The voice creeps me out like the most whispery, shrill scream of a terrified soul in the darkest hour would. Only, this voice is harder to describe. And it gets under my skin, slithering through my pores to my bones, chilling me from inside out. The voice is almost human, yet ghostly, like a ghastly shroud of a voice. Ghastly. Now I can tell people I’ve heard a truly ghastly voice.
But while my mind is coming to terms with the ghastly voice of Ttrowtos, every other reaction around me is much more dramatic. Gasps, several screams and a few shouts of ‘monster’ ring out in the chamber of Demortams, and there are supers and humans scrambling about behind me.
The Federation members are more collected than the rest, rising to their feet and standing together in a surprising demonstration of unity.
Edith is the first to speak as usual. “How can we verify the identity?”
Ttrowtos’ss bloody red eyes shift to rest on Edith and even though they are not on me, I can’t help but shiver. He or she—or it—takes a step towards Edith and to her credit, she doesn’t budge. “You ignorant schnit. Who gave you the right to speak. Shut that useless opening.” Those red eyes then sweep to the other members of the Federation. “These mortals are blagues. Who let them in here? Kharne, explain this atrocity.”
Kharne, I realize, looks nothing like his usual pompous self. It’s like someone came in and deflated him completely, leaving him standing there looking smaller than he has ever been. “It is as agreed in the treaty—”
A fearsome growl is accompanied by the flash of gruesome canines, decayed and fossilized by time. “Imbecile!”
Oddly, I am reminded of the way Ms Pink used to say ‘stupid human’, before it came to mean something else to us. The belittling of a species they deem inferior or unworthy of their time. My intestines squirm at the thought that Ms Pink should even share the slightest bit of similarity to this seething monster, but they are vampires after all . . .
“Ttrowtos,” Edith tries again but a blast of heat has me shielding my face and back pedalling. I find myself backing into Ms Pink but she holds me steady with hands on my hips. The air is filled with black-red flames scorching the walls and ceiling and it hurts to even breathe. I shudder to think about the extent of Ttrowtos’s and what he or she or it, can do.
“Be still,” Ms Pink whispers in my ear and as I turn and look into her eyes, the weird flickering in her eyes stops and her eyes glow solid radiant pink again. Her fingers dig into my body and there is a strange buzz emanating from around her. What is happening to Ms Pink?
With a rough pull, I am thrust behind Ms Pink and she stands stiff, palms open by her side. Flames burst out and flicker around her mirroring the massive flames dancing around Ttrowtos. Those red eyes are now on Ms Pink and I begin to shake from the unease warring inside my gut. She takes two steps towards Ttrowtos fearlessly, flames growing in intensity every passing moment, and he matches her steps.
The entire chamber has its breath hanging frozen in the air now. Everyone is waiting to see what happens next. Some might be expecting Ttrowtos to throw a fit. Others might be thinking it is Ms Pink’s final day on Earth. But I don’t think anyone is expecting to see Ms Pink getting down on one knee and bowing her head before Trowtos.
Edith’s jaw is hanging loose. So is Sintix’s. But even in my confused state of mind, I notice how Yuri doesn’t look at shocked as everybody else. She is just standing there, arms folded into her luxurious fur coat, looking relatively unperturbed. Did she know this was going to happen?
“Princess Pan Ni! Traitor!” Attention is shifted to Sesgo, the crooked nose witch, as she points a gnarled finger at Ms Pink. “She fooled us all.” She takes two tentative steps to Ttrowtos, bowing to him. “Ttrowtos, you cannot trust Princess Pan Ni. She is a two-headed snake.” Bowing even lower, she adds, “But I have heard of your brave journey into Lakkos and have always admired you. I will stand by your side faithfully.”
A spit of an eerie laugh resounds in the chamber and Ttrowtos’s broken lips curl into a snarl. “Who are you to tell me who to trust. Do you dare to insult my intelligence?”
Sesgo trembles and drops to her knees. “I am sorry, my lord, Ttrowtos. Please pardon my overzealous instinct to defend you.”
Ttrowtos’s unhuman voice creeps across the chamber, permeating every ear. “Argute you are.” With arms spread open, wielding flames dancing on palms, Ttrowtos addresses the chamber, “You have one chance to align yourself with the new order.”
I can feel my jaw dropping as I witness the most unbelievable scene unfolding before my very eyes. And if I think Sesgo’s speech was surprising, the next person to step forward is even more shocking—Miras. I am rooted to the ground, my body, stiff and my mind, stunned. I couldn’t disobey Ms Pink even if I wanted to. What is this reversal of alliances and shift of power? Why is everyone throwing themselves at Ttrowtos?
“We are with you, Ttrowtos,” Miras announces.
Ttrowtos stands tall above it all, head and shoulders higher than everybody else, even Kharne. But right now, Kharne is surprisingly quiet and isolated. Sintix and even Yuri have inched to Ttrowtos’s side but Kharne hasn’t budged from his spot.
At Kharne’s silent resistance, Ttrowtos raises a single hand and with a flash of red eyes turning completely black, Kharne howls in pain and falls to his knees. The hand closes into a fist and Kharne is reduced to a ball on the floor.
Ms Pink’s words ring in my head and my body unconsciously obeys even though I want to run to Kharne and help him. Even though I want to yell out in frustration at everything that is going wrong around me. Instead, I clench my fists and teeth and every other part of my body clenchable.
A thunderous growl explodes from Kharne and I watch as he tries to fight back the invisible torture Ttrowtos is unleashing on him. He makes it to his knees and launches himself at the pale, exposed neck of Ttrowtos. But his attempt is easily deflected by a swipe and the chamber gasps at the sight of Ttrowtos’s hand wrapped around Kharne’s neck, holding him up in the air. Then, with a sick, crow-like shriek, Ttrowtos slams Kharne against the wall and pins him there by his neck.
A flashback of Ms Pink holding Yuri against the wall plays in my mind in that instant. What was that?
“To the dungeon!” Ttrowtos orders, bringing my thoughts back to Demortams and the horrific drama rolling out around me. Mangy creatures of four legs and a mean snarl enter the chamber from the same doorway and circle us. Their eyes are all black and soulless. They prowl like hungry scavengers rounding up their food then lift up on their two hind legs and morph into equally mangy, shaggy caveman-like men.
They remind me of patagons in their foxy, hyena-like creature form and of yenews in their unkempt human form. But they appear to be even more ferocious than patagons and yenews combined, sweeping in and grabbing Kharne by his head and limbs. The ancient supernatural being struggles hard against the capture but the men slap chains on him and drag him out of the chamber.
A moment later, Qas Sogok moves to the middle of the chamber. “Are there any further objections to Ttrowtos’s legitimacy as our leader?”
The air in the chamber is as cold as winter and spells silence. Utter silence.
“Since there are no objections, I hereby declare Ttrowtos the newly elected leader of the Federation, Sovereign and Parliament.” He then raises his arms to the mute audience. “Bow to your leader.”
One by one, members of the Federation, Sovereign and Parliament begin to bow. The audience of supers and humans behind them bow too, until Ttrowtos tells them to rise. And so it ends. Ttrowtos is the new leader, supreme and untouchable.
Careful not to spill any beans, I follow Ms Pink back to her castle after the dramatic session at Demortams. I am itching to ask Ms Pink about everything but I settle for holding her hand as the car hurtles towards her castle.
Once inside, Ms Pink sits on the lounge and pulls me down with her. We lie on our sides together, face-to-face. Her eyes search my face and her fingers trace strange symbols on my forehead and cheeks. Her eyes are flickering again and I really want to know if she’s hurt.
“Are you okay?” I ask, breaking the silence between us at last. In a deliberate move, I trace the curve her of eyes and look straight into her flickering bulbs of pink. I think she gets my hint because she closes her eyes and pulls me closer.
“Come nearer,” she whispers.
I press my body up against Ms Pink and put my arms around her waist. Her lips close over mine and I moan. Our tongues meet and I drown. My eyes are closed so I can feel every caress of her tongue and fingers more deeply. I can feel her tongue leaving my mouth and getting in touch with my ear. The tip glides up the shell of my ear, making me shiver from the rising desire.
Hands are finding their way under my top, pushing it up, and I lift my arms to allow it to be pulled off. I am surprised Ms Pink isn’t ripping anything off, considering what she must have gone through during the past few days and the spectacle at Demortams. In fact, Ms Pink is so calm and gentle with me that I can’t help but feel something is even more seriously wrong with her than I can imagine.
Her hand creeps down my abdomen and continues down under. Clothes mean nothing to her hand as it finds the button to ignite my fire and flicks it on. Her legs part mine and her fingers take me without hesitation. She swallows each moan she induces and I can only cling on to her for dear life. Her fingers are taking me to a new height with the way they work inside me and I feel an explosion in my belly that sets off a massive ripple effect, sending me spiralling into space.
Breathing heavily, I lean into Ms Pink, my legs holding her hand hostage between them. “Don’t let me go,” I gasp, not really knowing why I’m saying this. Her free hand grasps my cheek and something about the strength she uses on me opens my eyes. A ton of stories lie just beyond the pink of her eyes and I am dying to know what they have to say but I bite my tongue and hold back. “Ms Pink, I’ll never let you go.”
“Never,” she whispers and kisses me again.
We are not done yet.
I am not sure how Ttrowtos becoming the leader will change things but I don’t have a good feeling about it. Especially after Ms Pink’s castle is infiltrated with captes the very next day. A mangy, shaggy man like the ones I saw at Demortams arrives at Ms Pink’s doorstep with the fleet of captes and a scroll inked with Ttrowtos’s decree that every home of his subjects shall be supervised and protected by his captes.
Supervised and protected? That’s a nice way of saying they will be under surveillance from now on. I am a little surprised by this. Didn’t Ms Pink pledge her alliance to Ttrowtos in front of every one in Demortams? Ms Pink, on the other hand, welcomes the captes into her castle. She doesn’t seem to be surprised.
“Lord Ttrowtos wants you to go to his castle by nightfall,” says the mangy man before leaving and I turn to Ms Pink, worried.
Her hand squeezes mine and she pulls me in for a kiss. “You will come with me.”
As it turns out, Ttrowtos’s castle is the very place I found Ms Pink in, the same place Ariz, Glazia and Cartu had brought me to.
In the dining room, Ttrowtos is feasting on a dead body of what looks like a small yenew. The taste of bile hits me as I try not to look at the bloody scene.
“Princess Pan Ni . . . my beauty, come.”
My beauty? Why is Ttrowtos calling Ms Pink his beauty?
Ms Pink squeezes my hand before letting go and going to Ttrowtos and kneeling before him. “Yes, my lord.”
This is sick. I’m going to be sick.
“You will see to it that the Dark Thicket is taken. Kill every creature that resists.”
“Yes, my lord.”
I try my best not to move or form an expression on my face when Ttrowtos strokes Ms Pink’s hair. Flames explode in the air above me, red and black fusion of dancing patterns criss-crossing and Ms Pink rises to her feet, joining in the spontaneous combustion with deep red flames of her own.
What is this sorcery?
Ms Pink walks to me with a smile and her flames disappear when she comes close enough to burn me. “Follow me, human.”
Despite the misgivings I am having, I bow goodbye to Ttrowtos, noting the absence of Qas Sogok, and follow Ms Pink out of the castle. I follow Ms Pink across the castle grounds around to the back where Ms Pink’s helicopter awaits.
“Are you really going to do as Ttrowtos says?” I ask when we are in the air, hoping there is no surveillance here.
The sharp glare Ms Pink throws at me suggests otherwise. “Human, it is not your place to question me.”
Human again. She is purposefully leaving out the word ‘stupid’ and it is ironic how it now sounds even more condescending than ‘stupid human’. But despite the unhappiness inside, I remind myself that Ms Pink is probably only pretending to be subservient to Ttrowtos.
“I’m sorry, Ms Pink.”
“Do it again and you will be punished, human.”
I hold my tongue, resisting the familiar feelings of indignation I was inflicted with back when Ms Pink and I were new acquaintances. I trust Ms Pink. I love her. I will never let her go.
The Dark Thicket is as I remember it. Green and brown like every other forest or jungle in the world. But there is a stillness in the air that tells me something isn’t right. It seems Ms Pink senses it as well for she holds my hand tighter as we walk deeper into the Dark Thicket. Then I see why.
There in the clearance before us, lit by moonlight, is an army of the same mangy creatures that did Ttrowtos’s bidding in Demortams. They are in their beast form and their dark brown fur is truly dirty and unkempt. An unpleasant sight, to say the least. They group up and approach Ms Pink when she nears them, seemingly awaiting her instructions.
A cold trail of dread drips down my spine. Ttrowtos had asked Ms Pink to kill the creatures that resisted in the taking of the Dark Thicket. Surely Ms Pink wasn’t going to kill them? Surely she was going to lead them into hiding and save them?
Every step I take with Ms Pink and the army of mangy uglies is full of worry and increasing apprehension. Even my heart is reluctant to beat for each beat signifies the advent of something absolutely horrific and detestable.
We trudge through the Dark Thicket, passing tree after tree, and then we see them. They are out in full force, with Gerant standing as their leader. The massive creature bows his head, lowering his gigantic red horns before looking up again at us.
“Greetings, invaders. What brings you here to the Dark Thicket?”
All at once, I remember the night I met Gerant here in the Dark Thicket. I remember the conversation we had about a danger encroaching this precious land in the future. I remember the eyes I looked into that night, peaceful, serene, yet anxious in some way. I remember Gerant’s talk about the starlight and I look up. Above us is the night sky and a million stars are twinkling down at us.
“Good evening, Gerant. We are here to take over the Dark Thicket,” says Ms Pink. Her palm going up when some of the mangy uglies growl behind her. “Our lord, Ttrowtos, has decreed this land to be under his rule.”
“Dear Pan Ni, you have chosen the wrong path,” says Gerant.
“It is not for you to judge.” Ms Pink’s rude tone shocks me. It is a stark contrast to the respect she gave to Gerant back in Melior castle when I met Gerant for the first time.
“Of course not. But would you take my advice one more time?”
“Speak as you wish.”
“There are other paths to the same destination. Must you choose such a difficult one?”
“This is the best choice. Lord Ttrowtos is the highest power. He is here to bring us back to power.”
“You may be his favourite now, but he is temperamental. Staying close to him will be dangerous.”
“Anything you say now is useless, Gerant. The new order has arrived. The Dark Thicket is no longer yours to reign over.”
“If that is to be so, we will resist.”
Ms Pink laughs, sounding every bit as evil as Ttrowtos. My heart and stomach sink to the pits. This can’t be happening. I can’t let Ms Pink kill these innocent creatures. They are peace-loving. All they want is to stay in this place and lead their quiet, peaceful lives. Why does Ttrowtos want to own the Dark Thicket too?
“The Dark Thicket contains treasures Lord Ttrowtos is seeking. You have a choice to join our side. Or else.”
“Or else?” Gerant grunts. “Dear Princess Pan Ni, you are going to regret this.”
“I have no regrets.” Ms Pink takes another step forward and announces loud and clear, “The Dark Thicket belongs to Lord Ttrowtos, the leader of the new order. Those who resist shall perish tonight.”
Gerant bows his head as several beasts leave his pack to join Ms Pink. My heart breaks when I see the dying souls reflected in their eyes. They look at me as they join Ms Pink’s side, seemingly pleading me for help. But how can I help them?
“Is that all? Are the rest of you wishing for death tonight?”
My mouth runs dry. Please don’t let this happen.
“Attack!” Ms Pink hollers and the army of mangy uglies leap forward, pouncing onto the pack of creatures who wanted nothing more than peace in their lives. I stand there, staring in horror at the bloodshed around me. My blood runs cold when I see heads and body parts ripped off on both sides. The injuries, the death, the broken peace. But nothing kills me more than seeing Ms Pink pointing two luminous pink guns at Gerant.
No. No. No, no, no, no, no!
A yenew touches my arm and points at the sky above when I look at him. “Look at the stars. Star light, star bright.”
I look up and as I stare at the stars, I see one sliding across the sky to align with another. Blinking in disbelief, I stare at it harder as it shines brighter and brighter. It’s all in the stars. I look back at Ms Pink and Gerant. The star. Ms Pink and Gerant. The star. Ms Pink and Ger—
The pink gun is fired. My blood freezes. Gerant howls. The other pink gun is fired. My blood unfreezes. I holler.
I run towards Gerant, past the attacking mangy uglies, past the defending creatures of Dark Thicket and with a blinding burst of energy coming from nowhere, I knock Ms Pink to the ground even before I get to her. Gerant is still howling. My heart is pounding. I continue my mad dash to Gerant and finally get there.
“Are you alright?” I ask Gerant anxiously.
“I’ll survive. But you need to stop your princess vampire from doing more harm tonight.”
“You already did it. You can do it again.”
Desperate to stop this tragedy, I turn to Ms Pink. She is back on her feet and furious. “Taeyeon, get out of the way.”
“Come back to me.”
“Don’t kill them. Please!”
“I can’t let this happen.”
“Taeyeon.” My heart leaps into my throat when Ms Pink raises her pink gun and points it at me. “Come back.”
“Stop killing them first.”
“That is not an option.”
I set my jaw and lift my chin. “Then you’ll have to shoot me first.”
“Don’t make me do it.”
“I won’t let you kill Gerant tonight.”
Flames explode into the night all around Ms Pink as she holds both guns up. “You leave me no choice.”
The guns fire. Two bullets. Everything seems to have slowed in that split second and I can see the bullets flying through the air clearly. Closing my eyes, I inhale reach deep within. I won’t let Gerant die. I won’t let Ms Pink kill the innocent creatures. I won’t let the bullets get to us. Stop. Stop. Stop.
Calm descends within me. Absolute calm, as still as a frozen lake. When I open my eyes, I know exactly what to do. My palms move, of their own volition, and with the stars shining upon us above, I stop the bullets with a single force from within. That force radiates forward, pushing through the air, reaching Ms Pink. I can see her pink eyes widening in shock or surprise. I can see her guns flying out of her hands. I can see her body flying back and landing on the ground.
Here in the Dark Thicket, supernatural energies are thick in the air and I am breathing hard. I can stop this fight. I can stop this war. I can repel the mangy uglies. Turning to them, I expel blast after blast of energy, knocking them out cold on the ground.
Soon, the mangy uglies become aware of what I am doing and make me their target instead. But a shrill whistle rings through the air and they halt. Another whistle comes through and they turn, running back to Ms Pink who is now on her feet, guns back in her hands.
“Is this the side you choose to be on?” she asks me in a tone as cold as ice.
The clear lines of Ms Pink are suddenly blurred. My vision is distorted. Tears are in my eyes and I can’t hold them back. How did I end up on this side, far away from Ms Pink? How did all of this happen in one night?
“Ms Pink . . . please. Don’t kill them.”
“You have made your choice. You have saved them tonight. But only for one night.”
With a flick of her wrist, the remaining army of mangy uglies follow her out of the Dark Thicket. I can’t feel my hands or feet as I stare at Ms Pink’s departing back going further and further away from me. It is getting hard to breathe.
Ms Pink. Come back. Ms Pink.
But like the tears that are leaving my eyes forever, I fear that Ms Pink’s departure tonight will be irreversible too.