Disclaimer: Oh you know the drill. Own nothing, no ship wars, blah, blah.
Half an hour earlier
Stefan’s arms were falling apart.
The creature’s venom seeped through his blood, piercing his veins like shard of glass. His vision was blurring, and he could hardly walk another step.
He steadied himself against the wall. The room he had been bound in was underground. A sort of ante-room led up to the doors of his prison, which now lay ripped apart. A trap door fitted slantingly in the ceiling closed the exit and the rickety wooden staircase had half rotted away. Normally, this would never have been a problem, but now…
The gas lamp beside his head hissed and spat, and he blinked tears out of his eyes. Weak, leaf-filtered sunlight leaked through cracks in the trapdoor.
Why was the sunlight so unsettling?
Drunkenly, he took a step forward.
And cried out in pain. The sun physically stabbed at him, and smoke curled up from his exposed skin. For one second, his eyes glazed over. And then he streaked across the room and crashed into the opposite wall. The house shook with the impact.
Panting, he looked at his fingers, panicking. His ring?! Where was his ring?! And yet the pale ribbons of sunlight stretched inexorably down from the trap door, the stairs.
The low hiss from beyond the door made Stefan twist to look up. The sunlight was blocked, replaced by a foul black shadow. There stood another of the creatures, one of the other three Stefan recalled seeing in the vague moments after his abduction, when he partially absorbed his surrounding through a haze of pain and vervain. The trapdoor creaked open.
The creature peered into the gloom, seeming not to see him, looking confusedly from one side to another. He held his breath. The stairway creaked. His long-dormant heart gave a painful leap.
The creature placed a withered foot at the top of the staircase.
Meanwhile in the forest
The never-ending maze of trees closed in on us- a living labyrinth. We left the car on the highway as we trekked through the jungle. The girl was talking to us about the creatures.
“This creature has woken up recently from its century-long sleep. They have cycles of life- two hundred years of waking, hunting and living, and a hundred years of dormancy. That is how they live so long, although unlike vampires, they do, eventually, die. So it is starved, with weak senses. The steel stake- it goes directly to the heart. Since in your household steel swords may be found resting casually on walls, whittling steel stakes at short notice was less complicated than usual.” Damon accepted the sardonic comment with a mock bow, and we wound on through the trees, climbing up the steep incline. I saw Caroline smile out of the corner of my eye.
The silence was very loud in the forest. Birds called and the leaves slithered and rustled, but we were silent, watchful. I stepped over a fallen tree trunk.
With my new senses, I could hear its feet pattering as a squirrel leapt over the ground and streaked up a tree. I could see through the foliage to the darker, colder forest beyond, and far, far away, I could hear the ocean.
My thoughts drifted. Here I was, hiking through a forest, trying to save Stefan from the clutches of monsters. The sense of déjà vu almost stifled me. It felt a hundred years ago, but it was less than ten in which I had helped Stefan, back in the forests of Mystic Falls, from Pearl’s vampires. And there was Damon, the black knight, striding his way through a net of ferns, just as he had done on that day. He was afraid, deadly afraid, for his brother, but as usual his shield was perfect. How well I knew him. How well I know that this is exactly how he acts when he is terrified.
A sudden snapping sound arrested my attention. I halted.
A low slithering sound. A leaf rustled somewhere. I listened, straining my ears.
My eyes darted from one side to another. The forest in front of me was empty of unusual life, except for my companions. I was falling behind- they would soon be out of sight.
A cold, pricking sensation lifted the hairs on the back of my neck. I was being watched.
I scanned the forest anew, looking in all directions. I saw nothing. But it was there. I was sure of it.
I hesitated for a second longer, then continued on my way. But even as I walked, I heard what sounded like a low hiss. My eyes snapped across to the point from where it seemed to come, and saw only the dark green foliage.
But, beyond that, in the darkness… was that a black cloak?
The creature laboriously climbed down the stairs.
Stefan flattened himself against the wall, attempting to stay still. His limbs were numb. His head spun and his eyes glazed over, but he placed one shaking hand on the wall and dragged himself along until he stood directly below the stair case, the sunlight streaming in an inch or so away, trying to steady his trembling legs. His head was hammering hard enough to make up for his lost heart beat. The creature creeped down to the last step. There it stood, looking around, its back to Stefan.
He could hear leaves shaking in the wind right outside. The sound was so close, that he knew the forest had claimed land very close to the house as its own. Just one attempt, one dash through the forest would take him in its shelter, away from the sun and out of reach of the creatures. Just one try. The top rungs of the staircase appeared to be entirely intact.
Could he pull himself up?
Another gas lamp sputtered on the wall, further into the darkness on the other side of the stairs. The foul smell of burning propane pervaded his senses. With trembling hands, he caught hold of one wooden rung high above his head and heaved.
And then the world was the wrong way up and everything was in freefall- Stefan crashed down onto the floor; the wooden step had rotted away and was unable to bear his weight. He landed on the packed earthen floor in an explosion of pain, the sun scorching his arms, sharper than the sharpness of the venom, contradicting its iciness with fire; his wrist bone snapped and the creature spun around with a snarl. Head spinning, blinded by pain, sweat and the venom’s sting, Stefan leapt back into the darkness on the other side of the staircase. The nightmare lunged at him- his flailing hands caught hold of the gas lamp on the wall and he flung it at her- she shrieked and held up her hands in front of her eyes, but the glass of the lamp smashed and the flames engulfed her, devouring her withered body greedily, as she twisted and writhed and shrieked in pain- and abruptly the screams died out.
But now the flames had caught on to the staircase- the rotting wood burnt like kindle- the flames spread along the floor covered in dried leaves, come in through open trapdoor- and Stefan, trapped in a dark corner with the fire blazing in front of him, trapped by the sun, his shaking body and hazy brain about to give way, into blessed unconsciousness, darkness and oblivion- but the fire- he retreated to the farthest corner, as the flames caught the other gas lamp- and the house exploded.