Hyo’s office in High Society is beginning to feel like a third home and Hyo is smiling at us like we’re old friends.
“Welcome to High Society once again.”
Ms Pink nods and takes her seat so I do the same. “We have come to get some answers.”
My heart thumps unnecessarily hard at the mention of ‘we’.
“I would like to know how I can make a tattoo disappear.”
Hyo frowns. “The methods are dark and painful.”
“There is more than one method?”
“There are two. For two different types of tattoos.”
“Tell me,” says Ms Pink, as she puts a pink card on the table.
Hyo pockets the card then leans back, elbows on the arm rests, hands clasped before her. “If the tattoo is marked under the skin, it is termed picta. A picta can be purged by consuming herbs. But it is painful. The herbs will purge everything along with the mark. And the process has to be repeated a few times for the tattoo to be completely removed.”
“What about the second method.”
“Tattoos that are raised from the skin are much harder to remove. It is termed caepicta. Herbs will cleanse the caepicta of colour, but the skin is still raised. It takes a dark power to make a caepicta which means only a healer can undo it. Crystals. They will burn the skin and undo the magic so that the new skin will not bear the mark any longer. The pain is excruciating because a part of you is ripped from you and the period of recovery is longer.”
“Does Sintix have the power to undo a caepicta?”
“I believe he does.”
Ms Pink is silent for a moment before nodding. “That will be all for this question.”
“And your next question?”
“Where did Tatua and Malvico descend from?”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Princess Pan Ni, you know that this kind of information is classified.”
“That is why we are here.”
My heart pounds when Ms Pink says ‘us’ again. It seems a little silly to get excited over this little change but it means a lot to me. Especially when we are going to be together forever. Literally.
“You can’t pay me with Taeyeon’s blood anymore, Princess Pan Ni.”
“Taeyeon’s blood is the Erika’s blood.”
“Uh uh. We don’t know what her blood will do.”
“Put it through your laboratory.”
Hyo laughs with merry, twinkling eyes and shakes her head. “You drive a hard bargain, Princess Pan Ni, but I am not to be forced into an unfair deal. Come back when you have tested the Erika’s blood and can prove it is as effective as before.”
“Is Summer here?” I blurt out without thinking.
Hyoyeon turn her eyes on me. “Summer is in her office.”
Thinking fast, I decide to take a gamble. “If Tiffany asks her to order you to give us the information—”
“Taeyeon,” Hyo interjects, “be careful what you say. Some words cannot be taken back.”
“Would it work? I mean, she’s your boss, right?”
“According to the agreement between supers and humans, the keeper in power at High Society will have to do the Choi’s bidding.” Hyo heaves a deep sigh. “Taeyeon, do you know why Princess Pan Ni has never used that card on any keeper even though she maintains excellent relationships with each Choi generation?”
I take one look at Ms Pink before turning back to Hyo. “To maintain peace?”
Hyo nods. “More or less. Princess Pan Ni is too smart to back any keeper into a corner and force them to divulge information they are not willing to give. Therefore, she wisely negotiates all her deals.”
“I didn’t mean it that way. I—”
“I know. But the loophole will backfire.”
Turning red, I apologize for my lack of consideration.
Hyo leaves her chair and goes to the book shelf, running her fingers across the spines of the books. “On the account of our past transactions, I am willing to give you a discount today.” She pulls out a book from a bottom shelf and puts it on the table. “I would have needed one minute to look for your socks, but I did not get to enjoy the haggling so I will only need thirty seconds instead.”
I blink in confusion, not understanding what Hyo is talking about. She exits the room through the gap between the sliding bookcases and Ms Pink wastes no time in scanning through the book at supernatural speed. I try my best to keep up but I am quite lost until Ms Pink stops at one particular page for a moment. There is a family tree spanning across the two pages and that’s when it occurs to me that Hyo is practically giving Ms Pink the information at the cost of nothing.
Quick as lightning, Ms Pink has her phone out and is snapping pictures of the few pages concerned. Then the book is back on the table before the book cases slide open again. Hyo returns with a smile and a pair of socks, nice and woolly.
“I found the socks,” she announces and puts the jolly blue pair on the table between us before putting the book away.
I am not expecting Ms Pink to pick the socks up, much less sniff at them.
Good? The socks smell good? What?
Hyo smiles as Ms Pink slides a little black metal case across the table. She opens it and her smile widens. “As always, a pleasure dealing with you.”
Ms Pink nods and stands. “We shall take our leave now.”
Hyo stands as I get to my feet. “Till next time, Princess Pan Ni. It was nice to see you again, Taeyeon.”
I follow Ms Pink as she leaves and together, we return to Ms Pink’s castle.
My butt is on the bed and my eyes are staring as Ms Pink pulls a blue woolly sock over one of my feet. “What is it for?”
Ms Pink releases my foot and grabs the other one. “The socks will sooth your feet.”
I look and gasp. The sole of my foot is full of weird white patches of dead skin. “H-Why—”
“Your skin is not accustomed to your rapid movement. It happened to me too and Helene gave me a special pair of socks just like this.”
My arms are flying around Ms Pink’s waist and hugging her close by instinct. “Do you love Helene?” I ask without thinking.
Hands wrap around my head and reciprocate the hug. “No.”
“Are you thankful she saved you?”
Her tone is hard when she answers. “No.”
I look up into Ms Pink’s blazing eyes. “Not even a little bit?” Ms Pink pulls away from me without answering but I’m not letting her walk away. “Tell me honestly. Nothing at all?”
“After more than two hundred years of serving Helene,” Ms Pink looks into my eyes, “I have paid my debt.”
“The debt I owe her for saving me from Malvico.”
“Is that how you see it?”
“If she is the mastermind behind my family’s assassination, she is also responsible for my torture in Malvico’s hands. I do not know why she saved me from him. I do not know why she decided to raise me.”
Ms Pink’s history has always been heart rending. But hearing Ms Pink’s admittance of her doubts and insecurities makes me tear. I’m not sure if it’s imagined, the tinge of longing in her tone. A longing to have a figure to love. I have a gut feeling she wants to love Helene as a daughter loves her mother. Yet, she has had to hold everything back for centuries because she doesn’t know who she can trust. Tragic.
“Have you ever tried asking her?” I ask cautiously.
“I have brought it up during our disagreements.”
I have to fight to stop my eyes from rolling. “It might work better if you ask nicely. When you’re not in a fight.”
“She will not answer me.”
“Too many secrets to hide.”
“Well, if you ask, she might just answer . . .”
“You do not know her well enough.”
I shrug. “Sometimes, people can surprise you.”
Ms Pink stares at me long and hard. “Surprisingly, you are right.”
Exactly nine hours after my levels were measured, Ms Pink and I enter the study with Seo. She launches a program on her device and a spatial figure of my body is beamed before us in 3-D. It is mildly embarrassing to be put on show like this, but it isn’t as bad if I think of it as science.
“This is the physical map of Taeyeon’s energy and essence levels nine hours ago. The blue zones indicate where it is centred and intensity is indicated by the shade of blue.” At this point, Seo instructs me to stand on the same scanning device and after a few moments, a second figure appears. With the push of a button, both figures rotate and the differences are fairly obvious to us.
“The intensity of Taeyeon’s EEL has dropped by 2.38% in the past nine hours. To complete the preliminary analysis, you are required to have se—”
Ms Pink stands and takes my hand. “Come back in thirty minutes.”
Seo nods as I blush from the roots of my hair to the tip of my toes. Must Ms Pink be so insensitive about it? Sex isn’t just any act. It’s not like donating blood or giving a urine sample. Sex is supposed to be romantic and meaningful and—
“Take your clothes off and lie down,” Ms Pink orders as soon as Seo is out of the room.”
Ms Pink frowns. “What did you say?”
“I said no.”
“This is not a choice. Seo needs the readings.”
“Can we at least not treat this like an experiment?”
“This is not an experiment.”
“It feels like one.”
“What is wrong with you now.”
I fold my arms and scowl. “Nothing is wrong with me. More like something is wrong with you.”
“I did not do anything wrong.”
“Don’t you think you’re treating me like some sex doll right now? Take your clothes off and lie down. Spread your legs. Cum now. Good girl.” I growl in frustration. “I’m not a doll or a robot, you know.”
“You can take the reins.” Ms Pink strips down to nothing in record time and lies on the couch in front of me. “I am all yours.”
My eyes and ears bulge at the sight of Ms Pink lying naked, staring at me like a helpless princess, telling me she’s all mine. How does she do it?
I shake my head, in part to clear my mind and in part to tell Ms Pink it isn’t the point of my resistance. “It’s not about who takes control. It’s fun to be in control but I’m happy with you in control too. I’m happy as long as I’m with you.”
“What is the problem then?”
“Sex with you should be romantic.”
Ms Pink sits up with a grin—uncanny as it seems, she is actually grinning. “Romantic?”
I nod. “And meaningful. I don’t want to do it with you like an assignment or a job.”
A blink later, Ms Pink is standing again, fingers digging into my hair, her breath warm on my face. “You want romance. Like the stupid candles you wanted.”
Black skull candles appear in my mind. Vivid as the sun at noon. “I don’t want clinical sex. We did it once. In front of the Feds. I don’t want to feel that way ever again.”
Ms Pink laughs and pulls me closer, her hands on my behind. “Stupid human.”
A smile finds its way back onto my face. “Stupid princess.”
Ms Pink’s tongue greets the tip of my nose. “Only you—” a kiss drops over the same spot, “—can call me that.”
I am grinning now. “Do you like it?”
A dash of pink flares in Ms Pink’s eyes and dances like a flickering flame. “Only when you say it.”
Leaning close to her ear, I attempt to lower my voice so it sounds sexier. “Stupid princess.”
“Stupid human. Kiss me.”
This time, I oblige most willingly.
“I will continue to take measurements to determine the extent of EEL loss in a full moon cycle,” Seo informs us as she packs up her devices. According to her calculations, I will experience a drop of just over six percent every twenty-four hours which means I can go without sex for about sixteen days before my EEL drops dangerously low. It also remains to be seen how much EEL a round of sex can replenish.
Based on the measurement earlier, sex with Ms Pink had indeed replenished my EEL. However, we don’t know the full extent one round of sex can replenish unless I go without sex for something like a week.
“But more tests will be required to determine if her orgasm is directly responsible for EEL replenishment.”
I had not thought of that. “So if I have sex but don’t orgasm, there’s a chance my EEL won’t be recharged?”
“We do not know if that is true. Verification is required.”
“Seo, give me a list of herbs used in purging a picta and find out what you can about undoing a caepicta.
“Yes, Ms Pink.”
Ms Pink brings me into our bedroom after Seo leaves the castle and sits me on the bed. She seems to have something to say but all she does is stare at me in silence.
“Do you have something to say?” I ask. Ms Pink looks away. I’m surprised to see the reticence in her and my concern for her spikes. Laying my hand over hers, I probe again. “Is something wrong?”
“I have a theory.”
Ms Pink’s shoulders heave as she looks into my eyes again, a faint pink flickering inside. “I think the caepicta might be on my back.”
My brain whizzes as pieces of the puzzle snap together. Now I understand Ms Pink’s tentativeness. Her back is a sensitive topic for her. It holds too many traumatic memories and clings on to her, a constant reminder of her sufferings.
“I want you to search my back for the caepicta.”
“So I’m guessing you think it has been purged by herbs but not completely removed?”
Ms Pink nods. “Helene might have purged it. But undoing the caepicta completely requires deep magic from crystals. Helene is unlikely to have the knowledge necessary to undo it.”
“And you want me to find the purged caepicta, which means I’ll have to examine your back closely.”
Ms Pink removes her pink blouse and innerwear and lies face down on the bed. I spot the tremble and my heart hurts for her. For as powerful as she appears to be, suffering and torture have marred her psychic and left permanent scars on her body. I’m also touched by her willingness to confide in me. Ms Pink hardly ever shows me her bare back but here she lies, trusting and believing.
“I’ll start from the top.”
“You may begin.”
I climb onto the bed and straddle her. Then, leaning on my elbows, I examine the scars, thicker and thinner, faint and faded. It is a mess of nasty reminders, crisscrossing, slanted in all directions. Looking for the caepicta among her scars is akin to looking for a word in a ten thousand word puzzle.
Ms Pink trembles slightly when I trace some of them with my finger.
“Are you alright? Should I stop touching your back?”
“It is fine. Do what you must.”
I focus on the scars, examining the lines and curves carefully. I have no idea how big or small the caepicta may be. Or if other scars are overlapping it. So every inch of Ms Pink’s back is submitted to careful scrutiny. And progress is slow.
Many minutes later, I am half way down Ms Pink’s back when I spot something further down her spine. Something that looks remotely like a circle. My heart beats faster at the discovery. It is not a perfect circle, but it counts as one. It is definitely a circle. Squinting my eyes to see better, I lean closer to inspect the faint lines within the circle. It seems to be overlapping with other scars but I can just about make it out—a diamond. A diamond in a circle and a circle in a—
“I think I may have found it.”
Her head snaps around like I’ve just said something shocking. And it probably is.
“H-How . . .”
“Take a picture.”
“Right.” I speed to my phone and return with the camera app ready for use. The caepicta is faint and obscured by overlapping scars so I have to zoom in to get a better picture. “Here.”
Ms Pink sits up and takes my phone. She stares at it for a moment, then in an eerily calm voice, asks me to touch it. I oblige, going around behind her and putting my finger on it. The caepicta isn’t much bigger than two of my fingers combined and would never have been found if Ms Pink didn’t ask me to search of it.
I grow uneasy when Ms Pink remains silent for the longest time, staring at the picture of the caepicta. “What’s on your mind?”
Ms Pink’s eyes meet mine and with a shocking display of pink in her stare, she says, “I think my family was assassinated because of me.”