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Lion Tamer

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The pit hadn't changed much since she had thrown herself in it.

The deep briny stench, the murky water churning in dripping, breeding shadows.

Only this time there was a sense of belonging.

The slap came swift and silent. It cracked against her cheek bone and lights burst behind her eye. She didn't dare show the pain's extent. She popped her jaw instead, averting her gaze as mother leaned towards her.

Allowing her to make these videos. Allowing her to ask questions. Why. So when she finds out it was you, she can hate you even more? A lamb would never follow a wolf. The moment she knows. The second she sees you for what you really are. She's going to fear you. Loathe you. Just like the rest. You're a monster under the bed. And even if she does think she knows who you are. She'll never understand it. Kill or be killed, Mircalla.

She was right. Even after her death, she could almost hear her now.

Laura wanted a hero.

She fell for some romantic notion, some real fairy tale shit.

The beauty who fell for the beast. But only because she somehow thought it was tamable.

Fell for some idiot who thought she could actually make her fall for the real thing.

Terrible beast and all.
And if she couldn't change her. If she couldn't tame her.

Have her put down just as swiftly as Mattie.

Her ears perked at the sound of boots approaching. The smell of sweat and fear wafting off Vordenberg's men and boys coming for her.

She crawled deeper into the dark. Never mind that now.

Mattie had been right.
Will had been right.
Mother had been right.

And that dark voice inside her head had been right. The one that whispered to her when she found some poor little lost girl, far from home and looking to make friends.

Lophiiforme's glow was dim. Its massive, needle toothed jaw quivered, its body sinking a little lower into the crater.

She gave a numb but wry huff of air.

Something that was once so powerful and omnipotent now trembled at the sight of her. A lowly predator skulking about a God.

“You must have blood to know fear.”

It hissed, the eyes set heavy in its head flashing.

She had thought it to be mad, Mattie's want to drink its power. Suicidal. A death wish.

Now she understood.

She crept closer, and the angler fish's lantern wriggled, the light growing. It shone in her eyes, a drone starting in her head.

A human would've faltered. The girl Laura had wanted her so badly to be would've sunk to her knees and embraced ancient way of prey and hunter.

She was no girl.

The bite bit her back.

It was like an electrical current punching up her teeth, rolling her eyes back and cleaving her brain.

She came to at the back of her skull. She knew she was moving. She could see it all happening before her, like she was just sitting in a dark and smokey theater, watching.

A hand sank straight through the kevlar of the man in front of her. His lips sputtered, the rifle falling out of his grip.

Her hand.

It yanked back out, red, blood spraying over her in a fine mist. She was holding the slippery rope of his intestines. She pulled with a flick of her wrist and the rest came spilling out in a steaming heap. He collapsed, writhing, and she was leaping over him.

She backhanded the next one so hard his neck snapped, his helmet cracking as his head spun to stare behind him at the men retreating. Scrambling back up and out.

It was...effortless. She was gliding, her tongue sucking the sweet, rich crimson off her fangs.

She could barely hear anything over the blood surging inside her ears, her eyes coated with red but not needing to blink. Anything over the yawning hunger.

She couldn't get enough. She grabbed a leg and sank her teeth straight in. It kicked and the man it belonged to howled. The leg was coming off, the pants tearing away, the skin ripping like paper. The tendons and veins stretched out between them in thin ribbons before snapping, the bone coming right out of hip socket with a suckling crack.

Incredible.

She sank further back inside herself.

This.

This was it.

The primal thing that had grown at her core since the day she'd opened her eyes after death. The beast.

There was no longer any distinction between them. It had filled her up and now it was true. Whatever semblance of humanity that hadn't succumbed was now.

And it flashed before its own little eyes. One more memory. One more thing before I go, goodnight goodbye

I know you're furious.

It burst up from the shadows, and gun shots fired--

I know what I did was a betrayal and maybe unforgivable.

The bullets popped right back out. Ribs gave way to fingers and they quickly shoved a heart into its mouth--

And that you're probably going to have to hate me for as long as I'm alive.

Which really isn't seeming like a stretch right about now.

The boy named Theo screamed as it picked him up and slammed him down into the earth, thumbs digging into his eyes and popping them in their sockets to pierce his brain--

And I know that you don't want to listen to anything I have to say. So here's my pitch.

Help us anyway.

A skull burst between the clap of its hands, brains splattering. Barrels were batted away. Bones shattered like glass--

And not because I'm all righteous and I'm looking for you to redeem yourself. Or some pure hearted lady fair you're trying to win. Because if this semester has taught me anything.

It roared, its veins burning. Its blood on fire--

It's that I really have no business trying to be righteous. Everything that I've ever done to uphold what I think is right has caused so much damage.

And I don't want to do that anymore.

It swallowed fingers whole. Chunks of raw flesh. The survivors were running for their lives. The dying were--

Cause it makes me just like Vordenberg or like the dean was. So dead set on what I think is right that I'm willing to risk anything.

Or anyone for it.

It shifted, the four legs of a panther carrying it impossibly faster. It pounced the first flailing human it reached, swiping the meat right off their spinal cord--

And I hope that you know that. I never meant to sacrifice Mattie.

It hurt in flashes of lighting. There was too much strength behind every blow--

Or you.

The entire field was a mess of limbs and organs. It needed more. More. Mo--

So here's what I believe now. That the best thing that we could do with whatever strength we're given is to help each other.

To be as kind to each other as we can. And right now there are a whole host of people who need our help. And not because they're human or not or good or not.

The throat popped like a balloon in its jaws. It drank an entire body's worth of blood in three swallows, the man practically shriveling under its--

Just because they need our help.
And so it doesn't matter that it breaks my heart that you hate me.

It was slowing. It was suddenly aware of the knives and arrows still buried into its back. Silver wasn't as easily shaken. It snapped the wooden stems and handles. It scratched the heads and blades out--

It doesn't matter that you're going to have to hate me for as long as the earth is round. Because right now. We can do something.

It vomited, a spill of bone and guts and hair. Anything it couldn't digest. Anything that wasn't pure, delicious blood--

We can stop the damage.

Help us.

 

Laura stared.

They had fled back inside, and suddenly there were soldiers and Zetas besides them, Vordenberg in the middle of them.

There had been people screaming. Awful, horrible screaming that stretched out into the trees and under the doors of the mansion. The sounds of something tearing through them like gifts on Christmas morning.

Of something coming.

The doors had been barricaded. They had hijacked her SNN station.

And now she stared at the surveillance cameras the baron had installed, the channels feeding back to a triptych of television sets.

Two changed channels intermediately.

A Zeta boy losing half his face, his remaining features twisting through horror and pain.

A man's head slipping off his body, his body still running for a second before it collapsed.

And the thing ripping through them.

It moved so fast that she couldn't catch it all at once.

There was a flare of black hair, wet and matted.

A flash of fangs, dripping. Hands curved like tiger claws.

The primal sounds that swam beneath the pleas and cries. The growling of some real nightmare.

“She's slowing down,” said LaF.

“The God blood must be running its coarse,” agreed JP. “It is either that or it knows that its host cannot keep up. She would rip the muscles clear off her bones if she did not rest.”

The third camera was set to watch the front steps outside. The two soldiers who had been ordered to guard it were shaking. They stood close to each other.

“I might be able to jerry rig some explosives. Something to make her nap at least,” said LaF.

“I could attempt hand to hand,” JP offered. “I believe I have the same strengths and speeds. And in her weakening state--”

“No,” LaF stopped him, eyes narrowing. “She's beyond anyone's abilities right now--”

The monitors crackled into static and went dead black.

Laura's eyes flickered to a Zeta. He had yanked out the wires and sat down on the floor, gripping his head.

“We need those back on!” a soldier barked. “We need to know if she's coming--”

“What does it matter!? She's going to fucking kill us, man!” he sobbed. “We're fucked! Guns don't work, knives, arrows, nothing! Nothing!”

“Hush, boy,” Vordenberg muttered. He was sitting in the corner, sharpening his sword, eyes hardened into a squint. “For sixty-eight years, I hafe been vaiting. Nothing mofez vithout it's headt. Nothing. Let them tire her. Ant vhen she is dtone vith this massacre. I vill hafe her headt.”

“Sir,” another Zeta tried, the sweat stains beneath his arms spreading. “Over the coms. I'm getting news that she's heading here. She's not killing anymore. She's just. Following them. They're leading her here-”

“Then there isn't any time to vaste, is there?” He stood up slowly. “Open the dtoors. Ve shall greet her.”

“Laura...” Perry said. She crouched besides Hollis. Her eyes were stuck on the screens still. She could almost still see them. Her. “Carmilla can't die.”

Laura blinked.

“Okay guys-- they're going to tear the door back open. I can get some supplies, but I'll need your help with the explosives. I'm thinking we can use a lot of shrapnel.”

“No.”

She said it as clear as day, but LaF paused, staring.

“Come again?” asked JP.

She got up and walked towards where Vordenberg was patiently waiting, his men dismantling the barricade as fast as they could.

“I know this is not vhat you vantedt,” he said quietly. “Vampirez are fery goodt at putting you undter spells. Romance. Lust. An ally in the dtark. But they feedt off us. They eat us. At the endt of the dtay...they are vampire.”

“Yeah,” said Laura. The last board came down and she grabbed the door handle. “What's your excuse?”

He might've scoffed. Or asked her where she was going.
She was really used to people having no idea what she was doing.
She didn't have one at the moment herself.

But then she felt it. The air soured. Her spine went cold.

A sound cracked through the building.

There was the fire cracker of gun shots.

The two soldiers were being joined by the few who made it back. By the ones being followed.

And if they still sounded that panicked, maybe they didn't have much of a chance.

Vordenberg was backing up. The sword was shaking in his hands.

She swung the door open.

 

Something smelt familiar.

It was exhausted. Burning low. The silver had done its damage. It should find some dark place. Sleep and wait until night stretched back over the sun.

But something smelt familiar.

Something smelt...Safe. A dark place. A warm dark place--

Have you ever considered that maybe hero isn't one thing that one person is supposed to be by themselves.

That maybe in this story, you are my hero

And I'm you're hero.

 

The remaining few were running up the stairs, stumbling in their haste.

Laura walked down the steps and past them. She could hear her friends calling for her to come back. She could hear her own head screaming that this was mad. Suicidal. A death wish.

Her heart stopped before her feet did.

There she was.

Her hair was plastered to her skin.

And every inch.

Every inch of her was coated. Laura didn't dare look too close at the bits of gore and white bone, the dust from debris or the snapped arrow stems, or her torn clothes. Her fingers and chin were dripping, like a dark red mask and gloves.

Her eyes were black.

They had always been dark scoops of night sky. But they looked like holes dug back into the deepest crevice of her skull, their whites red with webs of vein. The gaze of a feral animal that had been run down and cornered.

She was panting, her fangs bared.

But otherwise, she was still.

Laura raised her hands slowly. Up, up, up, her fingers spread to show she wasn't carrying anything.

She took a step towards her.

Then another. Then another.

As if she were on a frozen lake, and the ice was seconds from breaking. As if she were approaching a bomb.

Slow. Steady. Steps.

Everything was so quiet she could hear the blood dripping on the ground.

She was halfway when Carmilla growled, her lips snarling and blood hissing off them-

“This is you,” she said.

The sound died slowly in Karnstein's throat.

“This is you,” she said, quieter.

She lowered her hands. Slow. Steady.

In all reality, it could be that she was only alive because Karnstein was fatigued. Because she was heavily wounded and maybe a fraction of that blood was hers.
Maybe it was a trick, and the second she was a foot away, she would tear through her and eat her alive and the people she cared about would watch her die.

But despite everything. Despite everyone.

There was a certainty. Perry was right.

Carmilla couldn't die.

She closed the distance.

She was close enough now that if the vampire wanted to, she could lunge out and kill her. Now close enough to be grabbed.

Now close enough to be bitten.

She reeked of death. The muddy copper of blood. The pungent odor of despair. Last moments and unheeded prayers, the shadows of a vulture's wing turning in the desert.

Laura reached up.

Nostrils flared.

The snarl dimmed. Lips unfurled slowly, covering the stained teeth. Her nose unwrinkled, her eyes opening from their squint.

“It's okay,” Laura whispered. Her finger tips touched that drenched jaw.

The black eyes blinked.

Her hand slowly slid, her palm cupping the vampire's wet cheek.

Karnstein's hands bloomed, their curled fingers drooping. Shoulders slumped.

The eyes glazed.

Laura took the last step. Their chests pressed together, her arms slipping beneath Carmilla's. Her head tucked under her chin and she held her tightly.

“I love you. If this is how it ends. If this is who you are. I love you.”

The eyes closed. The chin rested on the crown of her head. Her weight came, the gore soaking in past Hollis's shirt and staining the skin beneath.

The vampire exhaled under her ear, breath rattling.

The rest of the chaos had been tossed up into the air. In seconds, it was going to fall back down and their entire world was going to seemingly end. The pain of losing Danny and Silas would strike.

But this moment felt suspended.
Carmilla was here, pressed against her. Alive.

“Laura,” she croaked.

And she felt the smallest sliver of hope.