It is another long journey. This time, through the underground tunnel. And after we come back out into the open, do I find out that we are only just half way to the outskirts of Nam.
“You mean that underground place we were at isn’t in Nam?”
“We were out of Shaw but not in Nam,” Glazia replies.
“Ariz, you lied to me.”
“I never said we were in Nam.”
“But you said we were going to Nam.”
“Exactly. I didn’t say we had reached Nam.”
“Is Ms Pink really in Nam?”
“We suspect it but we really don’t know,” Glazia admits, her blood-shot eyes making me more and more uncomfortable as she stares at me. “We tried to track her via satellite but we couldn’t find her.”
“Then why Nam?” I ask, my anxiety rising as I realise just how little they know about Ms Pink’s whereabouts.
“We know Qas Sogok has secret ownership of property here. And—” Glazia shares a look of worry with Cartu, “the blue murders have been travelling south.”
“But that is still only a guess.”
“A calculated guess,” Cartu interjects. “We don’t know how or why Pan Ni ended up with him, but we think he asked to meet her on his territory and to show her alliance, she must have agreed to meet him. We would have advised her against it if she told us before she went.”
“But I haven’t seen her since she told me she was going somewhere with Helene. That was three days ago. How do you know she only went missing a day ago?”
“She managed to send us a code two days ago. And another yesterday. But that contact was lost twenty-nine hours ago.”
“What kind of code?”
“It was probably hard for her to send it. Each code only contained one word. The first code said ‘stupid’ and the second said ‘human’.
My heart stops for a beat. Why did Ms Pink spend her limited chances to ask for help on calling me? Am I really the help she needs? Nothing makes sense.
Everything the Sovereigns have told me so far sounds legitimate but I still harbour doubt. Maybe this is an elaborate plan to take me far away from Ms Pink and kill me. On some level, I think I would rather this be the truth than the other version they have been telling me. Because if the other version is true . . . Ms Pink is probably in danger. Or in pain. Or both.
A thought strikes me. Is this why I’ve been having nightmares for the past few nights? Scary, dark, chilling nightmares. I had bad dreams in the week before Ms Pink came back to me too. Is this a sign that I will find Ms Pink soon?
“How are we going to find Ms Pink?”
“You will,” Cartu answers before Glazia does.
“But I don’t know how to find her.”
“You have her essence.”
“Her essence is inside you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Pan Ni has been infusing her essence into your body. This way, you will be immune and she cannot turn you into a vampire,” Glazia explains.
I think my mind just exploded. “What? Ms Pink has been doing this without telling me? For how long?”
“Since she went back to you.”
“She planned it from the beginning?”
“Pan Ni has put a lot of thought into this.”
“Ms Pink has never mentioned you as her allies.”
Everyone in the moving vehicle laughs but me.
“You are a rookie,” says Ariz between his chuckles. “You have much to learn.”
“Ms Pink has much to explain,” I mutter under my breath.
Ariz chuckles more and it irritates me. Doesn’t he understand the concept of asking for permission to deposit one’s “essence” in someone else’s body? These old farts have been around for so long but their manners are hardly up to par with their age.
The Sovereigns fall into silence after this little episode and I am perfectly happy to stew my unhappiness without any interruptions. Just wait till I find Ms Pink. Just. Wait.
We get on another vehicle after coming out of the tunnel and Ariz resumes driving. The ground below us becomes rockier and rougher as we go on. Eventually, the road disappears completely and we are driving over fallen branches and bushes in darkness. It is utter wilderness where we are and I half expect some kind of wild animal to attack us when my stomach growls. Without a word, Glazia takes a sandwich out from the compartment in the door and hands it to me. I thank her and munch on it gratefully.
We come to a stop shortly after I finish my sandwich. The doors open and a chill enters, making me shiver. My shirt and workpants provide little protection from the cold wind and I am rubbing my hands and arms when Ariz puts a black jacket over my shoulders.
“You need to stay warm,” Ariz says with a smile.
“We need to move fast,” Cartu says with a frown.
We move swiftly and silently. Ariz is carrying me again and it is twice as embarrassing as before with the other Sovereigns around. So, I turn my attention to my blur surroundings. Tall trees, straight and thick, stand in the foggy air, still as can be. Apart from the Sovereigns’ footsteps on the forest floor, I hear nothing else. This place is completely deserted. There is nothing here.
At Glazia’s word, we halt. I am allowed to stand on my own again, much to my relief. Looking around, I spot some curious colours around the forest. Some of the trunks have a purple sheen, as though brinjal slime had been coated on. Others have a curious turquoise, pearly sheen. But do I want to know what the sheen really is?
“Where are we? Why did we stop here?” I ask.
“We are setting up base here,” says Cartu.
“Aren’t we going to look for Ms Pink first?”
“You need to sleep.”
“No, I don’t. I want to look for Ms Pink.”
The Sovereigns ignore my demands and create a cosy little camp of leaves and jackets between four trees while I stand and stare, feeling utterly useless.
“Sleep,” says Glazia as she gives me a push. “We will continue the search after you get some rest.”
There’s only one thing left to do. Lie down and try to sleep.
Ms Pink is walking to me. I can see her. She is smiling. Just for me. She is smiling the smile that means she wants me. I know that smile well. I can read it in her eyes. Pink and daring me to defy her, Ms Pink glides to me like the princess vampire she is and takes my soul through our lips. My back arches. It always does. My body always wants to get closer to Ms Pink. My body always wants more of Ms Pink.
“Ms Pink . . .” I can only gasp as my princess vampire latches her lips down my neck, licking and sucking her way across my skin, going where she pleases. The heat. The fire. The burn. My skin is on fire. “Ms Pink . . .”
I reach out for Ms Pink. Her face. Her body. Her heart. But my hands get nothing. “Ms Pink?” No matter what I do, I’m trapped and I can’t reach her. “Ms Pink!” My eyes spring open and I sit up, chest heaving from the dream and the burn that’s going on inside.
“Did you see Pan Ni?” Glazia is right beside me, staring.
“Ms Pink.” I blink. “I was dreaming.”
“But did you see her?”
“Was she in pain?”
Shaking my head, I say, “No, she wasn’t in pain.”
“That’s a good sign.”
“What do you mean?”
“It means Pan Ni isn’t dead—or half-dead. Yet.” Turning to the other Sovereigns, she says, “Get going. We have to find her. Fast.”
I am almost getting used to piggyback-riding on Ariz’s back when a stab of pain hits me in the guts. I cry out in pain and the Sovereigns screech to a halt.
“What happened?” Glazia asks, her eyes searching me up and down.
“Pain. My stomach.” I clutch at my abdomen and groan. This feels worse than any menstrual cramp I’ve ever had to deal with. The pain is sharp and deep. It’s tormenting.
“Bad sign. But we must be getting closer.” Cartu looks at the palm-sized device he’s been holding since we starting searching. He taps on it and turns a full circle. “Possible obstruction to the southwest,” he says, and the search resumes.
A few moments later, I sense the air around us shifting. I think the Sovereigns can sense it too because they slow down and proceed more cautiously. This is when I realise that the sheen on the trees in this area is rusty red instead of the brinjal purple I saw earlier. The Sovereigns exchange looks when I point this out and with a nod, they fan out and walk carefully in different directions.
“What are we separating?” I whisper in Ariz’s ear.
“To widen our search. We are looking for an entrance.”
“Like the one that goes underground?”
My heart begins to thump harder and my anxiety rises as another throb of pain hits me. Is this pain connected to Ms Pink somehow? Is it because of the essence she infused into my body? I need to see Ms Pink. I need to see her, alive and in one piece. Please, please, please. Don’t be dead.
Ariz stops suddenly and I almost fly over his head. “Cartu found something,” he tells me, and sets off at top speed in another direction. I cling on to him, desperate to see what Cartu found. But when we finally get to him, I am unimpressed.
“That’s it?” I ask, staring at the ruins of a tiny castle about fifty metres from the trees we are hiding behind. It stands there in the near distance, desolate and lonely, with the still lake surrounding it. Thick fog swirls around it, making it look even more derelict and a little creepy.
“There is no path to reach it,” says Glazia.”
“There is a path,” Cartu counters, “but it is covered by the lake.”
“I hate getting my shoes wet,” Ariz grumbles.”
“That’s the least of your problems,” Cartu remarks. “The real problem is getting in without being seen.”
“What about underground?” Glazia asks. “There must be a tunnel. No castle is complete without one.”
“You are right,” says Cartu. He takes his device out again and smiles. “This will not take long.”
True enough, I barely got to sit long enough to warm the rock before Cartu found the entrance. Hidden behind the trees, it is right between two bigger rocks. A strategic position. But how do we open it?
There it is. That foreign language I don’t understand. But it seems to work because the ground opens up just like the first time Ariz said it. There are steps cut into the ground, leading into the dark, dark tunnel.
“I’ll go first,” says Cartu. “Glazia, cover our backs.”
I get back on Ariz’s back and off we go, with Cartu leading the way through the tunnel. It was obviously meant to be an escape route for those who lived in the castle, as evidenced by the torches hanging along the walls. We don’t light them, however, so our journey is made in the dark. Fortunately, the supers don’t seem to have any problems seeing in the dark, judging by how they maintain their speed the entire time, so I have nothing to worry about. The tunnels are a little bit like a maze but after hitting a few dead ends and retracing our steps, we finally get to a huge opening with a boulder the size of a Gerant blocking our way.
Ariz’s foreign language doesn’t work on this boulder and we are stuck here for a while until Glazia finds a hidden switch.
“Could it be a trap?” she asks.
“There is only one way to find out,” Cartu replies and pushes the switch.
Glazia yells in alarm as an axe swings down from above, threatening to slice them into halves but being supers, they get out of the way in time. There’s no doubt a human would have been killed if caught in that situation. There is one good thing though. The swinging axe hits the other side of the wall and we hear the sound of metal colliding. It’s another switch! And the boulder begins to roll to the side as the axe comes swinging back down. To prevent any accidents from happening, Cartu grabs it by the handle and returns it to its hiding place in the ceiling of the tunnel.
Now that the boulder is no longer an obstacle, we are free to enter the castle. But what we see once we get into the dining hall throws us off completely. Because the last thing we are expecting to see is Ms Pink, sitting like the regal she is, sipping out of a tea cup like a dainty princess, and chatting merrily with Qas Sogok, the very man she is supposed to be investigating.
Happy Lunar New Year everybody!!! ❤