It’s my pleasure, Mr Ariz. I hope to see you again.”
As I look at the stars that are in the receptionist’s eyes, I begin to wonder if it is even necessary for Ariz to control her mind. She looks completely smitten by him and would probably do whatever he says anyway. Rolling my eyes at that thought, I follow Ariz to a huge black monster of a car. A patagon opens the backseat door for me and another patagon enters from the other side as I get in. Right, of course. This was never an invitation.
The car ride is smooth and comfortable. Ordinarily, I would fall asleep during long car rides, but I am unusually awake the whole way this time.
“Where are we going?” I ask Ariz, when the scenery changes from that of a city to rural.
“Where is Nam?”
“Southland. Far down south.”
“Is Ms Pink there?”
“Maybe she’s not there and this is a trick to get me to go there.”
“Perhaps you’re not so smart after all. I am a Sovereign. I do not need to resort to trickery to transport you to Nam.”
Sinking lower into the leather seat, I sigh. Ariz is right. It did occur to me too, that he doesn’t actually need me to accept the invitation. So there must be a reason for it. There must be a purpose. But I don’t know what it is.
Car abandoned. Speed-carried by Ariz.
This is not my idea of transportation, but I have no choice but to allow him to carry me. I suppose I should try to enjoy it since the receptionist would probably kill me if she knew. Then again, no. I want Ms Pink. Only Ms Pink. She is going to be so mad if she finds out Ariz speed-carried me to her.
Ariz moves at supernatural speed into the thick forest and gets to a spot where the canopy blocks all sunlight from the forest floor. My eyes try their best to adjust to the dark but even after a minute, all I see are blurred shadows.
It’s a good thing he is holding onto me when he stops because I almost fly into the air from the momentum. Then, I’m set back on the ground.
I notice the way Ariz’s voice deepens when he speaks in this foreign language. “What did you say?”
There is rustling on the ground. Alarmed, I hop away and hide behind Ariz. The ground has parted. How?
“This way, Kim Taeyeon.”
“I can’t see the inside—” It all ends here. My life. Ariz sends me onto my butt on the ground and pushes me into the black hole. With a scream, I prepare for death, while sliding down into the darkness. It goes on forever. Does death take this long? Suddenly, it ends. For real. I hit something relatively soft but gooey and roll a few times over onto my face. Urgh.
I can only groan but it turns into a shriek when Ariz picks me up again and bursts off at supernatural speed. “Where are we?”
A burst of light from nowhere explodes in my eyes, making them squeeze shut because it’s too bright.
“We are here.”
I am lowered back onto the ground and my eyes open slowly, wary of the light. There are some figures but I can’t see them clearly. “Ms Pink, are you here?”
“She is not here,” a feminine voice answers.
“Who is it?” I ask, backing away in fear until Ariz holds my shoulders still.
“I am Glazia.”
Squinting helps me to make out two figures in front of me. If one is Glazia . . .
“I am Cartu.” The second figure advances on me.
Accustomed to the light by now, I am shocked by the tremendous scar on Cartu’s face. “What’s going on? Where is Ms Pink?”
Glazia steps forward. “We are not sure about her current location.”
“But that’s not what Ariz said!”
“Pan Ni was last known to be meeting Qas Sogok at an undisclosed location. We have not heard from her for more than twenty-four hours.”
“Ms Pink is missing?” I gasp in horror.
Glazia nods. “That is why we need you here.”