The Previous Morning
“Absolutely not, Creampuff.”
Laura steeled herself. This was the expected opening bargaining position. She planned for it well in advance.
Laura stood, a reusable shopping bag in one hand, a phone in the other. She fixed the woman unfolded on the couch reading a large hardcover book with a resolute gaze. “Carm, it’s not dangerous. We just get in there, walk around, and get out. Laf’s got the tech covered, and Perry will be ready to drive us out.”
The book did not tilt. It was A Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities by Hubbard, a weighty tome currently being wielded like a shield. “Roping the gingers into this doesn’t really help your cause.”
Laura rummaged through the bag and pulled out a shiny silver broach, “See, embedded camera on an encrypted network Laf runs. No one can trace it, jam it, and no one will pick it up when it’s broadcasting.” She turned it around and cooed, “And, it’s pretty...”
The ensuing silence was broken only when a page turned.
Laura moved on, “Carm, come on, it’s for the cute, fluffy critters! They’re trading exotic pets; we can bust it up and get them back where they belong!”
The book tilted slightly, and the pair of gorgeous brown eyes beyond fixed Laura, “I’m a vampire, Cupcake, as soon as the soy blood runs out, cute, fluffy critters are next on the menu.” The book shifted upwards once more.
Laura huffed, knowing that was a bad play but feeling an internal obligation to the cute, fluffy critters to give it a shot anyway. She fished for the closer.
Out of the bag, Laura pulled something equally if not shinier than the broach. “Laf made this for you,” she said, unfurling the jeweled collar and gleaming silver chain. “You’ll look great in it!”
This time the book dipped further than before. Carmilla’s eyes narrowed, focusing on the shiny collar and leash in Laura’s hands. Carmilla’s meticulously sculpted right brow arched, and Laura felt a surge of elation. This was it.
“Irrelevant... I look great in anything,” Carmilla said languidly and returned to reading.
Laura bristled at the deflection. First, because it was a deflection, and second, because it was true. So very true. Her heart fluttered briefly, but then she remembered she was mad. She released a frustrated “Ooo,” and held the collar up higher to keep it visible over the top edge of Carmilla’s book.
“Laf says it’ll stay in place when you shift, it’s like a choker and a collar, see?” Laura raised her voice just enough to tug once more at her wife’s curiosity. This was the closer for a reason. She opened the jeweled collar and hooked it around the back of her neck. She performed a small flourish once it was in place, and Carmilla’s gaze was once more fully affixed on her wife.
Laura picked up the silver chain and made a show of tugging herself closer to Carmilla. “If you wear it for the party... I’ll wear it when we get home...”
Carmilla’s glossy dark lips curled into a sly smile, “Oh? Is this sexual blackmail? That’s not very progressive of you.”
Laura stepped closer to the couch, close enough to dangle the end of the leash over Carmilla. “The things I do for the cute, fluffy critters,” she said with a breathy smile.
Carmilla dropped the book, though not without sliding the jacket in to keep her place. She picked up the chain and made a show of slowly pulling Laura down to the couch next to her. Carmilla slid her arm around Laura as she came to rest next to her. “Walk around, take photos, and leave?”
Carmilla sighed. She tugged the leash and pulled Laura over into a kiss. “Down payment?”
“Well... I guess,” Laura giggled. “You are, after all, my most favorite cute, fluffy critter.”
The Night of the Event
The door to the white van opened. It snapped the “LaFerry Enterprises” logo in half, along with the recently added “An L-Corp Subsidiary.” From the interior, Laura Hollis descended to the damp street in polished, strapped heels. She wore dark nylons, gloves, and a low-cut blue Victorian-styled dress with Laf’s broach firmly affixed to the upper right edge over her left breast. Her long blond hair rose in a teased bouffant bun.
Carmilla exited a step behind her wife. Her tailored suit pants revealed only the heels of a fashionable set of high-heeled boots, and her white silk button-up boasted a wide but short silk necktie. The tie ended an inch over the upper edge of the studded leather corset cinched to her toro. The jeweled choker Laura modeled so effectively the previous day divided her neckline above the silk shirt’s prominent collar.
LaFontaine leaned out, “You kids look great.”
Carmilla shot them a dirty look, but Laura beamed. “I know, this is great,” she smoothed out her dress and reflexively adjusted Carmilla’s tie. Carmilla waved her off, “It’s going away soon, Cupcake, it’ll be fine.”
Undeterred, Laura arranged it to her liking while Carmilla waited patiently for her wife to finish.
LaFontaine volunteered, “The shifting properties only work on metals currently, but I’m working on fabric. I’ll have a tie she can wear in both forms soon enough.”
Carmilla rolled her eyes, “You have to have better things to do.”
“Nope, L-Corp directive, in fact.”
Laura finished fiddling with Carmilla’s necktie. “Shapeshifting cat formalwear is an L-Corp directive? I mean, she’d look like a cute little business cat and all, but-”
“Shifting stable fabric,” LaFontaine filled in. “Ties aren’t the goal, just a nice byproduct.”
“Oooh,” Laura nodded enthusiastically. “Well, good luck.”
LaFontaine slid back into the van, where they took a seat in front of the monitoring station set up in the rear. They connected to the broach cam with the press of an on-screen button. A view of the open van door and their own back appeared on the main screen. LaFontaine waved, and the monitor version mirrored the move at the same time. “We’re at now, now!”
“They should get going!” Perry called out from the driver’s seat, terminating any potential movie trivia discussion before it derailed the mission.
“Oh, yeah,” Laura said, “C’mon, kitty time.” Laura caught Carmilla’s sour glance and released a quick exaggerated cough before saying, “Majestic great cat time.”
Carmilla glanced around, appraising the immediate area and sensing nothing else except members of the local rodent population in direct view of the secluded alley.
LaFontaine called out, “It’s clear; I scanned for cameras before we parked.”
Carmilla vanished in a puff of black smoke, and a melanistic leopard appeared at Laura’s side once the smoke reformed an instant later. The lithe cat materialized with the silver collar still in place.
Laura retrieved the silver leash and, crouching next to Carmilla, found the sturdy O-ring and attached it. While she did, Carmilla licked her hand and released a pleased purr. Laura smiled and kissed her muzzle before returning to full height and starting across the street.
* * *
The large warehouse in a remote area of the port district appeared to be an unlikely hive of activity as midnight neared. Laura conditioned herself not to narrate her approach since doing so would be somewhat suspicious, particularly once inside. Other attendees were filtering towards the building outlined in the invitation she had worked so hard to receive.
Laura threw herself into her work after her recent, albeit brief, time as a kidnappee. The rumored exotic pet ring was one of the many stories she was investigating. Not only did she have a somewhat unique advantage in terms of a handy “exotic pet,” but she also figured it was the least likely to result in a repeat near-death experience.
A few of the other guests queued up near the side entrance. Laura got in line and remained silent after gauging that no one else appeared interested in small talk. She did not recognize anyone, but that is what the streaming footage was for, later analysis.
Once it was her turn, Laura handed the invite to the solid wall of a man standing at the door with a prominently displayed submachine gun slung over his shoulder. He scanned the metal inlaid card stock and looked at the display on his phone. “Madame Vas...tra?”
Laura nodded enthusiastically, “Yes, with my companion, Jenny.”
The man’s eyes flicked down to the big cat and squinted. “You named a panther ‘Jenny’?”
A low growl rose from the panther. Laura recognized it as the I-did-not-agree-to-codenames growl. She would make it up to her wife later. After all, the cat part of the team does not get input on codenames. That was just Infiltration 101.
“Sounds like you shoulda asked the cat first,” he shrugged, keyed a code into the door, and held it open.
“Thank you, my good man,” Laura said, leading Carmilla through the doorway.
* * *
Carmilla’s yellow eyes narrowed to slits as she kept pace with Laura. The doorway led to a small alcove through which they were required to pass through a large arch with another well-armed goon running a scanner.
Laura hesitated, “The collar is metal...”
“Just go through,” the man grunted without even looking up.
They passed through together as no instructions to the contrary were provided. Nothing gave any indication of any sort of alarm, and the guard did not register any response. The pair continued forward through another set of double doors.
That was LaFontaine’s voice in the small cochlear speaker in Laura’s left ear.
Laura breathed a sigh of relief as she entered the floor of the warehouse. Her eyes widened. The large open floor was illuminated from above by lights dangling from the high warehouse ceiling. A set of large skylights allowed the recently cleared night sky to be as visible as it could be within the depths of the city’s light pollution.
A buffet area was set up, adjoining another with large lounges and a wide flatscreen display. At the far end was a raised stage with a podium. The walls and floors had been replaced with fine wood and veneer. A set of second-level gantries were partially visible. However, they were mainly outside the cones cast by the low-hanging ceiling lights.
Other attendees milled about and chatted. Many, like Laura, held exotic animals on leashes. Laura resolved herself and began to make a circuit of the floor. There was no reason to delay. If anyone important was here, the camera would pick them up. She would not call attention to herself, at least not any more than anyone leading around the perfect specimen of a panther on a silver leash would.
In a group of exotic pet traders, that still had to be pretty low-key.
Carmilla remained lockstep with Laura, barely an inch between her left flank and Laura’s right leg. Her long tail twitched, and her ears lay back. She concentrated on separating into recognizable threads the cacophony of noise assaulting nearly every one of her senses.
The room teemed with prey, and she could not sort through them all.
The problem was only compounded because her predatory senses were that of a three-hundred-year-old vampire, not merely a big cat. That meant every human in the room, save one, also read as a possible source of sustenance.
Laura’s presence nearby helped. She smelled like safety and home, a beacon of respite in a hurricane of sensory input.
As they neared the stage at the far end of the converted warehouse, something else tugged at Carmilla’s finely tuned senses. There was something here, not food or home, but... threat . Carmilla concentrated, trying to pull at that thread as her senses swam through a sea of prey. She glanced up at Laura, who remained focused on completing a circuit of the floor.
Carmilla briefly considered how great a “safe word” would be right now if only she could speak English. She nudged Laura’s leg with her muzzle. Laura stopped and looked down at her, “What is it, girl?”
Carmilla pointedly ignored the way she was addressed, as pride was not an immediate issue. She began tugging on the leash towards the other side of the warehouse, the one known exit location.
Laura frowned, but she could see the agitation on the big cat’s features and the way her tail flicked nervously. She allowed Carmilla to tug her along. There had to be enough usable footage from the inside by now. If Carmilla was concerned, she would follow her lead and get out. It was the responsible decision.
The sound of stiletto heels tracking across the stage was lost to Carmilla amid the din of conversation. The voice booming over the PA was not.
“Leaving so soon, Mrs. Hollis?”
Laura froze, which made it easier for the spotlights descending on her to fully illuminate them both. Carmilla felt every one of her feline muscles tighten as adrenaline began bubbling through her. She glanced up then away from the spotlights as they burned into her retinas. Her feline sight was tuned for low light, and the spots felt like a fire in her skull.
Laura wheeled around, and Carmilla circled, curling her body protectively around the journalist’s legs. Her pupils focused on the woman who now stood behind the podium. Laura said, “Veronica Sinclair? You’re trading exotic pets now?”
The woman laughed, “It’s Roulette, dear. And no, I’m back in the fight business, and I’ve got a special main event for all the fans tonight!” The other guests were filtering back into the shadows near the walls, leaving the large open area in the center of the warehouse free.
Free of anyone but Laura and Carmilla, bathed in the spotlights.
Roulette leaned forward into the mic. Her short blond hair glowed in the single spot that landed on her. The sleeves of her red Givenchy dress dangled over the edge of the polished wood, and a long, double rope white fox stole rested on her shoulders. “Up first, I have the eldest known sire of the vampire goddess Inanna, quite possibly the most powerful vampire in the world!”
Carmilla roared at the woman behind the podium.
“Come now, dear, use your words. We know who you are; no need to play kitty.”
After a pause, the black smoke reformed into Carmilla Karnstein. She stood in front of Laura, shielding her as best she could. It was far too open, and every one of her senses told her threats were multiplying. The new threats were shaded as prey, no doubt humans. She could hear footsteps along the gantries above, though the spotlights still hurt her light-sensitive human eyes when she tried to find them.
Roulette flourished at the podium, “There we are. I know she doesn’t look like much, folks, but she’ll be very entertaining.”
Carmilla’s glare hardened, “You don’t look like much, but maybe you’ll make a decent snack.” Her fangs descended.
Roulette held up her hand, “Ah, ah, ah... Be a good girl, and no one gets hurt.” A swarm of red dots flew up and converged to a single point. That single point was Laura’s head. “And that one is your wife.”
“Sorry, Carm,” Laura whispered sheepishly. Regret boiled through her words. She walked her wife into this trap enthusiastically. Frustration flashed as well at her inability to determine what constituted a possible life-threatening situation. Laura resolved to consider additional self-reflection should they make it out of here alive.
“You can’t stop all the bullets, so play nice, and Mrs. Hollis walks out unharmed.”
Carmilla growled, “What. Do. You. Want.”
“A fight. Of course.”
Roulette tapped a button on the podium, and a loud clank rocked the warehouse. Carmilla glanced around as a cage began rising up from the floor around them. The walls were a combination of vertical bars with an inner layer of metallic mesh. Once fully extended, it rose ten feet high into the high warehouse ceilings.
One of the black-outfitted security guards approached the door to the cage with a card in hand.
“Your wife can leave. You so much as twitch or vanish, and she dies, understood?”
Roulette and Carmilla held each other’s gaze, but finally, Carmilla nodded. She squeezed Laura’s hand. “Stay safe; I’ll come for you.”
Laura nodded. With utmost care, she unhooked the silver chain from Carmilla’s choker and stepped away. The hive of red dots on her honey blonde hair followed like a crown as she walked towards the doorway.
The guard opened it, and Laura walked out. He closed the door behind her.
Laura stepped away from the cage, but Roulette’s voice boomed, “Oh, that’s far enough; you deserve a front-row seat. Consider it a ‘thank you’ for bringing her to me.”
* * *
LaFontaine watched the monitor as Laura turned back towards the cage, and Carmilla came back into view. “Nothing... Yet.” They leaned back towards the driver’s seat, “Any luck?”
“No one is picking up the damn phone at the CEP, L-Corp, or the DEO!” Perry replied, frustration coloring every syllable. The headset she wore kept supplying only silence after repeated attempts to voice dial every agency LaFerry Enterprises had a contact in.
LaFontaine started checking other monitors. They started running comms tests on multiple channels. “Dammit, silent jamming.”
“But the feed...” Perry said, seeing the live view from Laura’s broach.
“They’re letting it through on purpose,” LaFontaine said, realizing Roulette had played them fully and completely. Allowing the feed out lulled them into a false sense of security. Not only that, LaFontaine had a hunch Roulette would be using their own broadcast as part of her little pirate pay-per-view. All the more reason to force Laura to stand next to the cage.
“Can they jam the entire city?”
LaFontaine exchanged a questioning glance with Perry then said, “Go!”
Perry released a breath, pressed the ignition, and slammed down the accelerator. The LaFerry Enterprises van sped off into the night.
* * *
“And her opponent for the night,” Roulette announced with a wave towards stage right. A spotlight spun from Laura to the mountain of a man striding out. “The Werewolf King of Barovia!”
Carmilla squinted and then shrugged, “Who?”
The hairy, bare-chested man wore only a wrestling singlet and a pair of boots.
“Stump Beefknob in the flesh,” Carmilla sighed. Her senses narrowed on the new arrival. He was undoubtedly the source of danger she had sensed since shortly after their arrival. There was something further off, and she felt frustration build as she tried to put her finger on it.
Carmilla stepped back, resignedly chalking it up to the man’s supposed werewolf nature. She had yet to encounter a werewolf outside of some of the unity conferences she attended with Laura. She struggled to remember their particular aura but recalled only they easily coded prey to the predator inside her. This one did not.
It coded threat, threat, and something... else.
* * *
Screaming down a back road in the port, LaFontaine looked up from the monitor, “Barovia?”
* * *
Carmilla paced in the cage, eyes locked on her opponent as he approached. “Hey, Big McLargeHuge, you can’t even fit through the do-”
The man leaped. He glided, without much grace, over the high cage walls. Carmilla felt the floor shake when he landed in a crouch only a few feet away. The werewolf rose to his full height, at least three feet taller than his vampire opponent.
A cheer went up from the crowd in the shadows.
The king cracked a set of very hairy knuckles and smiled down hungrily at Carmilla. His smile revealed sharp canines like ones currently descended in the vampire’s mouth. She noted, with some modestly recovered pride, that hers were longer.
“Let’s go over the rules,” Roulette interjected over the PA. “Carmilla, if you win, you and your nosy little wife go free. If you lose, well, I guess you won’t care much about what happens after that, will you?” Another round of cheers went up. “Winner is whoever lives. Easy. Bets close in twenty seconds!”
The so-called king of the werewolves continued to stare, locked on Carmilla. Carmilla weathered the harsh glare. Several things ran through her mind. The first was a sudden, unwelcome realization she had no idea how to fight. Not on two feet, at least. The four-legged alternative was all blood and instinct. She suspected Stump Chunkmen there was at no such disadvantage.
Blowing off Danny’s training at the CEPID seemed more and more like it may have been an error.
Carmilla calmly appraised her abilities. She had superior speed and strength on two legs or four and resolved to use them to her advantage. She figured the ginger squad was on the “saving their asses” case and just needed to buy time.
One other thing competed strongly for her attention. She called out, “Anybody got a shirt Lump Beefbroth here can borrow?” Boos emerged from the crowd. “Anybody?”
The vast, hirsute chest of the so-called werewolf king rose and fell steadily, like a giant slab of meat. The man was not well defined, but Carmilla got no solace from that. He was built like the strongmen she recalled channel surfing past on Canadian lumberjack competitions. These men were all about power; no care was given to making it look the least bit pretty.
Not that the three-hundred-forty-year-old lesbian vampire fancied either option.
The bell rang.
In retrospect, the fact the man moved with supernatural speed should have occurred to Carmilla. She felt her ribs knitting back together as she struggled up against the cage wall. As much as she would have liked to say the charge came “out of nowhere,” it had not. It came from right in front of her, and she barely started moving before his mass struck like a linebacker and sent her flying into the cage wall.
Cheers went up, and Laura gasped. Though audible only to Carmilla’s finely attuned senses, it may as well have been the only sound she could hear. Laura was standing just beside the tall cage, flanked by the single armed guard and outlined by a single spotlight. A single spotlight and a red halo of laser sights.
Carmilla peeled herself off the cage wall, nodded to the werewolf king, and adjusted her necktie.
The king charged again. Carmilla teleported behind him and slashed his equally hairy back with freshly extended talons. She felt far more resistance to her claws than any ordinary human flesh would put up, but it could not stop her. The big man released a surprised grunt as he spun, arm floundering back to attempt to catch her, but she ducked it quickly.
Blood splattered along the floor of the cage from the wound, and a cheer went up. The betting board from the lounge area flashed confirmation on “First Blood.”
The werewolf king spun back and snarled at her, though in an entirely human voice. He whipped his legs into motion again, once more charging the smaller combatant. Carmilla waited, letting her senses take over and timing the approach. If he was committed to trying to tackle her, she would use it against him. She felt a surge of confidence. She could fight someone this predictable.
Carmilla winked out in a black puff of smoke. Her skull met the king’s elbow as soon as she reappeared. She felt the impact through her entire body, though the bloody mess that used to be her nose took the brunt of it. Cartilage crushed against bone. Her head snapped back, and she tumbled to the floor, dark red fluid splattering across her white silk shirt.
The werewolf laughed and cracked his knuckles at her, satisfied he had proven she was not as bright as she thought. He anticipated the teleport perfectly, and she paid for it with the elbow driven into her face.
Adrenalin surged. The monster rattled in the cage, desperate to take over. Carmilla rolled to the right and avoided a kick intended for her skull. “Anticipate this.”
Camilla vanished and reappeared low and flat on the opposite side of her opponent. Her talons slashed through his Achilles tendon before she flashed away once more. She reappeared in mid-air on the opposite side as he began to topple from the damage to the core muscles required to stay upright. Her talons slashed across the thick trunk of his neck, going for the kill. A spray of red fluid erupted from the wound and would have caught the raven-haired vampire, but it drifted through the black smoke before she reformed once more on his chest.
Carmilla rode the so-called werewolf king to the floor of the cage as she became vaguely aware of cheers from the crowd. Her nose was slowly returning to its original shape, though the lower half of her face was a mask of her own blood. She felt the hairy man’s body impact the floor as she straddled his torso and drove her talons into his chest where hungry instinct told her his heart would be.
She was not afforded the opportunity to dig very deep into his flesh before his massive forearm swept her off and into a pile of limbs against the cage wall once again. He released a roar, and this one was not human at all. Carmilla shook her head, once more trying to clear the ringing from her skull after the heavy impact.
From the corner of her eye, the hairy body became... hairier. Skin darkened as a layer of fur sprouted, limbs cracked and reformed, and claws longer than her own sprouted forth. His head deformed, and a long muzzle ripped into existence. The change took only a few seconds, though it seemed like longer to her addled brain.
“Get up Carm! Get up!”
Laura was yelling beside the cage. Carmilla focused on her voice. She leaped to the adjacent side of the cage before a pair of hairy, razor-sharp palms swept through the air where she was. Carmilla found herself hanging from the enclosure wall only briefly as the werewolf quickly followed, lunging towards her. She leaped to the next side, higher, but he followed. The beast-man was faster than before in this form.
Carmilla leaped again just before the werewolf crashed into the wall. The damage to his heel was gone, as was the ragged incision on his neck.
The monster roared.
Carmilla realized that sound came from her lips. The wolf beast swept in, and she ducked another fast swipe. The pounding in her mind intensified, a flood of adrenaline burning every nerve.
Fine . Fuck this hairy asshole.
Carmilla did not have time to regret her phrasing as the creature’s next swipe drifted through a black cloud. It reformed as a massive black jaguar near the center of the cage. The monster roared. This cat was nearly three times the size of the lithe melanistic leopard which Laura walked in with.
Laura released a bit of a cheer, though she did so with as much restraint as she could muster. This was the largest cat form Carmilla could inhabit. Laura referred to it as a dire panther.
The panther vaulted and crashed directly into the center of the werewolf’s mass, bringing it down as massive paws raked over its chest. Blood and hair flew out of the valleys she carved into the thing’s furry anatomy. It released an agonized wail and drove its long claws into the panther’s flanks.
Carmilla saw only the bloody haze in her sight as the monster took complete control. She felt the far away hint of pain from her sides, but it did not matter. Her massive jaws yawned wide, the gleaming rows of teeth bared for the cameras and the crowd before she locked her grip in on the wolf man’s throat.
Carmilla felt more stabs from the side, but nothing would shake her single-minded focus on the neck. The neck of her prey. The color of threat drained as the thing’s blood flooded her mouth. It was prey. Everything was prey, the monster screamed triumphantly.
Rearing back, the creature’s throat tore open in Carmilla’s jaws.
The panther’s head rose up, shaking the heavy hunk of wet flesh triumphantly. Wolf blood splattered across the cage in both directions.
Carmilla spat the flesh out as the taste soured in her mouth. Something was wrong. This was not anything like she expected. The monster raged, hoping the blood of the prey would heal her body. This would not.
The immense cat climbed off the unmoving body and looked around. The sound of the crowd’s cheers filtered back through the raw red haze of the single-minded hunt.
“Let her go!” Laura screamed, “She won!”
Laura was far more aware of the bloody strips of fur missing from Carmilla’s flanks. The werewolf king’s claws had taken a toll while Carmilla’s jaws did their terrible work. Laura could tell Carmilla was not healing as quickly now, probably from the constant, complete exertion. She needed blood, and Laura would gladly provide.
“I didn’t hear a bell,” Roulette said with a pleased smile from behind the podium.
Laura looked back to the cage where Carmilla paced at the edge closest to the door. The body of the so-called werewolf king moved and, more concerningly, changed. “Carm!”
Laura’s cry snapped Carmilla back to the present. The big cat’s head swiveled, and her yellow eyes narrowed again. The change was not like the first. The first seemed like some approximation of what one would expect from a werewolf. This was more fluid, as if every part of the thing partially melted and then reformed.
Reformed into what Laura knew was a White Martian.
* * *
“I said, a White Martian! White Martian !” LaFontaine shouted into the headset. Secondary screens displayed the broadcast status of Laura’s broach and the encryption key required to track its exact location.
Perry bounced in the driver’s seat as the van accelerated down a freeway on-ramp. LaFontaine’s head nearly hit the ceiling.
Perry merged into the open freeway lane as the intermittent night traffic passed by. When she heard nothing else from her partner, she turned back from the wheel and called out, “Well!?”
LaFontaine just looked over uncertainty clouding their features, “That was the DEO, they said to sight tight, it was a code blue.”
* * *
Carmilla slunk back on her hind legs, head bowed and tail low. Her fur raised in every classic signal of feline aggression magnified in the body of a three-hundred-pound panther. The vast, pale-skinned alien creature bared a large set of teeth at her.
Carmilla saw something she had not seen in a long time. The orange-red flare that told the monster inside and every other part of her the same thing... run . Only one other being caused that reaction—her mother.
“No! Carm!” Laura screamed. She started towards Roulette, but the woman on stage calmly held up a hand with one finger and wagged it. A rifle round cut through the wood at her feet, and Laura stopped cold. “Let her go! She’ll die!”
Carmilla held her ground. She could not run. She had to win. Winning was the only way to save Laura. She roared a challenge to the alien, who hissed back.
The White Martian swept forward, and Carmilla braced for impact. The plan was to grab for the neck again. She assumed it needed a neck. Most things did.
The creature’s long arms reached for the coiled cat, and Carmilla sprang for the throat.
Carmilla’s roar died in her muzzle when the Martian’s claws grabbed her mid-air and slashed through her belly. It tossed the panther down like a doll, and she landed with a bone-shattering crash. Momentum from the force of the impact carried Carmilla across the floor of the cage, leaving a trail of dark blood in her wake.
Carmilla saw red again, though she was certain it was not for a good reason. She tried to move, but her body was no longer cooperating. She could barely feel her hind legs, and the attempt to right herself with her forepaws failed miserably. Her talons slipped helplessly through the streaks of her own blood on the floor.
She could hear Laura sobbing. Carmilla wanted to tell her things. Tell her to run, try and save herself. Tell her she loved her one more time. Loved her more than anything else in the entire world. Tell her just one more time she’d done everything for her.
The Martian closed the gap, claws reaching for the downed panther’s exposed throat.
It vanished in a streak of blue.
Like most of the attendees, Laura felt the building shake as the section of the cage floor where the Martian had been standing collapsed, taking the eight-foot-tall creature with it. Debris from the smashed flooring spun outward and bounced off the cage walls. Broken glass rained down from a fresh hole in the ceiling skylight overhead, scattering across the bloodstained floor.
The building shook further in concert with concussive blasts, one after another. The smell boiling up from the hole suggested a sewer system below them had been revealed. This was where the cage had been hidden before it rose into place for the fight. It was where White Martian and Kryptonian traded blows out of sight of Laura and the others scattering out of the warehouse above.
Laura rushed to the cage door. The scene on the warehouse floor descended quickly into chaos. Laura assumed the assholes with the guns had other things to worry about. The spectators were rushing the exit, and frightened animals were scattering in all directions. The guard who stood next to her throughout the fight seemed conflicted, looking around for guidance from Roulette.
Roulette was little more than a shadow running off stage by then.
Laura turned around, “Open the door, asshole!”
He eyed Laura warily but did not raise his weapon, nor did he move to help. Laura glanced back at the body of the cat in the center of the cage, bleeding out. She stormed up to him and smashed her palm into his throat, then whipped into a full-body hold. He yelped in pain as Laura applied pressure to his throat, and he passed out. “Krav Maga, bitch,” she muttered, pulling the keycard from his belt and rushing to the door.
The sound of the cage door opening was one of the sweetest sounds Laura could remember. She barreled through the doorway and raced to Carmilla’s side. “Carm!”
As she did, a blonde woman began rising from the hole in the cage floor. Laura’s eyes widened as she collapsed by Carmilla, cradling the cat’s head in her lap.
The blonde in the blue suit and red cape smiled at Laura warmly, “Sit tight, I’ll be right back to help.” Supergirl shot into the sky, holding the unconscious White Martian by the neck.
Laura could not help but feel a sense of awe at the sight of the superheroine. Awe that drained completely as she heard the cat heave a painful breath. She leaned down, “Carm, turn back! You have to feed! Carm!” Laura slapped the big cat’s bloody muzzle, but she did not move. “Please, Carm!”
The journalist’s gaze fixed on her wife, and she tore the glove off her left arm. With more effort than she initially thought would be necessary, she turned the massive, dire panther’s head until it faced the ceiling. She took a breath, lining her left arm up with the cat’s prominent pink stained canine, and slit her forearm open from hand to elbow.
Blood flooded from her arm at a pace Laura suddenly realized was ill-advised. She felt the tendrils of consciousness draining away but held her bleeding appendage over the cat’s gaping mouth. She massaged the cat’s throat with her other hand, feeling the precious fluid slide down Carmilla’s throat.
Too much raw, red blood was spilling out too quickly. Laura could not control it. With each passing second, the effort to merely hold her arm aloft became harder and harder. The needles of her extremities falling asleep crowded closer and closer, advancing unstoppably towards her head.
The darkness arrived soon after.
The Next Day
Carmilla opened her eyes.
“Enjoy getting your ass kicked?”
Carmilla closed her eyes.
“She’s fine, but still resting, just turn that mostly attached head of yours to the left,” Danny Lawrence suggested.
Carmilla did so. Laura’s honey blonde hair was visible in the hospital bed next to her own. More importantly, so was her scent and the sound of her heartbeat, even if the latter was far too slow for her liking. She released a pleased sigh, heavy and complete.
“Training starts tomorrow. I assume you’ll be there.”
There was a pause; Carmilla asked, “You’ll teach me how to kill one of those things?”
Danny stopped in the doorway to the CEP med bay, “Sure, stop me if you’ve heard this one... chopping their head off.” She walked off down the hall.
* * *
The nurse that arrived an hour later to check in on the patients reported one of them was missing and that a stray black cat had been found sleeping on the shoulder of the other one.
Danny called back up to the nurses’ desk and acknowledged the report saying, “That’s fine. Word of advice, don’t touch the cat; she’s an asshole.”