Something is burning.
The Dark Thicket is burning.
To my horror, I see flames rising high into the air, shooting like rockets. “Are we far from them?” I ask Yeri as we hurry over rocky ground and grassy land.
“There’s a distance to go.”
“Can you go at super speed?”
Yeri nods. “Are you asking to be taken?”
“If taken means carried then, yes.”
Without another word, Yeri lifts me into her arms and speeds off at the supernatural pace I’ve gotten used to with Ms Pink. It also hits me how presumptuous Ms Pink has been with me. Not once has she asked me for permission to “take’ me like Yeri did. Not once.
Amidst the blur of passing trees and bushes, I see shadowy figures in the distance. The figures grow larger and larger and the smell of burning begins to irritate my nostrils. There are sounds of fighting. Yelling, shouting, grunting sounds play through the trees of the Dark Thicket and screams follow. One particularly shrill scream haunts me, almost giving me a headache.
“That was Banshee,” says Yeri.
“Banshee?” I thought those only existed in legends.
“We call her Banshee because she can tell when death is imminent. But it’s not hard to tell there’s going to be a few deaths tonight.”
We are behind some trees when Yeri puts me down.
“There’s Trowtos. What are you going to do?” she asks me.
I look about the trees. The smell of blood is in the air and it sickens me. I just want all of this to end. Right now. “I’ll walk in with the Pratikan and get their attention.”
“I’ll play the rest by ear,” I reply and begin walking through to the clearing where beasts are mauling beasts, vampires tearing apart vampires. Without hesitation, I head to where the big ass red monster stands, flames flaring all around. Beside him is a figure on her knees. My heart almost stops when I realize who it is but I know I can’t let my feelings tear me down right now.
Stopping a distance from the flaming red monster, I look him in the eyes and hold up the Pratikan. “Stop, or I’ll destroy this rock.”
The responding laugh from Ttrowtos is not encouraging but I keep my chin up high.
“Who let this kid in here?” Ttrowtos hollers.
“My Lord, she is the one we speak of.” A familiar face steps out from the shadows.
“Sesgo,” the name falls from my lips, half in surprise, half in calm. I am not surprised to see her on his side but I was not expecting to see her here either.
“Hand the rock over. You are a fool who does not know the dangers that lurk within it.”
“I will destroy it. Then I’ll stop you,” I say, throwing down my non-existent gauntlets.
The empty threat sends Ttrowtos and Sesgo into another bout of laughter that makes the surrounding beasts and vampires stop and stare. Ttrowtos’s flames double up and the heat is scorching when he glares into my eyes again. “You, pest. You will kneel before me.”
To my surprise, I feel lightheaded and an urge to obey washes over me. But something else stops me from falling to my knees. A stubborn resistance. A core that refuses to give way.
Ttrowtos takes a step forward, arm and claw or paw or hand extended. “Kneel.”
The force comes again, threatening to buckle my knees but I hold my ground, clenching my teeth. A pressure is building up inside. This might be what a pressure cooker feels like. But can I contain it inside me?
“The kid is rebellious,” he bellows, still arrogantly amused. “And she thinks she can destroy the Pratikan.”
I sense two bodies coming to my side as I stand there. They stand behind me so I can’t see them but I know who they are.
“Don’t underestimate this little kid, Ttrowtos,” says Yuri, her voice dripping with honey, a succubus in her full bloom. “She is capable of destroying the Pratikan. And we are capable of destroying you after that.”
Leaning close to my ear on the left, Hyoyeon whispers, “The book says fusing with it will destroy it. Good luck.”
Fuse? How do I fuse it? What do I fuse it with?
“Kneel!” Ttrowtos hollers and my two friends tremble. Yuri clutches my shoulder hard, almost hurting me, but she remains standing while Hyoyeon crumples to the ground on her knees.
Ttrowtos laughs like a twisted devil risen from the darkest depths of hell. “Kneel!”
This time, Yuri bends over, shaking.
The sight of this makes me step forward, taking his attention away from her. “Is this what you’ve been looking for?” I ask, holding up the glowing stone. Its luminosity intensifies as Ttrowtos nears. It shakes when Ttrowtos raises his hands and stretches his palms towards it.
Afraid to lose it to him, I hug the rock to my chest. “I mean it. I will destroy it. Even if it costs me my life.”
The slits of Ttrowtos’s eyes narrow into lines and his jaw opens wide angrily, displaying a horrendous set of fangs and ugly gums. “You can die. But will you let her die?”
I gasp as the motionless figure is dragged to Ttrowtos by Sesgo and another man I recognise as Tatua. She is left kneeling on the ground, hair falling all around her face, looking nothing like the Ms Pink I know and love.
The woman on her knees right now isn’t the Ms Pink I love. She is controlled by Ttrowtos. I have to remember that. I have to stay strong and call his bluff.
“She has already died once. Dying again would be a release for her.”
Ttrowtos throws his head back. His laugh is sinister and chills me to my core. “A release you say.” Without taking his eyes off me, he commands, “Rise.”
It isn’t directed to me since I don’t feel any pressure like before. Instead, the figure that is Ms Pink rises as commanded, her head lifting to reveal empty eyes, black and soulless.
“Take the Pratikan from her or die trying.”
Ms Pink’s hollow eyes come back to life, her irises filling up in glaring pink. “Yes, my Lord,” she says and advances towards me. Her eyes flash red for a moment and flames burst out all around her, just like the last time she tried to train me to harness my ‘energy’. Only, this time, it’s not the case. I never thought I would be in a situation like this but I am.
With Hyoyeon crippled and Yuri bent under Ttrowtos’s power, I am left to face Ms Pink on my own. I am staring into the face of my living nightmare when a blast of heat swamps me with pain. I don’t want to do this. I don’t.
I am going to burn you. Defend yourself.
I gasp. Was that Ms Pink talking to me? Or was it a memory of what she once said to me when she burnt me?
Focus. Block me out.
Ms Pink said this before. I am sure of it.
Do as I say.
I don’t know what I’m hearing anymore. Whether it’s from the depths of my memory or Ms Pink actually telling me what to do, makes no difference to me. Nothing changes the fact that I need to hurt Ms Pink. Nothing changes the fact that she’s going to hurt me.
The burn seeps through my skin.
Do as I say.
I push back. With the Pratikan in my arms, I push the flames away with energy that comes from the inside. The flames can’t touch me. The flames can’t hurt me.
But Ms Pink can.
Amidst the fiery red heat waves clouding my vision are Ms Pink’s eyes. Glowing an ethereal pink, they imprison me until I feel a hand wrapping around my neck. I choke. Those eyes are glowing but they are in pain. I can see the pain inside. I know it’s pain because I’ve seen it before.
When Ms Pink shared her past with me.
When Ms Pink told me I make her feel human again.
When Ms Pink put mimea on my wounds.
When Ms Pink looked at me while Praneso tortured her.
When Ms Pink came back.
Something’s not right. Ms Pink is perfectly capable of crushing my neck in a single clench so why am I still alive? Something is holding her back. And that split second of delay is enough for me to lay my hand on her for the very first time.
One single push on her shoulder as I direct my energy at her torso and she’s sent flying.
Away from me.
Will she ever come back?
“Ms Pink!” I scream as my mind clears up from the fog. She is lying on her back, bloodied. And Sesgo is leaning over her, hands stretched out towards her head.
Sesgo touched her.
My memory flashes the past again. Or not?
She got her hands on Yoohuan.
I remember this.
With just one touch, drove her insane.
I stare at Sesgo’s hands close in on Ms Pink’s head. No. No. Sesgo must not touch Ms Pink!
“No!” I yell and rush forward. I cast my energy forward ahead of me. A despairing attempt to stop Sesgo but those wrinkled, gnarly fingers get to brush Ms Pink’s temples before I send Sesgo sliding back. The bloodied body of Ms Pink bucks upon the contact but before I can reach her side, a tremendous force knocks me onto my knees.
“Kneel!” Ttrowtos’s holler finally reaches my ears and I look up into the flaming figure that is the devil but at the corner of my eyes, I spy Sesgo moving to Ms Pink once more.
“Ms Pink!” I cry, ejecting all my energy to keep Sesgo away and this time, Sesgo doesn’t get back up again.
That distraction lands me on my back, with Ttrowtos towering over me.
“Her power is evil,” he declares to the warring beasts and vampires around us. “I will kill her to protect us.”
“I am not evil!” I scream while trying to push myself up. But another force is stopping me. Ttrowtos’s foot is on the Pratikan in my arms, crushing my chest. I hear strange sounds, like bones cracking and in a paralyzing moment, I realise that I am about to be crushed to death.
“You shall die!”
“No!” I scream as something pierces me and pain spills out from the depths of my inner soul. It hurts. Everything hurts. And for a split second, I can’t help but think how this might actually be a way out.
There’s that weird voice again.
You are the person I love the most right now.
All these memories keep returning. Why?
Do you hate it when I call you stupid human?
All these useless thoughts. Where are these Ms Pink’s quotes coming from?
You need to grow stronger.
I need to grow stronger. Against the overpowering heat and flames and pressure mounting on my chest, I look at the Pratikan. It is glowing stronger than ever before, like it’s trying to say something. I can’t understand the glowing stone language and I don’t know if it can understand me but I talk to it anyway.
“You don’t want him to get you, do you?”
Its glow intensifies, growing in luminosity, growing in radiance. Until some of it seeps through its hard shell. Rays of blinding light breaking through, cracking the shell. Then a tremendous blast has me closing my eyes in for self-protection.
Suddenly, the stone is no more. Its shell splinters, then dissipates into nothing and hovering above my eyes are a few floating bubbles of glistening dew, the colours of the stone that once was. What happened?
Ttrowtos grabs one that ascended higher than the rest and inhales it, prompting me to do the same. With both hands I grab them, flex my nostrils and inhale deeply, not caring if they’ll kill me or not. The sensation that arises is strange to say the least. A kind of cool, airy caress. Then my insides lose all feeling. The hurt that was in my body is totally gone. And I push.
“Ah!” I exclaim as I expel the pressure that I didn’t realize had built up inside. My eyes feel different as I get up on my feet. Like a cool sheen is covering my irises. Moving them downwards, I lock my eyes on Ttrowtos who was thrown off by my expulsion. He leaps up, flames extending furiously, face in a snarl, and pounces on me. But I don’t move. Not a single inch.
He cannot reach me.
He cannot touch me.
Not with this force field surrounding me. Coursing through my blood. Pouring out of my pores. Where I previously could sense a force of energy coming from within, now, I am intensely aware of every disturbance of energy and force fields around me.
I am the energy and the energy is me.
But right now, the only energy I am focused on is Ttrowtos. His is spewing out recklessly, chaotic and disruptive, like a volcano that can’t make up its mind. I must stop him.
“Ttrowtos,” I say to him in absolute calm as cool blue energy accumulates at the tip of my fingers, “this is the end.”