Helene’s return to Ms Pink’s castle is completely out of my mind by this time so I am rudely surprised when she appears in the room, standing before us.
“Ma fille. Who took you out?”
If I were only listening to Helene’s voice, I would think she is calm but I am looking at her also and the flames spewing out around her indicate the opposite.
Ms Pink pushes herself up, absurdly unperturbed by her lack of clothing and reaches for her silk robe. Meanwhile, I am looking about for my undergarments but they are nowhere to be found, leaving me no choice but to don my clothes without them.
Fortunately, my newly acquired supernatural power of speed reduces the duration my embarrassment and I am standing beside Ms Pink, clothed, within a couple of seconds. Helene narrows her eyes at me, clearing noticing the difference in me.
“Was it you?”
I open my mouth to answer without really knowing what to say, but Ms Pink takes me hand and beats me to the answer. “Erika’s blood saved me, Maman.”
Helene’s intensity doesn’t let up much but she does take a less aggressive stance, relaxing her arms and shoulders a little. “You don’t have to protect her. She is now stronger than you are.”
“I took Erika’s blood before meeting Qas.”
Helene’s eyes flash in understanding. “That was risky.”
“I knew the risk.”
I hope my eyes don’t give anything away with their glance at Ms Pink.
“How much did you lose?”
Ms Pink grips my hand just a little harder. “Some.”
Helene smirks. “Let’s see.”
A blast of fire shoots at Ms Pink and I find myself raising my hand to stop it. The flames bend around the curve of my force field and Ms Pink is safe.
“Why are you doing this?” I raise my voice in a fury.
Helene doesn’t answer. She simply applies more pressure, forcing me to focus on the energy she is expending. I am bending her energy away with the force field but the amount of energy is indeed incredible. Yet, she is supposed to have been weakened after trying to convert me repeatedly?
“You’re weak!” she hollers and blasts another ray of flames at me.
I raise both hands, feeling the energy, moving the energy and close my eyes to focus. Energy isn’t seen. It is experienced. It pulses in the air and right now, it is pulsing in great torrents towards Ms Pink and I.
The flames persist for a moment longer but they stop coming for us and I can finally relax my mind. It is taxing, I realize. Yet, in the heat of the moment during the battle of the Dark Thicket, I was not struck by fatigue at all. Could it have been the adrenaline?
“She is strong enough to keep you safe for the time being. But you must regain your strength.”
Ms Pink takes my hand again, squeezing it gently. “I will.”
Helene takes another look at me and this time, I hold her gaze with a strong, defiant chin. To my surprise, Helene smiles and it isn’t sinister. “Everything was for you. Protect Pan Ni with your life, Erika.”
I swallow my surprise and nod, keeping my expression neutral. “That goes without saying.”
Helene laughs, flicks her luxuriously velvety black cloak-like dress, and exits the room without another world. I am mystified. Did I just earn the approval of my mother-in-law or something?
“Helene seems happy,” I say, testing the waters a little with Ms Pink’s opinion of her ‘mother’.
“She has always wanted me to be with someone powerful.”
“So I did pass the test.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It was a test. She fired at you to see if I could protect you and I did. I protected you.”
“You showed your hand.”
Ms Pink’s answer stuns me a little. “Don’t you trust Helene?”
With arms reaching out for my waist, pulling me in, Ms Pink looks into my eyes. “The only person I trust completely, is you.”
“Not even Seo? Cartu? Glazia? You sent them to help me.”
“I trust Seo with my life. However, Seo is loyal to justice also. While you,” Ms Pink smiles and strokes my cheek, “are with me, body, mind and soul.”
“Is there no one else you trust as much?” I ask, heart thumping like a kind of hammering machine.
Tears threaten to brim. I really don’t know why I’m tearing easily these days. I’ve never been the type who cries a lot. Is it the Erika in me?
Lips stop my lips from moving and Ms Pink swallows my question before I can ask it.
“It’s time you stopped calling me Ms Pink.”
Looking into Ms Pink’s empty black eyes, I cup her cheeks and pull her in for another kiss.
“Should I call you Tiffany instead?”
“I told you to call me Tiffany a long time ago.”
“I remember. But Ms Pink sounds so right to me. Especially when you lord over me.”
“You have become the Erika now. You are no longer beneath me.”
I raise a brow. “Did you seriously consider me to be beneath you when I was only human?”
A corner of Ms Pink’s lips lifts in amusement. “Yes.”
My brows dip into a frown. “Well, I suppose that’s not really a surprise.”
“It doesn’t matter. My feelings do not follow the rules of hierarchy.”
With a shake of my head, I feign disappointment. “Ancient vampires . . .”
Ms Pink pulls me into her arms and rests her head on my shoulder. “Call me Tiffany.”
“Is that an order?”
Her answer has me grinning like a dork. “I will do my best to obey your order, Tiffany Pink.”
“I will punish you if you don’t.”
My grin only grows wider. Something tells me I’ll be calling Tiffany Ms Pink quite often.
Darkness surrounds me.
The hairs on my body stand.
Goosebumps form on my skin as the cold air brushes past.
A gigantic figure lying on its side appears.
And I wake up, chest and shoulders heaving. “Gerant,” I gasp, in the dark of the night. An arm slips around my waist, giving me another jolt.
I calm down at the sound of Ms Pink’s voice. “Ms P—”
A sharp smack on my rear end stops me. “Say Tiffany.”
“Now tell me what happened.”
“Gerant.” Just the thought of Gerant lying in that cave all alone makes it hard to breathe. “Gerant is still in the cave where we found the Pratikan. I can’t believe I forgot all about Gerant. We have to go back and save him!”
Ms Pink frowns as she gets off the bed and picks up her ultra slim pink phone. “Seo, what happened to Gerant?”
I’m up by her side in a flash, trying to hear Seo’s reply.
“The rats brought him out. He’s recuperating now.”
“So he didn’t die?” I can’t help interrupting.
“It was close but he didn’t die.”
“Oh, thank god,” I utter and sag onto the bed. “That’s such a relief. Can Seo bring me to see Gerant? I have to thank Gerant in person.”
“Seo, arrange for us to visit Gerant today.”
I can’t hear Seo’s reply but I’m pretty sure it’s her saying yes.
Ms Pink eyes me as she ends the call. “The smell of your blood no longer entices me,” she says a little too casually as she climbs over me, on hands and knees.
My eyes widen. “What does that mean? Aren’t you a vampire?”
“Your blood used to be special.” Ms Pink lies beside me, arm and leg draped over, marking her territory. “Now, it isn’t.”
It’s my turn to frown now. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
Her hand creeps towards my hips, making me bite my lip to keep from smiling. “Now I know it is pure.”
“My lust for you.”
It’s hopeless. My teeth lose hold of my lip as I end up grinning broadly. “Lust? Not love?”
“You are my fair lady.”
“Don’t try to change the topic.”
Ms Pink’s teasing smile kicks my heartrate up a notch. As do her wandering fingers. “Stupid human.” Her hand grabs my waist and pulls me in. Our lips meet in the middle and my arms find her of their own volition. Her lips leave mine to travel down my neck and it is all I can do to hug her to myself.
Every touch is precious. Every touch is desire.
“Oh, Ms Pink—oww!” I groan from the smarting spank on my rear end. “Tiffany.”
Another illusion of a pink flame prances in Ms Pink’s eyes as I stare at her. “Again.”
Ms Pink closes her eyes and moans, “Taeyeon.”
“Tiffany,” I say with more deliberation and Ms Pink grabs my rear cheeks hard. “Am I turning you on?”
“I can feel the fire inside.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I need to eat you up.”
The flashy pink car that arrives at Ms Pink’s castle is no longer jarring to me but it still isn’t with the greatest pleasure when I get on it with Ms Pink. Seo’s warm smile gets me smiling too, however, so all is good.
“Ms Pink, it’s been arranged.”
Ms Pink nods. “Alright.”
Neither of them seem to have any intention to tell me what it is about so I don’t ask. There’s no need to ask about everything all the time. Besides, Ms Pink’s thumb caressing mine is distracting me. The sweet floral scent of Ms Pink is distracting me too. This scent is new, in fact. I’ve never noticed it before. Or are my senses gaining power too?
“Do you want to know what has been arranged?”
Looking into Ms Pink’s eyes, I get the strange feeling that she’s suddenly a lot more ‘human’ now. “You’ll tell me if I need to know.”
“A visit to the dungeon.”
Tiles click into place. “To see Tatua?”
This gets my attention. “Your father? Is there something wrong with your father?”
Ms Pink shakes her head slowly. “I am looking for the answer.”
I am still pondering the connection between Tatua and Ms Pink’s father when the car pulls up at the edge of the Dark Thicket. We get off and stand shoulder to shoulder, staring into the dense vegetation.
Ms Pink looks at me with a crooked smile. “Do you need to be carried?”
I grin right back with cheek. “I have no problem keeping up.”
“I will be faster.”
I roll my eyes. “You don’t know that for sure.”
“The slowest will be punished.”
I pull a smirk and flex my knees. “It won’t be me.”