I feel like I’ve just lost my home. The Dark Thicket isn’t Ms Pink’s castle and Gerant, as gentle as he has been with me, isn’t who I belong to. He is trying to comfort me, but his words of wisdom are beyond me right now.
This isn’t the end.
It’s written in the stars.
Starlight is all you need.
Firstly, this looks like the end to me. Secondly, I don’t know how to read the stars and lastly, neither do I know how to harness starlight energy to nourish myself. In a state of despair, I follow Gerant’s lead as they retreat into the depths of the Dark Thicket. I don’t question where we are heading until the ground beneath my feet begins to descend.
Unsure of everything, I stop.
Sensing my halt, Gerant stops and turns around. “Erika, why did you stop?”
“I am not the Erika. Erika is not my name.”
“It is who you are. You and the Erika are one and the same.”
“No, we’re not.”
“Stop calling me Erika.”
“What else can I call you?”
“I have a name. My name is Taeyeon.”
“You are denying your existence.”
“My existence is Taeyeon.”
“Perhaps you are resenting the Erika in you right now. Maybe you’re wishing you didn’t have the power to stand up against the person you love. But you do. You have the power. You can have all the power you need if you believe in yourself.”
“Look at where this ‘power’ has left me. This ‘power’ that I have no control over. This ‘power’ that I know nothing about.”
“You are determined to discount yourself and the power you possess at this moment. I can understand why you would feel and think this way. But we have to move.”
“Do you trust me?”
I look at Gerant, from his great horns to his great hooves. How can I not trust Gerant who has lived longer than anybody else? So I nod. “I trust you.”
“Then, come with me.”
With a deep sigh, I walk up to Gerant. “Where are we going?”
Underground, it seems. Past the giant leaves covering the entrance of the cave, the air is getting cooler as we walk on, downwards into the earth. Why are we going deeper and deeper into this cave? Where does this cave lead to?
Nobody is talking so I decide to ask later. Besides, I trust Gerant isn’t leading me to my death so I shouldn’t have to worry about our destination. The ground is rocky but smoothens out a little as the cave widens and enlarges. Wondrous formations surround us, growing in majesty and my eyes feast on the crystalline colours of blue and green reflected by the rocks. Spiralling from the ground and down from the ceiling, my early lessons in Geography come to mind. Stalagmites and stalactites. These are similar, but their colours more vivid and intense than the ones I’ve seen in regular caves.
“We will rest here for a while,” says Gerant after coming to a stop in a particularly wide cavern fill with curious formations resembling chess pieces.
Glad to have a chance to rest my legs, I lower myself onto a little green rock with a flat top and lean against the wall. Being the giant that Gerant is, he settles in the open area beside me, free of rocks or formations.
“Where exactly are we going?” I ask, figuring that now is a good time to air my questions.
“Have you heard of Lakkos?”
I nod. “It’s the cave that Ttrowtos is said to have entered.”
“Aye, that Lakkos. Do you believe the tales about Ttrowtos?”
I can only shrug. “I don’t know what to believe anymore.” And in truth, I really don’t. Not so long ago, I had believed that Ms Pink and I will never part. Not so long ago, I had been dedicated to fighting alongside Ms Pink and supporting her in everything she does. But in the span of one night, we have gone from the perfect pair to this.
“Princess Pan Ni made a choice. So did you. But it doesn’t diminish the love you have for each other.”
Staring at Gerant, I wonder if I had voiced my thoughts but given his wisdom, Gerant wouldn’t need to hear my thoughts to know what they are.
“How am I going to go back to Ms Pink’s side if I’m trying to stop her from killing all of you?” I ask, as a tear finds its way down my cheek. “I don’t know what Ms Pink thinks of me now. I must have disappointed her.”
“Do you think so?”
Nodding my head, I close my eyes and the rest of the tears welled up inside flow down my cheeks.
“Do you then also believe Ttrowtos went into Lakkos and came back alive?”
“What do you mean? Are you saying Ttrowtos never went into Lakkos?”
“There are many hidden truths and paraded lies in history. And time doesn’t stop for investigation so even my knowledge of the conspiracy involving Ttrowtos is not complete.”
“But the Ttrowtos of the past would not have gone into Lakkos of his own free will.”
“What do you mean ‘Ttrowtos of the past’?”
“Ttrowtos was famed for his wits and intelligence.”
“Wits and intelligence? He sounds like someone people looked up to.”
Gerant nods. “Yes. But there were those who were jealous of him.”
Something must have showed on my face because Gerant chuckles in his deep, Gerant way.
“You are getting the picture now.”
“But I’ve never heard anyone say anything good about Ttrowtos.”
“When a lie is paraded around enough, it becomes the perceived truth and by then, the truth is buried under a mountain of lies, never to see the light of day again.”
“So why didn’t you do something? Kharne said Ttrowtos went missing for a thousand years. You could have rectified things during that time.”
“I could have. But Ttrowtos was no angel himself either. And despite his intelligence, he was not very wise.”
“What . . . do you mean?”
“He decided to turn the rumours into truth and wear it like a cape.”
I gape. “Why?”
Gerant shakes his head, his great horns swaying in the air like thousand-year-old trees. “Too much intelligence with too little wisdom. But he must have thought it to be a brilliant idea for he gained a following. A large one. And he was on his way to absolute sovereignty before he fell.”
“Shot down by an enemy?”
“You guess well.”
“But I still don’t know why we’re down here and where we are going.”
“Can you think of one reason why Ttrowtos would send Princess Pan Ni here to get rid of all of us?”
“Because he can?”
“Ttrowtos is more strategic than that.”
“Mmm . . . Ms Pink said something about treasures . . .”
“It must be a great treasure if Ttrowtos and his cronies laboured so long and hard to get him to this position of power just to gain access to the Dark Thicket.”
My eyes widen at the thought. “What kind of treasure?”
“I am the guardian of the Pratikan that lies deep under the Dark Thicket.”
“Prah-tee-kern,” I repeat stupidly, still clueless.
“What is it?”
Gerant heaves the heaviest sigh I’ve heard in a long time. “The power to match yours.”
My mind is in an absolute mess. After Gerant told me about the Pratikan, I haven’t been able to calm myself down. The power to match mine. Great. Just great. There’s a power to match mine in the Dark Thicket when I haven’t even found my power yet. If this is a race to find the power first, I am destined to lose.
Now I understand why Gerant asked me to protect the Dark Thicket and its inhabitants. It isn’t purely out of concern for their quiet, peaceful lives here. Well, perhaps it is, in a roundabout way, since their lives will definitely be disturbed by Ttrowtos and his minions turning this place upside down to unearth the Pratikan and who knows what Ttrowtos will do with that much power.
Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I know what he will do with the power. What else can he do with that much power other than turn it into world domination?
The thought makes me uncomfortable all the way down to my toes. Isn’t that what Ms Pink wants? World domination? She said it before. And her need to dominate is evident enough in our relationship. Did she . . . cave in? Or has she always wanted it? And . . . was I her ticket to world domination? Was I?
Shaking my head, I tell myself to snap out of it. How can I think so badly of Ms Pink? She’s not like that. She loves me. I know that. She has proven her love many times now.
But what if this has nothing to do with love? What if this is simply her craving for world domination? That would mean I walked away from her choice. I walked . . . away . . .
Pain. I feel it in little stabs. Here. There. Random places all over. It isn’t too much for me to tolerate but it worries me all the same. So after enduring a few more stabs of pain, I tell Gerant about it. He is immediately concerned but assures me I’m fine. How can I be fine when I’m in pain all over the place? How is this fine?
“It’s not fine,” I say to Gerant.
“There’s nothing wrong with you. The pain you feel does not come from your body.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your power is increasing while your knowledge lags behind.” Gerant shakes his head, as though thoroughly disapproving of something. “Your connection to Ms Pink is the cause of your pain.”
“Ms Pink?” I am alarmed. “Does this mean she’s hurting too?”
“But, how? Why is she hu—” A sharper pain hits me in the guts and I’m filled with the need to dash out of the Dark Thicket and run back to Ms Pink no matter how far away she is. “Ms Pink,” I gasp.
“Going back to her will not solve anything. If you want to cure Princess Pan Ni of her pain, we need to find the Pratikan.”
“If Ttrowtos gets his hands on the Pratikan, Princess Pan Ni will be the first to die.”
Will Be Heard