The storm had finally died down enough for them to leave around 8 pm. Because Chiang Mai was over a day ahead of them, they were chasing the future as they traveled and jumped through time, figuratively speaking of course. Ezra called it jet lag but Hope called it wonderful — a symptom proving that she’d broken free of the cage that was Las Vegas.
In the centuries she’d been alive, she’d been on a plane only a handful of times, back in the late 21st century. Since then, though, Klaus had kept her contained to Vegas for her safety. She ran off frequently enough but, only as far as a car or her legs could take her — a stronghold against the virus in Salt Lake City or out to Santa Fe which was now abandoned and in ruins. This would be the first time she’d left the continent in over a century.
The flight had taken five hours, so when they arrived it was already the next afternoon in Chiang Mai, 3 pm. Hope had slept through the day in a five hour flight and both Ezra and Vale were looking groggy as they began to circle around to land the plane.
“Christ, would you look at this mess?” Ezra had commented, over half an hour away from their destination. The air was already thick with black clouds of smoke.
It wasn’t easy work. Chiang Mai was a mess of the heaviest smoke Hope had ever seen. Their burning season, to wipe out the disease, apparently went year-round. Vale had woken her from several miles off the coast to put on a mask. None of them particularly needed to protect their lungs as vampires but, it certainly made things slightly more pleasant. The smell of smoke was pungent for the last 20 minutes or more of their trip and, by the time they were searching for where to land, they could barely see anything.
“Get someone on the radio!” Ezra called out to Vale as the engines of their plane began to clog while she had zero visibility. “How does anyone ever get to this place?”
“They don’t,” Hope responded grimly. “My father told me Asia is abandoned. The virus has gotten too bad.”
“Your father is just trying to keep you in the house!” Vale replied as he fumbled with the radio in the plane.
Before either Hope or Ezra could snap at him, two blindingly bright beams of light burst forth through the flames. Against the black smoke the powerful spotlights were like beacons. Hope had no idea how anyone had even seen their jet amongst the smoke to know to hail it down.
“Thank God,” Ezra said. “They must have freaking radar set up! They’re guiding us in!”
From there, it was relatively smooth sailing. Smoke was clogging the engines far more than Ezra or Vale had anticipated when building the plane and it stalled, terrifyingly, in mid-air a couple of times before they finally landed.
When the plane landed, a sudden loud fan noise startled the three of them. They had to cover their ears it was so loud but, through the windows, they could see the smoke beginning to clear ever so slightly. The sun almost peaked through for a second but then, giant metal doors were sliding over top of them like the opening to a giant hangar roof.
“So much for no one living in Asia anymore,” Hope said, sourly. “They’ve got a really legit set-up here!”
“Are you surprised?” Vale asked. “Your father never tells you the full truth!”
“And neither do you, apparently,” Hope immediately responded.
Hope hated the animosity between Vale and her father — particularly given the fact that she was almost sure that Klaus didn’t even know about Vale. Thus, the hatred was only on Vale’s side. While anyone in their right mind would be afraid of Klaus, Hope was serious about Vale. That ultimately meant he’d need to face her father at some point. The fact that he made no effort to hide his obvious disdain for the man, despite never having met him, made Hope worry that he wasn’t as serious about her as she was of him.
When Vale didn’t answer Hope’s jab immediately, Ezra pressed ahead instead, trying to break the tension.
“Alright, let’s make some friends!” Ezra chimed in, using a sing-song voice before opening the bottom hatch door to their plane. She turned off all the controls and the three of them exited the plane with their masks hanging around their necks.
They took in their surroundings first. They were in a massive old sports arena, the kind that was so large its roof could open and close for sunny or rainy games. No one had used these things for actual sport in a long time. Most of them had been burned to the ground, others sunk into the sea. The former turf of the field was long gone and had been replaced by a huge expanse of concrete.
Ahead of them, high above in the top tier seats in the stadium, they could make out people bustling around the old glass booth where the announcers and scorekeepers sat. It appeared that they were using it as a makeshift air traffic control center. People were stepping out from the box now, one of them stopping to wave excitedly from high up. Hope mimicked the gesture. Then, they were all vamp speeding down from the control center to the ground level to introduce themselves and, simultaneously, revealing them all to be vampires.
“Hi! My god, we can’t tell you how happy we are to see you here,” a girl in a green jacket gushed, the same woman who had waved to them before.
Beside her stood three other figures, two men and another woman. One of the men stood closely to the first girl and they looked very similar, even in how they carried themselves.
This first male vampire stepped forward with a hand outstretched, “I’m Hayato and this is my sister, Michiko-”
“Call me Ko!” she interrupted, brightly.
“Now which one of you is Ezra?” Hayato continued.
Ezra stuck out her hand for an immediate firm shake and Vale directed his attention towards the siblings as well. Next to them, though, Hope couldn’t help but abjectly stare at the remaining two vampires who had yet to introduce themselves.
The other man wasn’t so interesting; some pseudo-thug with a military weapon strapped to his back, probably just to look impressive. Hope could have cared less who he was.
But, beside him, stepping up to meet them last, was a woman Hope recognized well. She was the woman she’d seen in Klaus’s secret portraits in his studio. This was Caroline Forbes and, she was holding Hope’s gaze steadily, evenly, and unblinking.
“Hope?” Vale asked, interrupted her thoughts. “Hey… are you going to introduce yourself?”
He was looking down at her quizzically, not understanding what had caught her attention so intensely. Hope composed herself and turned back to the new group with a bright smile. She looked to Caroline first as she held her hand out to the blonde.
“Hope Mikaelson,” she said, searching for any discernible reaction. “Pleased to meet you.”
Caroline’s expression didn’t change in the slightest. She accepted Hope’s handshake with an easy demure smile.
“Caroline Forbes,” she responded before dropping Hope’s hand and turning to shake Ezra and Vale’s.
Upon hearing her name confirmed for themselves, they couldn’t help but exchange uncertain glances with one another. Hope could have slapped them for being so obvious about it but, across from them, Caroline betrayed no sign of noticing anything out of the ordinary.
“Caroline basically runs the whole research center here,” Ko explained, tone still laced with barely reigned in excitement. “She’ll be able to answer any questions you guys have!”
“We look forward to it!” Hope responded, her eyes still carefully trained on Caroline.
“Well, we’re anxious to hear what you’re working on back in the States, too, of course,” Caroline replied, pragmatically.
It was strange for them to hear it referred to as “the States.” No one had thought of it that way in some time. Hope tended to think of her home solely in terms of Las Vegas.
“There’s not much to tell, I’m afraid,” Ezra said. “From everything Hayato and I have discussed, your research is far ahead of anything we’ve been working on.”
“In any case, we’re glad to have a new source of what’s going on elsewhere in the world,” Caroline said. “But we won’t get into that now. First you’ll need a tour and then I’ll show you were you’ll be staying while you’re here. Follow me, we’ll be taking the tunnels out.”
“The tunnels?” Vale questioned behind them. Hope held back a laugh. She could hear the childlike wonder in his voice. Vale maybe had the biggest sense of adventure of all of them.
“The whole city is underground now,” Ko explained excitedly next to them as they followed Caroline across the floor of the old stadium. The final man, with the gun, brought up the lead. Apparently he was just there for security duty after all.
“Infection between the humans and wolves has been too bad for decades now for anyone to risk staying in the old city,” Hayato confirmed. “Not to mention, as I’m sure you saw when you arrived, most of the area is continuously being burned. At first it was an effort to contain the virus, now it’s just gotten out of control. We haven’t had a rain season in years.”
Caroline was opening a hatch door from beneath a section of stadium seats. They looked down the hatch to be met only by a ladder leading into darkness.
“Take the rear,” Caroline instructed to their guard. “I hope none of you have a problem with heights.”
Without waiting to hear their response she vamp sped down the ladder.
“After you,” Hayato gestured to Hope.
Ready to continue this adventure, Hope sped down without a second thought. As she made her descent, it grew brighter. And when she finally made it to the bottom of the ladder, Hope gasped in shock at the sight that met her.
They were standing on the metal platform of an old mine’s staircase within in a deep network of caves and caverns. But built into the massive rocky underground chamber was an entire, brightly twinkling city. It was another bustling shanty town, not unlike The Waste in Vegas but clearly more high tech and far more highly populated.
And because the cavern extended hundreds of feet above them — as well as below them at certain incredibly treacherous portions of the cave network — the city was built on top of itself for several stories. Tiny homes were stacked on top of tiny homes, some made out of wood and others built straight into nooks in the rock-face or caves themselves. It was an elaborate system, apparently connected mostly by ladders but a few suspended wooden bridges as well.
They’d clearly done their best to turn it into a home, a real place with culture. Paper lanterns were hanging from all the bridges and outside most homes. People had old flags from former nations hanging out periodically. Someone was actually managing to somehow grow some sort of foliage in long winding tendrils around a ladder to their home, even all the way down here with no sunlight.
Maintaining culture: This was something the community in The Waste had done too. Hope was always attracted to places like these, they were so much more welcoming than the sterile environment her father had created for them at the Luxor.
Following shortly behind them were the rest of their party. Vale let out a long appreciative whistle and Ezra said a breathy, “Wow.”
Caroline looked back to them with a proud smile.
“Welcome to Chiang Mai,” she said.
Unfortunately, Caroline had made excuses to step away almost as soon as they’d set foot in the underground city. Ko assured them she wasn’t being impolite and that it wasn’t unusual. Caroline apparently almost always had business to attend to around here.
It was giving Hope a sinking feeling in her stomach. If Caroline was essentially running this whole set-up, how on Earth would they ever be able to convince her to return to Vegas with them? What if she didn’t even get another chance to speak with her before they returned home? She couldn’t come this close and not figure out the truth to this last chapter of her father’s history.
First Ko and Hayato had taken them to their temporary lodgings, a couple of rooms a floor below their own apartment in one of the towering wooden bungalows built into the cave walls. When you looked out of the window, you could see one of the deepest stretches of the cavern opening up into a vast unending darkness below you. It was unsettling but Ko promised that they’d “get used to it super fast.”
After they’d dropped off their stuff, Hayato said he’d take them to get something to eat. Ko had insisted they walk by the labs on the way so they were first led to a tunnel out of the main cavern of the city. Making their way through the dim tunnel, they passed several guarded security check points. As guests they even had to sign in.
It occurred to Hope that she hadn’t seen such an official set-up in a long time… maybe ever. If this was all Caroline’s creation, she was apparently an impressive force. No wonder she’d caught Klaus’s attention. Had she been this way all those years ago?
Finally they’d ended up in another large cave where a makeshift military bunker had been set up, replete with sturdy hazmat tents, weapons, tanks, and people milling about in protective hazmat gear and helmets.
“We’re not going to take you inside today,” Hayato explained, “So you won’t need to suit up. We just wanted to show you how to get here. We’ll be spending a lot of time here tomorrow.”
“Why is everyone suited?” Ezra asked. “Vampires can’t catch C-Flu.”
“Right but we can transmit it,” Ko said. “Vampires aren’t the only creatures living down here.”
“Wolves?” Hope asked. She hadn’t seen a healthy werewolf in decades. It made her heart ache to think of her mother and pack.
“Wolves, humans, witches…” Ko replied. “You name it. That’s not the case back in Vegas?”
“Hardly,” Vale answered. “Vamps and a few witches, plus Klaus’s hybrids. Everyone is else is infected or long dead.”
“Wow, we had no idea it had gotten so bad over there,” Hayato said with discernible disappointment. “Come on, we can keep talking after you’ve had something to eat.”
Caroline hadn’t truly had business to attend to when she excused herself from attending to this group of visitors. No one had told her that Klaus’s daughter would be coming today. She’d only known about some kids named Ezra and Vale. Hell, she hadn’t even known Klaus was in Vegas at all! She’d been making a very concerted effort not to think about Klaus the past couple of centuries. And, dammit, so far she’d been pretty successful.
Her stomach was in knots as she stormed up the winding wooden stairs to her apartment in one of the smaller caves in the rock walls. She pushed aside the heavy purple cloth curtain covering the door to her home.
“Hey! I didn’t expect you to be back so soon,” a female voice said, pleasantly. “Did they get here okay?”
“Oh they’re fine,” Caroline responded to her roommate. “Just not sure I am.”
“What’s the matter?” her friend asked.
“Ridley,” Caroline responded, flatly, “You’re not going to believe who showed up.”
Ridley was none other than Ridley Bennett. A young, orphaned witch and a great-granddaughter of her old friend Bonnie. Though she was five generations separated from her grandmother, it didn’t feel that way to Caroline. Caroline had been watching over Bonnie’s descendants all these years, never able to stand the thought of leaving them alone to fend for themselves. They’d been cursed with bad luck generation after generation and Caroline felt it her duty to protect them as much as she could.
“Who showed up?” Ridley asked.
Caroline flopped down onto the sleeping pallet she had set up for herself in the corner of their cave. It was piled high with in pillows, making their meager living situation appear somewhat more sumptuous and homey. She grabbed one of her pillows and buried her face into for a second to let out a long groan. Then she turned back to Ridley.
“Hope Mikaelson,” she answered.
“Mikaelson?” Ridley asked in surprise. “As in…”
“As in his daughter,” Caroline said. “His freaking daughter! And what’s the icing on the cake? I get the distinct feeling that he has no clue she’s here.”
“Does she know who you are?” Ridley asked.
“My god, she’s not even being discrete about it,” Caroline replied. “Yeah, she definitely knows who I am. She’s all but lording it over me.”
“Oh come on,” Ridley said. “It can’t be that bad. What has she got to lord over you? It’s been two centuries and Klaus has let you be all this time. He’s got nothing over you anymore! No one here would let anyone mess with you even if they tried, anyway.”
“Yeah, that’s true,” Caroline considered. “I hope you’re right, Ridley. But if there’s one thing I’ll never stop keeping in mind… it’s that you can never let down your guard around a Mikaelson.”
“Well, I want to meet her,” Ridley said. “I mean, imagine what she could mean for our research! Half-hybrid and half-heretic? What could her blood tell us?”
“Don’t even start thinking about that,” Caroline warned. “This is Klaus Mikaelson’s daughter. If anyone tries to use her as a lab rat, he’ll kill them. No second thoughts.”
“Yeah but if we have her consent-”
“No buts,” Caroline interrupted, firmly. “Don’t push me on this. Not to mention, I don’t think she qualifies as a heretic. They can only use their witch powers from siphoning. As far as I’ve heard about this girl, she can do magic like any regular witch.”
Ridley rolled her eyes. “Well, I still want to meet her,” she said.
“Yeah, you will,” Caroline said. “I wouldn’t mind your perspective on all this. Not to mention I need a buffer. I’m not interested in Hope cornering me to ask any questions unless I’m well and ready to answer them.”
“Ten-four,” Ridley responded with a serious salute. “Buffering conversations is one of my greatest talents.”
Caroline laughed before standing from her bed.
“Alright,” she said. “Let’s get this over with. We’re going to need to meet them for dinner soon.”
Sitting at a round table in an ornately carved cave, Hope was surprised to see Caroline enter the room followed by a young human. Her friend was clearly a powerful witch, magic radiated from her. Hope had always had a good sense of other people’s abilities and this witch probably wasn’t even fully aware of her own enormous potential.
“I trust you all were able to get settled in and had a nice tour,” Caroline said as she took a seat at the table, the farthest one from Hope.
“Well, there’s still a lot more to see,” Hope called to her from across the table. Caroline didn’t even meet her eyes. Instead, the other blonde picked up a pitcher of blood at the table and poured herself a goblet. She then passed it over to Vale who accepted it thankfully.
“We’ll be happy to show you more tomorrow,” Hayato told her graciously.
“With the outbreak so bad here, how do you have access to all this clean blood?” Ezra asked taking a long sip from her own drink.
Across from them, the Chiang Mai vampires exchanged uncomfortable glances.
“We don’t…” Caroline answered softly. “You’re our guests. The first people we’ve seen from outside of Chiang Mai in a long time. We wanted to host you well.”
“My god,” Hope exclaimed. “You didn’t have to do this for us!”
Caroline quickly suppressed her first thought — I doubt your father would agree with that sentiment.
“Please don’t worry about it,” Ko pressed. “We’re just glad to have you here.”
“The truth is that we give out more of our blood than we get safely in return,” Hayato continued.
“Give out?” Vale asked. “Why are you giving out blood?”
The young witch finally spoke up, “Vampire blood helps ease the pain in patients who have newly contracted C-Flu. It’s also been known to slow the progression of the disease in some studies.”
“Oh, please excuse me,” Caroline interrupted the witch’s explanation. “Ezra, Vale, Hope… this is my dear friend Ridley Bennett. Doubtless you’ve noticed she is a witch.”
“Charmed,” Ridley said, cocking an eyebrow at them suspiciously.
“A witch working with vampires to find a cure,” Hope commented affably. “You’d fit right in back at our base.”
“The word base makes it sound a lot more official than it is,” Vale immediately jumped in, embarrassed. “What we’ve got set up is nothing like you guys have here.”
“I’m sure you all have made some important progress,” Ko said. “The fact that we’re both working towards the same goal is all that matters.”
“Besides,” Hope said. “You’re talking about what you all have set up at The Waste. You haven’t seen what we have set up back at the Luxor?”
“The Luxor?” Ridley asked.
Hope grinned, pleased as could be to be asked to explain further. She was watching Caroline closely.
“It’s a building on the main stretch of Vegas,” Hope explained. “It’s where my father rules over the city. We have some better labs set up there than we do in The Waste. My father is just very… particular about who he invites into his home.”
“Your father?” Ridley asked, so Hope couldn’t drag out this game any longer. “You mean Klaus Mikaelson?”
“Yes, Klaus is my father,” Hope responded.
Ko and Hayato were exchanging nervous looks and keeping an eye on Caroline for a reaction. She kept her face guarded but she did finally offer a reply.
“Yes, well I’m sure your father’s facilities are suitable,” was all she said. “We can go over the specifics of what you have available and I can send you back with plans for how to proceed and improve.”
“Yeah, about that,” Hope interjected. “About our going back, I mean. We were thinking-”
Vale kicked her under the table and, as he did, a couple of new people burst through the door to where they were having their dinner.
“Ko, you’ve got to get up to control,” one of them said. “Someone is incoming and every time we get them on the radio, all they do is insist we clear them for landing and guide them in. We have no idea who they are, no other flights were scheduled as incoming today.”
Ko and her brother rose instantly, practically in tandem, to rush out of dinner and head up to the stadium. Hope had a sinking feeling her stomach. At the other end of the table, apparently Caroline had the same feeling as well because Hope heard her mutter under her breath.“Speak of the devil and in he walks,” Caroline murmured. She certainly had not been prepared for this today.