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The Courage of Stars

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She could not feel the stone under her feet. They were bare—they had been for days—and it showed. The numbness seemed to resonate throughout her, though, not playing favorites with any particular limb or region. There had been a point when she was certain it was over, and that she would not wake again... but her eyes had opened once more, and here she was. 

Like someone that had tipped past the edge of starving, she no longer felt the madness of the torture, no longer screamed or felt her thoughts spinning. As if the color had been sucked out, the world felt dull at the edges, like she could tilt and the whole of her existence would pour out into a murky puddle.

It was a very odd feeling.

The staircase was long, or at least it felt that way, for her head kept bobbing with every jolt, her knees hitting the walls as she was man-handled about the turns. The spiral was narrow, and her captors had to continuously re-adjust their grip at her elbows.

Perhaps a few days ago she would have considered taking advantage—fighting back while they were distracted. A few days ago, she might have still had the will to live. Now, though, she found that she did not really care where she was being taken. Even the faintest curiosity seemed too much effort, like her skull would crack with the effort of interest.

They paused, one of the men tapping his wand against the doorknob of a very large, very heavy-looking door, and it occurred to her that they had stopped moving, stopped traveling down. The lock made a metallic click that seemed utterly out of place, but the hinges made up for the dainty sound, creaking in a near-roar as the door swung open before them.

They tossed her in, and her shoulder hit the floor hard, her skull cracking and sending stars spinning across her vision. For a moment, she mused that maybe this would be how she died, and how maybe it wouldn’t be so bad… but then the door slammed, and her vision cleared.

She did not sit up, letting her body lay sprawled as it had fallen, her hands resting in a dusty collection of hay scraps. Her breath seemed to rattle, when she let it out—a necessity rather than a conscious decision—and it stirred the dust such that she had to blink against the water that built up in her eyes.

And then she noticed the figure.

She sat up slowly, her expression blank, her arms breaking into pins and needles at the unexpected pressure. There was someone else in the tiny room with her, someone with their back turned and their shoulders hunched. Their silhouette was cast in sharp relief against the glow of moonlight that broke in from the sliver of grated window.

It was night, apparently, and this was news to her. She had lost track of the date some time ago. The ghost of a spasm shook down her spine, and she curled away from it instinctively, a tiny whimper slipping free.

The form turned, then, and the whimper turned into a yelp, her back slamming hard into the wall and her palms slapping against the stone behind her.

The girl’s pale, white face seemed to shimmer in the dim light, curtains of matted, dark hair falling down over her eyes. Her chin was a dark, glistening crimson—and her teeth seemed to glow, jaws parted in a snarl and canines sharp like fangs.

A word—a name—caught in the gulp of her lungs, her lips parting but no sound making it out, for the girl was upon her in a flash, teeth burying themselves in the flesh of her neck with a sickening, wet shnick.

Eyes wide, her breath rattled out as a question, as a last gasp of disbelief.

She had expected to die.

And yet, she had not expected Carmilla.