“Impossible,” says Tatua.
Ms Pink merely rises a corner of her lips and the unease in Tatua’s eyes escalates.
“Impossible!” he yells.
“Miras, we will have to trouble you once again,” says Ms Pink as she gestures at my head.
“What will you have me do?” Miras asks.
Ms Pink smiles. “During the previous trial in Demortams, you retrieved a memory from the Erika, and we solved the great mystery of Olympias. This time, we need your help to retrieve a memory the Erika recently attained.”
I nod and close my eyes, entrusting my memory to Miras. Just like the last time, Miras’ hand presses on my forehead. It is cool to the touch and sweeps around the back before stopping on my right temple. A second hand presses on my left temple and the front of my brain kicks into action. It is as strange as the first time and again, I can feel threads of thoughts leaving me.
“It is done,” Miras announces after a moment. She takes the two wire ends from Seo and attaches them to her temples. “This is the memory.”
And the recollection begins screening. The young girl who is Ms Pink’s birth mother. The men who are trading yet-to-exist Ms Pink’s future. Ms Pink’s father. Ms Pink, the human baby. Ms Pink, the young girl. Helene and the man Ms Pink’s parents are begging. The garden. Malvico. Slaughter. Caepicta.
I am hyperventilating. Breaking out in cold sweat. I hate seeing the slaughter of Ms Pink’s family yet I have seen it at least three times now. Tearing my eyes away from the screen, I turn and see a stunned audience in the stands. It is only then do I realize just how much of her past Ms Pink has just willing shared with everyone in this place. How does she feel, knowing everyone has now seen her in her weakest moment?
I look to Ms Pink for an answer but her attention is fully directed at Tatua who has schooled his expression to give nothing away.
“Tatua, I must say, you were quite the charming gentleman back in the days before you got more and more tattoos. Or should I call you by your rightful name, Osiris?”
Osiris? Tatua is Osiris? Didn’t Osiris disappear a long time ago? What is this sorcery?
The loud gasps from the audience echoes my feelings.
“You are hysterical,” Tatua replies, shaking from head to toe with fury. “Insane.”
“Pan Ni, would you care to explain?” asked Miras.
“My pleasure, Miras.” Ms Pink stands before everyone, proud and tall. “During my investigation, I found records that listed the Park triplets as Olympias’ vicis. But a moment ago, Helene vouched for their legitimacy under the bloodline of Osiris. What does that mean?”
Ms Pink paced to the side of Demortams, taking each step like the Royal she was. “Tatua came into prominence after Olympias’ death. We saw Kharne rip her head off. She was dead. But her snakes were everywhere. And who was the one being who could communicate with Olympias’ snake?”
“Tatua,” said Miras, her jaw slack.
“Correct. Based on Tatua’s words, we believed that Olympias had been framed by Kharne and Charles. We could not verify it ourselves—none of us understand snakes. But why could he?”
Ms Pink stops by my side, placing her hand on my shoulder. “The Erika herself sensed something amiss about Tatua. She told me once. But I did not consider it valid at that time. A negligence I am guilty of.”
“Nonsense! The Erika is not at that level of sensitivity yet. She is but a baby,” Helene scoffed.
“The Erika’s senses have vastly heightened. I now trust the reliability of the Erika’s instincts,” Ms Pink rebutted, much to my delight. “A snake is capable of shedding its skin every season. A snake can change its appearance.”
“What are you trying to say, Princess?” Kharne asks impatiently.
“What I am saying is, the Tatua we see before us is an imposter.”
Sintix is on his feet. “Pan Ni, are you sure?”
Ms Pink nods. “I must admit, I do not know how Osiris did it. However, all clues point to this. Olympias is posing as Tatua. Olympias was once Osiris. Therefore, Tatua is Osiris.” She pauses, perhaps for dramatic effect, before adding the last twist. “And Helene has known it all along.”
“Pan Ni,” Helene growls in a threatening tone.
“I have a theory,” says Seo. “May I?”
Sintix waves his crystal wand. “Please, enlighten us.”
“According to the history of Pra, Osiris was Lord of the Dead, his power strong in resurrection. He defeated Pra by using essence he stole from Pra. And the essence later took the form of a serpent snake which eventually killed Pra.” Seo’s eyes gleamed emerald green. She was in her element. “This would be testament to the snake’s liability. It has proven to turn on its own blood once. Why would it not do it again?”
Murmurs rise in the crowd as they nod and agree.
“My theory. Osiris disappeared soon after defeating Pra because his serpent snake turned on him. Olympias was known as the snake queen. That is because she was a serpent snake that had taken the form of Osiris. But she was not happy as a man. So she made Osiris disappear and reappeared as Olympias. Kharne eventually ripped her head off. But her snakes were not dealt with.”
“But she was destroyed by me. What good would her snakes be?” asks Kharne.
Seo nods, confidence overflowing. “Remember, Osiris had the power of resurrection. This power would remain in effect regardless of the form Osiris had become.”
“You are saying Osiris or Olympias—whoever—resurrected herself through the snakes?” Kharne says with a snort.
“Through the essence in her snakes,” Seo clarifies.
Numerous murmurs of agreement fill the hall and I find myself nodding too. Everything Seo has said so far makes a lot of sense. And the pieces are beginning to fit. This theory would certainly explain why I had a feeling there was something up with Tatua.
Ms Pink holds up her hand for silence. “The timing of Ttrowtos’ return was unexpected. Tatua, or Osiris, had no choice but to show loyalty to Ttrowtos. But Ttrowtos had a hand in persecuting Osiris after Pra was destroy. He had no wish to see Ttrowtos returning to power.”
“And that’s why he colluded with Helene?” Miras blurts out, obviously finally connecting all the pieces together.”
“It would explain the contradiction.”
“But why Helene?” asks Kharne.
The strain on Ms Pink’s face betrays the limit of her patience with Kharne’s duller intelligence. “Helene is the only remaining vici of Pra. Upon elimination of Ttrowtos, Osiris could then plan to take over Helene when the next season comes. And he would finally be female again. The craving of the snake.”
Helene turns to Tatua, eyes wide and stunned. “You. You snake!” she spits accusingly.
The tattoos on Tatua begin to glow a dangerous red. Ms Pink positions herself in front of me, but I shift so that I’m beside her. I’m not afraid of Tatua. I can protect Ms Pink too.
As I take Ms Pink’s hand, the red glow of Tatua continues to intensify. His mouth widens for beyond what is normal as his jaw distends, much like a snake. Then his skin splits. I scream. As do a few others. Because out from the skin emerges a disgusting, slimy, bloody body with the head of a serpent, complete with a forked tongue. And I say serpent because this creature is about a hundred times larger than a regular snake. Its head alone is almost as big as Gerant and it towers way above us, shattering the dome above.
Chaos follows. Between the dodging of glass falling from the sky, or dome, rather, and dodging the massive bulk of the serpent. I think this serpent might be even bigger than the Basilisk in that bespectacled wizard’s world. I’m dead serious.
Its tail reminds me of a rattlesnake’s but it’s way more dangerous because every flick wrecks everything in its path. Thrones, tables, walls . . . everything. Its gigantic soulless eyes flash emergency red once before a beam of fire shoots out at us. The screams of mortals dying all around us flood the hall as immortals dodge with their supernatural agility.
Out of the corner of my eyes, I spot Helene. She is furious. I can tell from the flames surrounding her. These are the tallest flames I have ever seen from her, with the fiery figure she demonstrated earlier. Those flames flare towards the serpent but it is unaffected.
Ms Pink grabs my hand and pulls me away.
“Ms Pink, I don’t think any of you can kill it.”
“It is immune to our powers.”
“Because it carries Pra’s essence.”
Ms Pink looks at me as we hide behind our throne. “We have to run.”
“If we run, the serpent will destroy everything.”
“Demortams can be demolished for all I care.”
“What about everything else? What if the serpent comes to us?”
“We can go far away. Together.”
“If you do not have a feasible plan, we are not going out there. I am not going to lose you and you are not going to lose me.”
“What if we both die?”
“Not if we run away.”
A shrill scream sends a shiver down my spine. I spin around and peep. My eyes widen in shock when I see a rotten black fang piercing through Helene’s body. It must be venom because her body is turning black rapidly and her screams are fading to nothing as she slumps, life leaking out through the gaping hole. Oh my God.
“Ms Pink, what do we do now?”
Ms Pink stares at me, eyes full of radiant pink. And for the first time, I hear her say, “I do not know.”
Peering around the throne again, I spot Kharne swinging a sword at the serpent. He is succeeding at scratching it each time, but the serpent isn’t falling any time soon. Meanwhile Sintix is waving his crystal wand, tossing glitter into the air, presumably in attempt to stop the serpent. Miras is with Edith and Ayers. I don’t know where Charles has gone. Or Yaelhu for that matter.
Yuri leaps in from the left, leading a team of supers behind her. I can recognize some of faces among them. Glazia, Ariz, Hyo. They are brave and I feel like a coward hiding behind a throne.
“Ms Pink, we have to help them.”
We step out from the back of the throne and advance towards the serpent that is hissing at the whole group of supers. Its forked tongue flicks out and Kharne jumps, swinging his blade. It slices through the tongue, cutting off the forked end and the serpent rears back, screeching in pain.
Seeing the vulnerability of the serpent increases my faith. We can beat it.
I dodge to the side when its head smashed the ground where I stand. My lightning fast move saves me and I summon my energy shield, blocking the flames it spits out. Blood is spilling from its cut tongue, making the ground slick. I almost slip and fall but Ms Pink is right there, holding me up.
“Erika, kill it!” Yuri hollers from the left.
“Screw with its mind!”
“Aim between its eyes!” Sintix adds helpfully.
That’s a good idea. I focus my energy on the serpent’s head, right between its eyes. Amidst the exchange of flames and fire, I keep my energy shield up to stave off the heat and push my energy forward. A herd of supers is climbing up the serpent’s scaly body, swarming towards its eyes. Ms Pink is setting rings of fire around the serpent, I’m not sure why.
The weight of the serpent’s force is overpowering. Its energy is pouring out in waves and I am suffering the consequences of trying to contain it. My focus, my mind, they are wavering as I struggle to keep it up.
Kharne has managed to climb up to the serpent’s head. He shoves his blade into its left eye and the monster cries like a strangled banshee from hell. Thrashing its head around, black goo spills from its shattered eye and rains down on us everywhere. Hissing erupts as the goo lands, the venom burning through everything it touches. Holy crap.
In a concerted effort to protect everyone else, especially Ms Pink, I extend my energy shield, manipulating the black goo so each giant blob is suspended in mid-air instead of obeying the call of gravity. I can feel each blob as they hang frozen. With enough energy, I believe I can move them away. But a better idea strikes me right at this moment.
“Because the snake was formed by the essence of Pra himself, he was unable to counter it and was destroyed.”
Pra was essentially destroyed by his own essence so these goo blobs—they might be the answer.
A headache is beginning to develop in my head at this point. I can tell it’s going to be a bad one. The kind that pounds all over and punches your eyes from inside out. But I can’t let go just yet. I have to hold on. And figure this out.
With all my might, I focus on the blobs. And compress them. Squeeze them. Atoms and molecules. Protons, electrons and neutrons. They shift. They transform. The blobs begin to quiver. And shimmer. They seem to be glowing now. Glowing deep, dark blue. The colour of my eyes. They belong to me now. My bullets.
I can feel my sanity slipping from me as I exert the last bout of strength from my body to harness the surrounding energies. Through my fingers, through my hands. My mind. It’s all I have left.
“KILL IT!” I yell and fire all my shimmering blue blobs at its injured eye. A lightness descends upon me as they smash into the serpent, making it scream and cry like a thousand tortured souls. It’s really thrashing about now. Its rattlesnake tail is demolishing even more of Demortams’ walls. Debris is falling around me.
Brilliant pink eyes meet mine. The triumph I see in them vanish in the next instant and Ms Pink is a blur as she speeds to me.
Her voice reaches me in strange echo-like waves, meandering through the air. I smile, happy to hear Ms Pink’s voice, albeit a strange version of it, but my smile slips as a shadow looms over me. The serpent is falling. It is falling over me. And its fang is about—to—pierce . . .
The greatest horror drowns me as Ms Pink lunges. She pushes me out of harm’s way and I fly backwards from the force but I am screaming as the lethal black fang is about to strike her instead.
“Ms Pink!” My heart is exploding in fright. In sheer desperation, I cast a shield and plead for Ms Pink’s life. A subtle flutter whizzes past me. Captes. Captes! “Please! Help!”
The fang strikes and I scream. But much to my relief, Ms Pink remains unscathed. A black ring appears just above Ms Pink, radiating outwards in circles from the fang and I know the captes have saved her. But I need to get her out from there. Yuri is faster than me, already by Ms Pink’s side and pulling her out when I reach her.
With our combined effort, Ms Pink is pulled out from underneath and the captes protecting Ms Pink from the venom collapse to the ground, completely blackened. Poor captes.
“Pan Ni, are you alright?” Yuri is asking Ms Pink as I sit there staring at the blackened captes.
Ms Pink nods. Our eyes meet. Blue and pink. Her hand lifts. I take it. Her lips move. I kiss them.
“I love you,” is what she said and I can feel the touch of her lips as my mind crumbles from the pain and destruction, shattering into darkness.