Laura looked into the camera and tried to control the catch in her voice, thrusting her tears back down her throat where they couldn’t hurt her anymore, “and that one big grand gesture doesn’t make up for what’s essentially murder, but she was my terrible roommate, and she made the big gesture for me.”
It wasn’t working. Laura could still feel the tears prickling at the edges of her vision and threatening to reduce her back to the girl who’d stayed under her blanket for a day just wordlessly staring at Carmilla’s empty bed.
Perry saved her from herself, bursting through the door that Laura had no reason to lock, “Hey Laura, so, um, something happened.” Laura spun her chair around to face the door, wincing as her bruised body complained at the action. She paused when she spotted her friend.
Perry was pale, uncommonly pale, her neck so tightly strained that Laura was worried she’d never get it unwound. Perry’s hands were hovering in the air, her fingers with fiddling with nothing, “So Kirsch, and his,” Perry looked uncomfortable with her words, “zeta bros, were throwing, um, cherry bombs into the big pit under the Lusdig and um, they found something.”
Laura straightened, her stomach tightening in the best way, “What?”
“Well,” Perry tapped her hands together lightly, “we’re not sure exactly. It might just be a deep shadow from some falling rock and you know that the wind makes all kinds of odd noises when it whistles through rocks, so it’s probably just a natural -”
“Perry,” Laura interjected, “was it Carm? Did they find Carm?”
Perry seemed to collapse, her shoulders caving in, “We don’t know what it is sweetie, but it’s asking for you.”
Laura let her chair crash to the ground as she pushed off of it and sprinted out the room. Her feet thundered down the stairs, shoving past students and not apologizing as she knocked them down.
She could hear Perry doing it for her, the don’s light feet pattering after her, “Sorry. Sorry. She’s had a bit of shock. Oh. Put some antiseptic on that. Sorry. She’ll apologize later. She’s usually not like this. I’ll bake you all brownies.”
Bursting out the residence door, Laura cleared the quad and pushed through a hoard of Zeta’s with sheer willpower. Finally she came skidding to a halt a couple of meters back from the pit where Laf, Danny, and Kirsch were all huddled around something.
Laura would recognize that face even if she was in a pitch black room, blindfolded, with her eyes gouged out.
“Carm,” she shouted, thankful that Kirsch stepped back so she didn’t have to push him out of the way.
Laura dropped to her knees next to the silent body, “Carm!” She let out a little high pitched gasp at the impossibility that her hands could locked around Carmilla’s unmoving shoulder. “Well, blood.” Laura shouted, “she needs blood.”
“We tried that,” Danny started.
“Give it to me!” Laura roared. Danny’s eyes widened and she thrust the package at Laura.
Laura grabbed it with fumbling fingers, hating that she needed to let go of Carmilla’s shoulder and sliding her knees forward into the vampire’s side to make up for it. Her fingers trembled as she tried to twist the cap off the packet, nearly dropping the whole thing in the process.
“Please don’t be dead,” Laura whispered, holding the packet to Carmilla’s lips, “please don’t be dead.” She let her hand tangle in Carmilla’s curls, lifting Carmilla’s head up. The blood gurgled slowly from the packet and streamed red past Carmilla’s pale lips.
For a moment Laura again believed in miracles.
But then the blood started welling up, spilling over the sides of Carmilla’s mouth in deep red rivulets as there was no swallow to give it somewhere to go. Laura kept pouring. She moved Carmilla’s head to her knee and used her free hand to wipe the red from Carmilla’s face, letting the blood stain their skin.
She wasted the whole packet, letting it pour out into the vampire’s mouth where it overflowed to ultimately cover her lap in a deep crimson.
Someone touched her shoulder and Laura lashed out, Kirsch let her hand bounce off his chest before catching it, “hey there little Laura,” he said, “just me.”
Laura yanked her hand back, using it to cradle Carmilla to her chest and sending all but a small pool of the remaining blood cascading down her shirt. She stared down at her roommates face. Carmilla’s eyes were closed, her mouth tight. People always said death was peaceful but the vampire looked far from at peace. A peaceful Carmilla didn’t have this tight nothingness. A peaceful Carmilla was something caught between starlight and humanity and pleased to discover they could touch both at once.
Once, Laura had seen it flit across her face. Just a moment. Before the waltz. When she had spoken of midterm bases and normal problems. Carmilla had looked at her.
And Laura had wondered. Even after the waltzing, it was that look that had made her wonder.
Kirsch’s hand settled on her shoulder, engulfing it in warmth.
Laura looked up, knowing her eyes were blank and empty, just like Carmilla. She met Kirsch’s eyes, his big brown puppy dog eyes that were the only ones who could look at her with empathy instead of sympathy as SJ lurked behind them, “she’s really dead.” Laura whispered.
Kirsch squatted, surrounding both her and Carmilla and tugging them in close.
“Actually,” Laf voice hung brightly in the air, “I’m still not sure about that.”
Laura’s head popped up, peering over Kirsch’s shoulder.
“You don’t know that sweetie,” Perry chastised, “let’s not raise any false hopes.”
“Well I know that something funky is happening down in that pit,” Laf said, waving around something metal with a lot of gears “Don’t tell me you guys can’t hear that.”
All Laura could hear was the chattering of the Zetas.
“Hey, idiots!” Danny shouted, “zip your howling screamers for a minute!”
What hurt Laura the most was that it sounded like just another day at Silas. A vague humming of student voices. Trees rustling against each other in an eternal dance. Birds chirping as though nothing mattered. To Laura, the world should have been quiet. A somber silence of nothing that matched what she was carrying inside.
The whistle of the wind should have silenced in the face of Carmilla’s sacrifice.
But the wind wasn’t whistling. Laura frowned, bunching her face at the sound. The wind was moaning, a soft and gentle sigh that seemed to reach on the breeze with light fingers. A single sound. A single word breathing through the air.
Laura leapt upward, pausing only to deposit Carmilla’s body in Kirsch’s arms, and raced over the edge of the pit.
“Laura be careful,” Danny followed her, pulling her back from the extreme edge.
Laf was basically jumping with excitement, “You heard it to!” They said.
“We all did,” Danny muttered, crossing her arms.
Laura’s eyes scanned the pit, trying to see something beside darkness and rocks. She squinted at the deep crater near the edge of the pit. So black it didn’t appear to have an end.
Laf nodded as they followed Laura’s gaze, “Yeah, that’s it.” they said, “freaky right? But the sound is definitely coming from over there. One of the zetas tried to throw a cherry bomb down there at it and it bounced right back up. When they went down to check it out, boom, there was Carmilla. Right beside it.” Laf paused, “one of the bro’s tried to touch it. He’s in the infirmary now.”
“Right,” Laura nodded, “I’m going to go touch it.”
She took a step into the pit and Danny yanked her back, “Hollis, were you even listening?”
Laura turned, intentionally placing one foot back in the pit and feeling something rise inside herself besides sadness. A spark of something that she refused to let suffocate back into a faded ember, “It is literally calling my name.”
She broke free of Danny’s grip and went sliding down the edge of the pit in a less than graceful manner. Basically she fell and bounced down the side.
Laura popped to her feet, swallowing hard. It was easier to hear down here, the gentle tickle of the word Laura that she’d heard at the top expanding to a full whisper.
She followed it towards the dark mass that was the deepest crater. Even this close, she could see no bottom. There was just blackness, the roiling and deep blackness of eternity, like a sky without stars. It bubbled and churned, leaking softly out of the crater.
“Laura!” Danny landed on her feet and jogged up beside her, eyes fixed on the black, “this could be a trap. Some remnant of the light.”
Laura shook her head, “It’s not.” She couldn’t say how she knew but a sky without stars is not an enemy. Even an empty night sky is full of other things, whirling atoms and quarks that exist without humans ever seeing them. True darkness, empty darkness, was what existed on the other side. The void beyond time where not even light can escape the pull of nothingness.
“Are we going to do something stupid,” Laf joined them at the bottom of the pit, carefully helping Perry down the last few feet of rocks, “Because I’m totally down to do something stupid.”
Kirsch crashed to the ground beside them and Laura felt her stomach tighten, “You left Carmilla alone up there!” She shouted, stepping forward to climb back out of the pit.
“Dude, no way,” he put up his hands, “I wouldn’t do that. Betty and the bros are going to take her to the Summer Psycho house and look after her. I figured that was best since Laf said we were going to something stupid.” He looked around the pit, “Anyway, it’s way better down here than last time.”
“Explain,” Laf reached into their back pocket and pulled out a notepad.
Kirsch bobbed his head, “Last time the air felt angry, bros. Like it was super not pleased that we were down here. I totally knew that something bad was going to happen when Matt touched the crater thing but he didn’t listen when I told him not to. Said that if I could touch it, then it would be totally fine but I knew it wouldn’t be.”
“Wait,” Danny whipped her heads towards him, “you touched that thing?”
“Yeah man,” Kirsch looked offended, “it didn’t want me here but I knew it wasn’t gonna hurt me. Like a scary bro.”
Laf was furiously taking notes, “What did it feel like?”
Kirsch shrugged, “Didn’t get to touch it. Got really close and then I just couldn’t reach out any more, like something was stopping me. Then we found Carm-sexy and Matt got fried, so I didn’t really get to check it out.”
The crater whispered her name again. Laura ambled away from the group, following the tugging in her chest towards the edge of the crater. She leaned forward, letting her fingers dip towards the darkness below. She leaned farther forward, squinting as she thought as she saw something move down there. Expecting to meet resistance, her eyes widened when her fingers touched the surface of the darkness. It ran warm between her fingers, twining like liquid around the digits.
She went to pull back and found that she couldn’t. Instead the dark liquid was pulling her farther forward.
“Guys,” she shouted.
Three hands grabbed her as she fell face first into the crater.
“Oh good,” Perry’s voice was the first thing she heard, “we’re not dead. I suppose that’s an excellent start.”
Laura sat up and opened her eyes. Her friends were scattered behind her Kirsh with one hand on her arm and Danny with hands on her shoulders. Perry grabbing Kirsch. Laf grabbing Perry.
Laf moaned and rolled over, “Wow that stuff was cold.”
Laura still felt the warmth of it lingering on her skin but choose not to comment. She looked up. The Silas was gone. The pit was gone. Instead a tall roof arched over their heads in elegant cathedral like swoops.
The blackness was gone.
With the exception of the five of them the entire world around them seemed to be cast in shades of greys and blacks. Shadows overlapping shadows.
Turning, Laura realized they were in a library. Stretching out behind them was an apparently endless maze of books, on shelves that reached nearly to the ceiling. Even in all gray, it was a breathtaking sight. There were enough books that generations could read the stories and never repeat a page.
But the library looked deserted. The books neglected on their shelves, dusty and wearing cobwebs.
Danny released Laura and crawled to her feet, “I’ve got to start carrying weapons on me if this kind of thing is going to keep happening.”
“I’ve got gum and few random things,” Laf offered.
In fact, it looked like they’d landed in the only non-book part of the library. Despite the hard stone floor they’d landed on there were a few small couches beside them, surrounding an empty fireplace. In between the couches and the fire, was a small chest.
Laura recognized at once, her mother had once had something similar in her bedroom and Laura had gotten it after her death. A hope chest. Laura’s was a white, soft pine hand painted by her mother when she had been a child. There were storing treasures. Hers had photographs, handwritten notes, seashells, a few stuffed animals and other nickknacks.
This chest however was a heavy, dark mahogany perfectly polished despite the gray colour. Laura scrambled over to it, pausing once, before pushing back the lid to reveal
The chest was empty. Laura felt an odd pang in her chest, as though this should reveal that something was deeply and utterly wrong.
“You’re not wrong, Lady Hollis.” The voice was new.
Laura jumped back, letting the lid slam closed. Her friends turned as well, forming fists and taking defensive stances before they saw who had spoken. Then they froze.
“Whoa,” It was Kirsch who spoke first and Laura couldn’t argue with the sentiment.
The woman before them was dressed like something out of the centuries past. A sparkling jewel around her neck. Her dress long and cumbersome and tied so tight that Laura felt her own breathing constrict. Still, as she stepped towards them she moved with a grace that gave the illusion she was dancing across still waters. Her small, thin frame radiating elegance The woman’s face was older, perhaps 40, and unfamiliar but the deep brown eyes within the face and dark flowing hair around were familiar enough to make Laura ache.
She could see the others out of the corner of her eyes, still moving defensively. Laf even had their fists up in a pathetic attempt at emulating a boxer.
“Guys, it’s okay,” Laura said softly, “I don’t think she’s hear to hurt us.”
The woman smiled and inclined her head, “Thank you Lady Hollis. No. I do not intend to bring you any harm, though I fear that indirectly I have caused you trouble. Still, I cannot claim myself sorry for your presence.” Her smile saddened, “For I have great need of your help.”
“Um sorry,” Laf said, “Who are you exactly?”
Laura answered, her eyes never leaving the woman, “I. I. I think she’s Carmilla’s mother.”
“What!” came the general cry.
The woman gave them a small curtsey, “Nearly correct. I was once the Right Honourable and Most Excellentest of all Ladies, the Marchioness Karnstein. Wife of the Marquess Karnstein of Celje. Mother of Countess Mircalla Karnstein.”
“That’s who you once were?” Perry asked.
The Marchioness nodded, “I am not real. I am an illusion, created by my daughter as she remembers me. To preserve my memory and guard that which she holds most dear.”
“Carmilla!” Laura leapt up and stepped towards the Marchioness, “So she’s here? Is she still alive? Is she okay? Please tell me she’s not dead. Or more dead. Or whatever you call vampires when they’re actually gone.”
Carmilla’s mother’s smile grew and she put a fine hand on Laura’s face. The touch was there but wasn’t as substantial as a real hand, “Lady Hollis,” she said, “MIrcalla is not yet lost to us should you act quickly.” The spark in Laura’s chest expanded into a flaming ember and a broad grin cracked across her face. This time, she let the tears fall freely. Carmilla’s mother smiled and wiped her tears with her finger. “I have been calling for you.” She said, “I didn’t not expect your friends however,” she opened her hands to them, “your assistance would be much appreciated.”
“Dude, yeah.” Kirsch said immediately, “let’s save Carm-sexy.”
Laf nodded enthusiastically while Perry gave one firm head bob.
Danny gave a wry smile, “I suppose I could handle another bout of matching sarcastic wits.”
“You have my thanks Lady Lawrence, Lord Kirsch, Lady Perry, and” the Marchioness frowned at Laf, “I apologize. Would Sir suffice as a title? I know it is traditionally a male title but I have heard of it bestowed an a few select females as well.”
Laf grinned, “Be a knight? Hell yeah, that will suffice.”
“What do we have to do?” Laura asked, straightening her spine, “Kill the Light again?”
The Marchioness shook her head, “Thankfully, that creature has been dealt with. Mircalla’s actions were well placed.” She looked to the ground at the next words, “When Mircalla fell, she retreated here. An inner sanctum of sorts. All humans have one, a place of safety in their own heads. I could not leave my daughter alone, so I left the chest and went to find her in the stacks and comfort her, to help her return to herself.”
Laura looked over at the empty box before her.
“I did not expect,” Carmilla’s mother’s fists were clenched, “that awful woman who stole my name and hurt my daughter in ways beyond my reckoning. She came. To try and steal the items from the chest, to strengthen herself with my daughters deepest emotions. Ones that witch has long forgotten but are vital to leaving this place.”
Now it was Laura, tentatively reaching up to wipe away the Marchioness’ tears.
“But my girl, my baby girl. She is so strong.” Carmilla’s mother whispered the words, “as soon as that horrible woman opened the box, Mircalla’s deepest self scattered throughout this scanteam, fragmenting into seven pieces. Seven facets of my daughter. Safe from that woman but individually they lack strength to awaken.”
Laura nodded, realizing what they had to do, “We have to gather them back together.”
“It will not be easy,” the Marchioness warned, “they will test you. The pieces will not give themselves up so easily. Only to those who can prove worthy to hold them. And that woman is still here. You must find the pieces before her. She cannot acquire Mircalla’s soul.”
“Great,” Laf said, “no problem. It's just evil ancient vampires trying to kill us. Not to mention the crazy soul of a badass vampire that's going to be testing us. Easy.”
Carmilla’s mother held up a hand, “You must hurry. Mircalla cannot last long with a fractured soul.” the Marchioness’ eyes glazed slightly, “I can already feel her slipping away. You have maybe a day, and time flows differently here. That can be a help or a hinderance.” Laf nodded, and started fiddling with their watch.
“I don’t suppose,” Danny said, “that this is one of those fun supernatural places where if something bad happens to us here we just wake up in our own bodies.”
“Death here would be fatal.” Carmilla’s mother said.
“Of course,” Perry sighed, “of course it is.”
Laura ignored them, “Then let’s get to it. Where do we go first?” She was bouncing on her toes, fists clenched. She could get Carmilla back. They could do this. It wasn’t over.
“There are seven pieces,” Carmilla’s mother said, “Rage, fear, avarice, hope, compassion, will, and love. You must gather all of them. Each will have a physical manifestation. Each will have a test. They can all be found in library. Beyond that,” the Marchioness skimmed her hands down Laura’s shoulders and stepped back, “I cannot help you. I am only a protector of what Carmilla holds dearest.”
“We’ve got this.” Laura promised, “we’ll bring her back.”