Demortams. Again. Nothing good ever comes out of visiting this place. The last time we were here, Ms Pink was whipped. And another time, I was forced to be intimate with Ms Pink with the Feds watching. So it is with great trepidation that I walk towards the great hall where the trial is to be held.
“Why are you nervous?” Ms Pink asks me.
“How do you know I’m nervous?”
Ms Pink looks at me like I just asked a stupid question. “I know you.”
“Even if you know me, something must have given it away,” I argue.”
“Becoming an immortal has not cured you of the human condition.”
“Welcome back to Demortams, dear Princess Pan Ni and our esteemed Erika.” Standing in the middle of the great hall is Sintix, arms extended, crystal wand in hand.
“Good to see you again, Sintix,” Ms Pink replies with a curtsey.
The act has me raising my brows. Why is Ms Pink acting like a demure princess all of a sudden? The demure princess squeezes my hand and I meet her eyes wondering what’s up with her.
“I trust you are well, esteemed Erika,” says Sintix, swinging his crystal wand that is casting rainbow waves from within.
What is going on? “I am well, Sintix.”
“That is good to hear. We wouldn’t want our esteemed heroine to be any less than well, would we?”
I am staring at Sintix, on the verge of gaping at this point. “Thank you,” I say simply, not knowing what else is safe to speak.
“Please, take your place on your royal throne.”
Royal throne? Sintix steps aside, revealing a long seat of red and rose gold. It doesn’t look like the kind of throne I’ve seen in movies and museums though. In fact, it reminds me more of the grand chairs in High Society than a throne. Plush and cushy, I sink into the throne and lean back with a sigh of comfort. The back of the throne towers just above my head and there’s a headrest to nestle my head in, like a glorified mega first class seat on airplanes.
“The accused will be trialled in a few moments,” Sintix informs us before bowing and returning to his seat with the Feds.
Unable to hold in my curiosity anymore, I lean to Ms Pink’s ear and whisper, “What’s going on?”
Ms Pink takes my hand, pink and black dancing like flames in her eyes. “We are going to get the truth out of Tatua today.”
“What has that got to do with this royal treatment?”
“This is Helene’s doing.”
“Helene? But why?”
“It is between Helene and Kharne.”
“Is Kharne ruling over the Feds now?”
“He is an Ancient. Few are as powerful.”
“What about me? Could I beat him in a fight?”
Ms Pink frowns at me. “You are to avoid conflict.”
“Why? If I can defeat Ttrowtos—”
“Seo is still studying your EEL.”
“Knowledge is power.”
“Ms Pink, I’m confused.”
“If we lack knowledge, we lack power.”
“But I can still beat them with my energy.”
“We do not know how your EEL will affect you.”
Then it hits me. “You’re worried about me.”
“I get it now,” I reply with a big smile. “I’ll listen to you.”
Other than Sintix, none of the other Feds talk to us. Yuri is sitting like a cheetah ready to pounce, barely even looking in our direction while Miras is just sitting there, decked out in black yet again, staring straight ahead. On the other side, Yaelhu and Edith are engaged in conversation while Charles and Ayers are simply staring at their digital devices.
Wait. Someone is missing. Kharne. Why isn’t he here yet?
Just as I think that thought, the great doors creak open and in comes the hulk himself. It seems impossible for Kharne to be more muscular than he already was but his muscles seem to have grown larger since I last saw him. Muscles and rippling veins popping out like huge worms all over his neck, arms and legs.
“What happened to Kharne?” I ask Ms Pink in a whisper.
“He gained power.”
“It is possible. But suspicious.”
Kharne scans the crowd before setting his eyes on us. “Princess Pan Ni and her Erika.” His voice booms and bounces all over the hall, attracting the attention of everyone in here as he bows.
I don’t like the tone he uses on me but I try my best not to let it show. Ms Pink, ever the professional princess, rises and curtsies. Unsure if I should curtsy as well, I end up standing stiffly like a chunk of ex-human ice.
“The Erika is haughty.” Kharne stares at me with emotions I cannot read. “But a privilege duly deserved. A great addition to our family.”
Family? What is going on with Kharne and the Feds? What sort of deal did Helene strike up with Kharne?
I hope my face isn’t showing any of the confusion in my mind. The last thing I want to look like is an esteemed Erika that doesn’t know what is going on.
“The Erika is new. But she will learn quickly,” says Ms Pink.
I sure hope so.
The great doors are closed with a grand clang and I look to the set of smaller doors opening in front of us. Two glass prisons, exactly like the one I was locked in before, are rolled in and come to a stop under the high dome over our heads. My heart rate quickens at the sight.
The trial of Tatua is about to begin.
“Tatua, you are guilty of bringing Ttrowtos back to power and corrupting the system. What do you have to say about your crimes?”
I turn to Ms Pink in disbelief. Did Kharne just announce the verdict right at the beginning of the trial? What’s the point of a trial if their guilt is already assumed to be true? Ms Pink doesn’t even blink, however. She must be used to this.
Tatua’s glass prison splits open, allowing him to be heard.
“Ttrowtos is my vicist. I cannot be penalized for being loyal to my vicist,” says Tatua.
“That is true,” proclaims Charles, jumping from his seat in a hurry.
Kharne tosses him a condescending glance. “Sit down, human.”
A collective gasp is heard in the hall and I have an idea why. Even though the supers are obviously superior to humans in many ways, they have never been condescending to humans in open spaces such as this. I understand that there is an effort to maintain balance, like the equal number of seats given to both supers and humans in the Federation, and Kharne is upsetting it right now.
Miras stands. “Kharne.”
The hulk turns to Miras, clearly daring Miras to challenge him in this instant.
“We seem to have forgotten to bring the evidence out here, Kharne.”
“Who needs the evidence? We are all witnesses. We saw which side Tatua was on during the battle.”
“It is a procedure we need to respect,” Sintix adds from where he’s seated, crystal wand still in hand.
Kharne growls like an angry beast and flexes his muscles but relents. “Bring in the damned evidence!”
The doors open again, and trays roll in with vials of blue and a helmet that looks like a cross between a space helmet and a Darth Vader mask. What is it for?
“Esteemed Erika, rise for us,” Miras requests and I stand immediately. “Tell us,” she says while picking up a vial of liquid shimmering blue, “where you have seen this before.”
“Er, I saw it at the scene of Max’s murder.”
Members of the Parliament burst into a buzz of murmurs and Kharne glares at them. “Be quiet. We did not disclose the murders since it is none of your business.”
The murmurs grow in volume at Kharne’s blatant disrespect until Miras holds her hand up. “What Kharne means is we had to maintain secrecy while the investigation was happening. Only members of the Federation were aware of the murder of Max. We kept it that way to enable a more efficient investigation.”
“Max was killed by the dark power of Tatua,” says Kharne. “He opened the path to Max for Ttrowtos.”
Ms Pink rises to her feet as well. “Please allow my secretary to provide more evidence of the murders committed.”
Kharne nods. “Of course, Princess Pan Ni.”
“Seo will present the evidence we have collected during the last few months.” The doors open as soon as Ms Pink speaks Seo’s name and in Seo walks with a trunk behind her.
“Greetings to all members of the Federation, Sovereign and Parliament. I have brought in the records of the Royals’ investigation of the mass murders from the different provinces.” Another burst of murmurs spread across the hall but Seo continues without pause. “We have evidence to prove all the mass murders are committed by the same culprit.”
With a snap of Seo’s fingers, a 3-D chart showing weird looking figures and lines criss-crossing. They remind me of genes but are way more complex.
“Each of these blueprints are taken from the scenes of mass murders, fully verified by the Royal of each province.” Another snap and the weird gene charts are replaced by a map indicating each of the locations of the mass murders with a blue skull.
What an apt use of the skull emoji.
“The evidence you see now is collected across six provinces surrounding Shaw. The rating of all the samples is ranked Ancient.” Seo holds up a vial of deep sea blue. “This is the sample of Ttrowtos’ essence attained after the battle.” Another finger snap and the map turns into a report showing a hundred percent match between two sets of ‘genes’. “All blueprints have been certified as complete matches with Ttrowtos’ sample. There is no doubt Ttrowtos is the murderer of a total of sixty-six humans and thirteen vampires across the six provinces and Shaw.”
Kharne raises his arms and addresses the crowd. “Tatua is the guilty enabler. Death for Tatua! The punishment must be mete out.”
“You cannot prove I was not under Ttrowtos’ control,” Tatua rebuts calmly.
“That does not reduce your sin,” Kharne states harshly, almost spitting at Tatua.
“Ttrowtos had the power to fully occupy any being’s conscious mind. The esteemed Erika herself testified about Max who had lost his mind to Ttrowtos prior to his death.”
“There is crimes aplenty you committed with or without the influence of Ttrowtos.”
Seo steps forward again. “You were responsible for turning Helene’s minions against her by bribery in the attempt to kidnap our esteemed Erika. We have on record the minions’ statement of your crime. You have attained unlawful gains from Qas Sogok during his campaign to become the leader of the Parliament.”
The loudest burst of murmurs yet booms across the hall as a new name is hurled into the frying pan by Seo. Qas, unsurprisingly, is first to leap to his feet in protest but Seo remains calm.
“We have all the papers and records necessary showing the complete history of the transactions between Qas Sagok and Tatua’s secret vaults.”
Apparently, I’m not the only one shocked by this since I can hear it being whispered among the crowd as well.
Qas Sogok is furious by now. “You have broken the law by accessing my private account without my permission!”
Without as much as a blink of an eyelid, Seo claps her hands and the 3-D image expands and displays a scroll signed by the members of the Federation, rotating for all present to see. “I accessed your account with the permission of the Federation.”
“I never allowed this!” Qas Sogok snarls in a rage. “The Federation has no authority over my private account!”
Kharne slams the ledge of the Parliament’s fence. “Silence! Or I will tear you apart with my bare hands.”
Qas Sogok shuts his mouth promptly without a word although his face has turned red from anger. But another member of Parliament has gotten on his feet.
“We, the Parliament, will not take this insult lying down. We demand equal respect and treatment in here.”
“Imbeciles!” Kharne roars, angering more and more members of Parliament who are now on their feet.
“Equality for all!” Members of Parliament are stamping their feet as they chant and on the other side, members of the Sovereign are crossing their arms, watching as Kharne stomps towards their human counterparts.
Amidst the disruptive mess, Ms Pink disappears from my side. Realizing she has gone to Tatua, I follow suit quickly.
“Tell me now, Tatua,” I hear Ms Pink saying to the prisoner as all eyes are on Kharne and the members of Parliament. “Were you the one?”
“I can take your secret to my grave. What can you offer me, Princess Pan Ni?”
“A chance to defend yourself.”
“You cannot guarantee my freedom.”
“That is a stretch, Tatua.”
“I know it is a stretch. Nothing else is worth the exchange of my answer which you desire the most.”
“Imprisonment instead of death.”
“The evidence is too damning.”
“You can control the evidence.”
“I will do no such thing.”
“Your esteemed Erika can do it instead.” Suddenly, Tatua nods at me, eyes gleaming. “Do it for your beloved princess, Erika.”
“Do not meddle with her mind.”
Tatua barks a laugh. “She is the Erika. Above one and all. You have nothing to fear.”
“Taeyeon, look away.”
I disobey Ms Pink, stepping forward to look straight at Tatua. “Tell Ms Pink what she wants to know,” I say in my firmest tone.
“Look at you. Trying so hard to be the Erika your princess wants you to be.” Tatua laughs again. “What can you do to me? What can you offer me?”
I narrow my eyes and grip his gaze. “Insanity,” I blurt as though I were a different person and a blast of energy shoots from my eyes into his.
“No!” I hear Ms Pink exclaiming and pushing me away.
My eyes are still locked on Tatua’s, however, and I can feel my mind slowly slipping away, as though entering a dream.
“Taeyeon!” Ms Pink’s voice rings in my ear, echoing from a faraway place.
From within, a warm implodes. An awareness that wasn’t there before appears before my eyes. I see a girl. A young girl. She is beautiful. She looks like someone I know. Familiar yet foreign. She is eavesdropping behind a great wooden door. My consciousness floats through that door and I see two grown men talking. They are dressed like kings. They are kings. They are negotiating the betrothal of their children. But one of them isn’t human. How do I know? I just do. Call it my sixth or seventh sense but I can sense a different type of energy in one of them.
“My daughter’s daughter . . . I promise to you . . .”
And with that single line of conversation, I am transported to a different world. A dark night. A man is moving over a woman. She is the girl I saw, only older. Still young, but older. Her eyes. A jolt of recognition fizzles through me. She is Ms Pink but she is not. She is the source from whence Ms Pink came from. I am seeing Ms Pink’s mother in bed with her husband. I managed to detect his human-like energy before I am sucked through a narrow tube and thrown out the other side.
A naked baby is crying. Wailing. I can see the baby is a girl for lack of male body parts. She has a strong cry. Loud and noisy. I see this baby crawling, suckling milk from her mother’s breast, giggling, laughing, yawning. This baby is growing bigger. This baby is becoming a toddler. She is growing up.
She is Ms Pink.
Her mother is crying. Her mother is begging. Her father is doing the same. But the man they are kneeling and begging in front of is not budging. Neither is the woman. My eyes widen. I cannot recognize the man but the woman is Helene.
Helene is staring at Ms Pink’s parents. She hauls them up with a hand on each.
“Two more cycles. We will be back then.”
Ms Pink is now the girl I have seen before. It is the garden again. Princess Pan Ni is a happy girl. She walks through the garden with her mother and I want to scream in horror of what is to come but I am mute in this state. They enter the dining hall as I have seen before. Malvico is bowing to the royal family. He is killing them. He is close to killing Pan Ni but he stops. I have seen this before. But still time I hear something else.
“I be damned.”
Malvico stares into Pan Ni’s eyes. He sees something. Then he says a name I know.
And Malvico disappears with Pan Ni. He reappears with Pan Ni. She is naked. She is hanging from a rope around her wrists. The sun is burning her skin. Malvico is standing behind Pan Ni. His fingernail scraps her skin from the tip of her spine to the base. The fingernail strays from the spine to the right. It hovers. Then pierces through her skin. Blood flows. Blood spills. He drinks of it. Spits the remainder on the part of her that is bleeding. He traces his caepicta with his fingernail. Once. Twice. Thrice. He traces it over her skin where it bleeds. Once. Twice. Thrice.
Pan Ni screams till her voice splits.
My mind is being ripped apart. I can feel it. The memory of what I have seen is seeping through my mind, into every nook and cranny, every vessel, every cell. It is taking over my mind.
A whisper of Ms Pink’s horror seeps into the mix.
Ms Pink. I must come back to you. Ms Pink.
The grip over my mind tightens. My brain is compressed by the claws that are ripping my head apart.
Ms Pink. I must tell you what I have seen. Ms Pink.
Darkness overwhelms my mind. Snakes burst out hissing, forked tongues wriggling. They are coiling around me. They are extending their jaws. Wide open jaws. Hollow figures swoop into my mind. Max’s blue motionless body. More blue dead bodies I don’t recognize. Vampires that were once vampires. Humans who were once humans. Vanguards that were once vanguards.
My body is shaking. Something is taking over me. I cannot allow this. No. I must fight back. Where is my energy?
Ms Pink! Don’t let me go!
A star appears high above and I focus all my remaining consciousness on it. The star is glowing. It is twinkling. It is turning red. Then pink. Ms Pink’s eyes. Pink flames are dancing. I can see Ms Pink’s face. Her lips. I can feel her lips on mine. Her tongue is caressing mine. She is kissing me. She is pouring love into me. I can feel her love. I can feel her emotion. I am all that matters to her. Even more than her life.
I halt at that.
I will not take Ms Pink’s life in exchange for my mind. I will fight the darkness that is stretching across my mind. The star shines on and I refocus on it.
Fight back. Grow, star, grow. Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, fight back and reclaim my light.
A lightness descends over me and I am at peace. My mind is my own. My energy is pulsing through my veins, pushing back the darkness, pushing away the snakes and ghosts of Max and vanguards and vampires I don’t recognize.
My eyes fly open and light floods my mind. I am shouting. “Out! Out! Out!”
“Taeyeon!” Ms Pink appears before my eyes as I blink. Her eyes are blazing pink and I wonder if I’m dreaming again. “Taeyeon, my love,” she whispers, tears falling from her radiant pink eyes, then she is kissing me like there is no tomorrow and my soul is lifted, filled, warmed.
“Ms Pink,” I say after pulling away from her kiss. “Ms Pink, I know what happened—”
“Kill!” Kharne roars over my voice. “Tatua!”
A blast of fire slams into Ms Pink and I but I manage to cast a bubble of energy around us before it burns. Ms Pink’s arms are still around me and tears are still streaming down her cheeks.
“Ms Pink . . .”
“Do not ever leave me,” says Ms Pink, eyes in full pink.
“Your eyes, Ms Pink.”
“You took the darkness away from me.”
More tears roll down her rosy cheeks. “When I tried to save you from Tatua’s insanity. I almost killed you too.”
I am shaking my head, trying to wipe Ms Pink’s tears with my thumbs. “No. Ms Pink. You didn’t almost kill me. You saved me with your kiss.”
Ms Pink cradles my face and smiles through her tears. “Your eyes are blue again.”
I smile in return. “Yours are pink again.”
Ms Pink’s face contorts into an ugly crying expression and she hugs me tight. “Always be mine. Promise me.”
I hug Ms Pink back with all the strength I can muster. “I promise. I will always be yours.”