“The end of you, insolent pest!”
“You can’t touch me.”
The flames spewing from Ttrowtos seem to double in breadth and intensity. I can sense the beasts and vampires around me retreating from the heat, but it doesn’t bother me. In my mind, I cast a force field that shields me from any injury and stand my ground. Ttrowtos cannot touch me.
“I will kill you!”
The image of a charging bull of flames and black evil tentacles intimidates me for a moment and there is a lapse in my force field projection. A tentacle comes straight at me, wrapping around my neck. It is strangling me and for a moment, I don’t know what to do.
As my air supply is cut off, I struggle with the tentacle, trying to save myself. But another tentacles grabs me by my ankles and lifts me into the air upside down. Blood rushes to my head in an instant, compounding my trouble with breathing.
This is it. I’m going to die.
A new yet familiar voice pierces through the fog of oxygen deprivation. I wrench my eyes open. Down below, feet over head, is Secretary Seo. Her eyes are on fire, fangs out and claws drawn. She launches herself at Ttrowtos and I watch in silent horror as she knocks him flat but is grabbed by the neck in return. My view of the fight turns into a blur as the tentacles that hold my ankles loosen, dropping me onto the ground with a hard thump.
I groan. The ground does not welcome me kindly. But the reprieve comes at a heavy price. A shrill scream strikes me and I see Seo’s claws drawing blood from Ttrowtos’s neck even as he sinks his fangs into her arm.
“Seo!” I break into a run. A furious run. One that has me pulling my hamstrings as I race across the grassy land. “No!”
All of my rage accumulates with each step forward. It mounts higher and higher as my pulse grows stronger and stronger. Something swells from within. Like the rising of the tide. The gathering of the storm. The winding of the spring. Then something breaks.
“Ah!” I vent as energy pours out from the palm of my hand like water from the release of the dam. Torrents and torrents of it. I direct these torrents at the evil beast that is hurting my friend. Ms Pink’s loyal companion. Not Seo. I’m not letting him touch Seo. Every ounce. Every strain. At him.
Ttrowtos is tossed into the air upon impact. He was caught by surprise. I can see it in his eyes. His flames come at me again, scorching until I project an energy field to shield myself. Then his flames die. And on the ground he lies. Still as a dead tree trunk. Not that tree trunks move when they’re alive. But Ttrowtos looks dead.
And for the first time in my life, I wish for death on another being. Real death. Never-to-lift-a-finger-again kind of death. With all my heart and soul, I hope and pray for his death. Never mind that I would be the one responsible for it. I’m okay with that. Surprisingly okay with that. Being a murderer is expectedly okay.
Seo is pushing herself up. Her arm is turning an alarming shade of blue.
I rush to her side. “Seo, are you okay?”
Seo smiles at me. “I have never been better.”
“But your arm . . .”
“It’s nothing a little mimea can’t fix.”
“Oh, good, good.”
Seo walks over to where Ttrowtos lies on his back. His skin is darkening, the colour spreading like ripples from the centre of his chest. Seo and I stand side by side, staring as the darkness occupies his body. A charred ending. It is hard to believe that he is well and truly dead.
“What about Ms Pink?”
The words slip out of me, unbidden. Yet all of my awareness is shifted to her in an instant. Ms Pink. Where is she?
“She killed Ttrowtos! She killed our leader! Ttrowtos must be avenged!”
I whirl around to face the din. It is Tatua. I get the strangest feeling that something is wrong. It is a gut feeling. Intuition. Or pure déjà vu. There is something about him. Something off. Seo grabs me by the waist and tries to make a run for it but we are surrounded by mangy uglies before Seo can get away.
Tatua points at us. “You are not getting away with your sins today.”
I move in front of Seo to shield her, lest he should spring a surprise attack. “I killed Ttrowtos. I, alone, am responsible.”
“Shoot her!” Tatua commands as shadows of men appear behind the mangy uglies.
I hear the whistling of bullets as they speed through the air towards me. I am perfectly aware of Seo moving to push me out of the way. With one hand, I stop her. With the other, I stop them. It’s not difficult. I’ve done it before.
I project a spherical energy field around us, absorbing all kinetic energy from the bullets and they fall to the ground, useless in their lack of motion. And with a simple redirection of my energy, I send the shadowy assailants flying.
“You can’t hurt me,” I say in the calmest of voices, without any trace of a smile. I am not gloating. Neither am I boasting. I am stating a fact that I know to be true. And I will demonstrate it for as long as it is necessary. “I killed Ttrowtos. I can kill you too. I can kill all of you.”
From the edge of my vision, I can see yenews and vanguards rising all around two figures.
The largest, bulkiest vanguards accompany the figures as they draw closer and I realize with a start that it is Sintix and Kharne.
Sintix speaks first. “The Erika protects the Dark Thicket. That is to say, the Erika is a protector of the common good. Therefore, we will fight alongside the Erika too.”
Kharne adds, “Tatua, Ttrowtos is dead. Your leader is dead. The war is lost.”
Tatua’s face contorts into an ugly mess. “It is as you say.” Turning to his remaining army, he raises a hand. “At ease. We will go in peace.”
At his words, the shadowy men in black get back on their feet and gather behind Tatua as do his mangy uglies. Tatua regards Kharne with steely eyes as they move and when they are assembled properly, he speaks again.
“What is to be of us now.”
“The Erika shall decide,” says Kharne, turning to me.
For a moment, all I can do is blink. Me? Make the decision? Me?
“What shall it be, Erika?” Kharne asks again.
“Jail for now,” I say, coming to a quick decision. “If you have one.”
“We have a dungeon.”
“A dungeon then. And a trial to follow.”
Sintix chuckles. “The crowd will love it.”
I nod, but my mind is not focused on the trial or the carnival it is to the crowd. “Ms Pink. Where is she?”
Sintix touches my shoulder gently. “Helene is with her now.”
“Please, bring me to Ms Pink.”
“Come with me.”
“Send them to the dungeon to await the trial!” Kharne hollers as the beasts and vampires around him launch into cheers. The lesser minions who were fighting on Ttrowtos’s side have slunk into the shadows and made themselves scarce, lest they be rounded up for the dungeon as well. Beasts are clearing out, vampires are retiring into the night and the battle is over. However, it is anything but over for me. It is not over because Ms Pink is hurt. Badly. I am sure of it.
I am likely to get nightmares from seeing this. A motionless Ms Pink, devoid of colour. Where she was pale before, she is practically translucent now. A sense of life depleted. Gone is her fury. Gone is her magnificence. My eyes rake over her wide-open glassy eyes and limp body, searching for the slightest hint of life but find nothing.
Then, there’s the blood. Streaked out of every crevice. And the veins. Protruding from her neck, winding up to her temples. What had Ttrowtos done to her?
I fall to my knees. “Is—is she—” I blink. Trying to hold back the tears that are about to burst out of the dam. I can’t even bear to ask. I don’t want to know the answer.
Helene lifts her eyes from Ms Pink to meet mine. For a moment they are grave. Then, they widen with sudden realisation. “Your blood.”
“Your blood can save her.”
“Take it. Take my blood. How much do you need?” I ask at once, holding my wrists out.
“Not like this.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have to be converted first.”
“Pan Ni has lost too much of her own blood. Too much for her to convert on her own. She needs instant converted blood with the power to negate Ttrowtos’s evil curse.”
“So convert me. I’m ready.”
“Do you know what conversion means?”
“It means I become a vampire.”
“And I will be your vicist.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Why would it matter?”
“Two vampires that share the same vicist cannot be together.”
The world that I know shatters around me. “W-What? W-Why?”
“Blood strains that are alike will repel each other.”
Helene rolls her eyes. “That is oversimplification of the matter but since you are only human . . .” She nods. “You will lose the ability to love her. And Pan Ni too.”
“Can we still be friends?”
Helene looks at me with the strangest wonder in her eyes. “You won’t turn into enemies.”
I take another look at Ms Pink. There is nothing peaceful about the expression on her lifeless face. Even in suspended death, her brows are furrowed, lips pressed tight and eyes stuck open in horror, stricken with pain and tortured angst.
I close my eyes. A pretty, smiling little girl dances and prances about in a beautiful garden. Pan Ni. The little girl who lost her family. The little girl who was tortured. The little girl who grew into a lady knowing only pain. The woman who retrieved her power. The woman who found her place. The woman who stole my heart. The woman who owns my heart. The woman who is about to lose my heart in exchange for her life.
Is it worth it? Would Ms Pink want me to do this?
Opening my eyes again, I know that Ms Pink cannot give me an answer this time. She cannot lord over me and make me give in to her. It is my decision to make. Just me. And if it’s just me, there’s no other answer to give. There never will be.
“I’m ready,” I say to Helene. “Be my vicist and take my blood for Ms Pink.”
“As you wish.”
I stand still as Helene rises and moves in behind me. She sweeps my hair aside, revealing the back of my neck. Cold finger tips run down the spine protruding there. I shiver. And take one last look at Ms Pink as a woman who loves her with all my heart.
Sharp fangs pierce my neck and I feel faint. But before I black out, I have time to say my last words to Ms Pink.
Goodbye, Ms Pink. I love you, always.