Inferno

Chapter 5

They returned to finish dinner — or start dinner, for Klaus and Rebekah and their hybrids — in the same domed cave with the large round meeting table they’d been in earlier. Upon Klaus’s arrival, they’d apparently put in a bit more effort and a few staff members were bustling around the table with food.

Hope couldn’t help but wonder if it was Caroline who’d arranged this new more formal dinner or someone else, maybe Ko. And, if Caroline had arranged it, did she do it before or after Klaus had insulted her apartments? Either way, it showed Caroline cared about her father’s opinion…

Caroline confidently took a seat at the head of the table and Klaus, just as confidently, took the seat to her right. Ridley and Ko both looked a bit put out — clearly knocked out of their normal places thanks to Klaus — and took the two seats to her left. Hope sat next to them so she’d be diagonal from her father and easily able to watch his reactions throughout dinner. So far, his responses to Caroline had been pure entertainment for Hope; she’d never seen her father act like this.

Ezra and Vale, meanwhile, had been exchanging silent conversation via knowing glances all night. While it was good that Hope didn’t seem to be in too much trouble — and neither did they, so far — but the drama between Klaus and Caroline was starting to steamroll the real reason for their trip. They could only hope that Caroline herself would make sure to guide their discussion back to research and information about the base.

"Fruit?" Rebekah asked with a genuine note of surprise in her voice when a platter of grapes, berries, and figs were set before her at the table. "You grow produce down here?"

Caroline smiled proudly but allowed Ko to explain. Ko had been a fifth grade teacher in the past, when she was still human. She’d tried to maintain her job in the aftermath of turning but, since the apocalypse had changed everything, Ko didn’t often get to use her professional skill set. These days, she functioned more as Caroline’s Deputy Mayor than anything else. Having the opportunity to teach things to people was clearly still important to Ko, though, so Caroline didn’t mind letting her have the spotlight when it came to explaining how Chiang Mai functioned.

"When we first moved into the caves, early on we found a species of phosphorescent moss that gives out trace amounts of radiation similar to sunlight," she said. "We hang it from the ceilings of our greenhouses."

"Caroline, you should show them later," Ridley suggested unabashedly. "At night, when most of the lights of the city go out, the greenhouses glow bright green. It's very romantic."

Caroline rolled her eyes while Klaus smirked. Just then, a member of Caroline's staff appeared to deposit full goblets of blood in front of everyone except Ridley, as well as two full decanters in the middle of the table. As Klaus took a sip, Hope decided it was time to use some of her extraordinary powers to help the poor guy out. She felt genuinely bad for her floundering father. Not to mention, she was extremely anxious to stay in Chiang Mai a bit longer before they had to return to Vegas. If Klaus kept insulting Caroline, that wasn’t going to happen.

So, as her father set down his drink, Hope pushed out to him with her mind.

This isn’t typical for them, she sent to her father, They don’t have access to much clean blood but they’re providing this because we’re their guests.

If Klaus had gotten the message, he made no sign but, Hope knew he heard her. Unfortunately, he must have missed the point because he began to look a little smug.

“Thank you for your hospitality, Caroline—” he began but suddenly someone stormed into the room. Hope, Vale, and Ezra recognized him as Ko’s older brother Hayato.

“First of all, I’m sorry I’m late,” Hayato panted out. Ko started to giggle at him but he silenced his little sister with a dangerously serious look. “But I’m also sorry because I have to pull you away again. There’s another problem.”

Caroline groaned internally. Why was all this happening the day that Klaus decided to show up? But, the moment she was about to start grumbling, the genuine terror that was in Hayato’s eyes startled her.

“Hayato, what is it?” she asked him.

He cast a nervous glance over at the Mikaelsons but continued when Caroline steadfastly awaited his answer without blinking.

“There’s been a security breach in one of the labs. A patient has been kidnapped, a little girl,” he explained. “We’ve already started tracking her… we think the wolves may have taken her.”

May have?” Ridley demanded. “Who else would have?”

Hayato exchanged a look with his sister who turned to Caroline.

“Care, you know we’ve long thought there might be something else down here with us,” Ko said. “There have been so many signs.”

Caroline’s brow just furrowed as she began to consider the information being relayed to her.

“Where have you tracked the girl to?” she finally asked Hayato.

He visibly gulped, as if this was the worst part of his story. “She’s still alive,” he said. “They’ve taken her to The Black Lake.”

Klaus had been watching these dramatic proceedings with quiet interest but now, he officially felt the need to interject.

“The Black Lake?” he intoned, “What the hell is that and why do all of you seem so afraid of it?”

“You don’t need to be concerned about it,” Caroline said, swiftly rising from her chair, “Please, stay and have dinner. Ko, come with me, we’re going after that girl. Ridley, you’ll stay with our guests.”

“Why do I have to stay?” Ridley demanded, always hating to be left behind.

“You know goddamn well why Ridley,” Caroline hissed in warning. She hadn’t served as Ridley’s mother-figure for many years now but, when the girl might be in danger, Caroline wasn’t afraid to play that card. “I am not taking you to that lake.”

“Well, I’m certainly not staying behind,” Klaus interrupted, rising to follow her. “We’re here to learn, aren’t we? Isn’t that why you all arranged this whole big trip? You can’t keep us in the dark about the dangers that are out there.”

Caroline groaned in annoyance. Truth be told, if Hayato and Ko were right and this wasn’t all the wolves’ doing then she might actually appreciate Klaus’s backup on this trip. Even if it was just the wolves, rabid wolves were particularly deadly to vampires and the one thing they really had to worry about other than starvation these days. Klaus also had his hybrids with him…

As Klaus waited for her to respond, he hoped his act had gone over well. He was interested in exchanging knowledge with Caroline but, mostly just because it kept him closer to her while simultaneously learning more about her past two centuries alive. This trip to the “lake,” however, he was determined to go on because it sounded dangerous. And he’d be damned if he lost Caroline the moment he’d found her again.

“Fine,” Caroline said finally. “But when we’re down there you differ to my word, no questions, no arguments.”

“Of course,” Klaus responded immediately, noting that Rebekah stood up as well. “Not you sister, you need to stay here and keep an eye on my daughter.”

“Wait, I’m coming too!” Hope insisted.

“You bloody well are not,” he replied but Caroline interrupted him.

“Let her come,” she said. “If you really want your daughter to be prepared by what’s out there, she needs to see it herself. You can’t protect anyone by keeping them uninformed and inexperienced.”

“Yeah, well where’s that philosophy when it comes to me?” Ridley demanded but Caroline ignored her. Hope was one of the most powerful and truly immortal beings on the planet; Ridley was a mortal witch.

“Besides,” Caroline said as she led. “We’re going to need people to wait for us on shore. Only so many of us can fit in the boat.”

The boat? they all wondered, exchanging nervous looks. Where on Earth was she taking them?


It was a long way down to The Black Lakes. Caroline explained things on their trip down, with help from Ko and Hayato. Rebekah, Hope, Vale, Ezra, and Klaus had all decided to join them, along with half a dozen hybrids, a fact that both concerned and comforted Caroline. She didn’t have a hard time keeping her Chiang Mai team in check; they differed to her authority absolutely. But none of these vampires from Vegas thought of her as their leader — especially not Originals.

“We weren’t the first people to flee to the underground caves here,” Caroline explained first. “Infected creatures, the last cognitive function they have left is survival instinct, so the wolves and infected humans were here first. We suspect they retreated here after the first burning season started in Thailand.”

“They’re still a problem in Vegas too,” Ezra said behind her. “Infected humans have a tough time surviving in the sandstorms out in LV but you see them every once in awhile. They’re able to hole up in the abandoned buildings in the city.”

She resisted the urge to throw a glare at Klaus who should have taken care of the problem himself. Caroline was a real leader. Klaus was just an ass hiding out with his hybrids in his glass palace.

“Well, we’ve actually got the problem relatively under control,” Caroline said. “Most remaining people who are infected are in our labs. The wolves we’ve never been able to keep under control so we only keep a few but… we’ve been able to break up the packs and disperse most of them.”

“But they’ve been getting smarter,” Hayato interjected.

“Smarter?” Klaus asked. This was new information to him. The rabid wolves in Vegas were still little more than feral beasts of the night.

“They’re still rabid…” Caroline tried to explain. “You can’t talk to them anymore or anything but… they’re fighting back now. They plan things. They’ve never done that before. And they’re starting to regroup.”

Now Klaus was even more glad he’d joined Caroline. Surely if this was a problem in Chiang Mai it was only a matter of time before it developed in the Vegas wolves too. Simultaneously, though, he was even more upset that he’d allowed Hope to join them though, next to him Hope was all bubbling excitement and it did make him smile, albeit briefly.

“Rebekah you better be damn well memorizing your way out of this labyrinth,” Klaus said gesturing to the darkened cave path they were following. “You’re staying on shore with Hope and you’ll have to be ready to run with her at the first sign of trouble.”

Suddenly he whirled around to face Vale with a sudden and harsh growl.

“You too boy, if you want to start proving your worth,” he spat.

Vale genuinely cowered beneath Klaus for a moment before a snort from Caroline ahead of them broke Klaus’s attention.

Very progressive parenting, Klaus,” Caroline said sarcastically. “Come on, we have further to go but I don’t want to speed through, it’s easy to get lost down here and, where we’re going, we don’t have any maps to use.”

Sure enough, the longer they traveled the rougher the root became. At first, closest to the base, they were walking on carved, well-traveled cave paths. As they went further, they began to climb downwards. The town’s electricity was rapidly replaced by torches and the path became more difficult and more natural. Repel lines were set up at certain points. Eventually, they had to turn on helmets with lights on them. Ropes guided them at certain points of the climb but, soon enough, they were walking into clearly uncharted territory.

They were in the pitchest black that Klaus had ever seen… or not seen depending on how you looked at it. For someone with incredibly heightened senses it was a peculiar sensation to suddenly feel almost purely blind. He could see his companions around him, only because of their lights but, it was like they were all walking in a void. Ahead, Caroline seemed like a beam of light in the darkness herself. When she’d turn around to check on the group, the light from her helmet framed her face like she was made of the sun itself. It seemed strange to think of how she’d been living down here, becoming a creature of the dark — hell a Queen of the dark — for decades. When had she last even seen the real sun?

“How do we know where we’re going?” Rebekah asked, almost timidly. “How do we know we won’t fall into a cavern any second?”

It was a genuinely terrifying thought… an Original would be trapped in the deepest crevices of the Earth for eternity. Unable to die and likely unable to escape.

“It’s darker to you because you’re not used to it down here,” Ko assured her. “We’ve been down here for decades, our eyes can see better in the dark. This is one of the darkest systems we’ve been to — it’s one of the reasons we haven’t explored it more — but we can see what we’re doing. We’re not even near anywhere you could fall right now.”

“That doesn’t mean you all shouldn’t be on your guard though,” Caroline warned. “We’ve only been down here a few times ourselves and don’t know the terrain all that well. People have gone missing before; there are vampires who have never been found.”

Klaus was seriously questioning his decision to allow Hope to join them just because Caroline had guilted him into thinking it’d be good for her. He turned around to gaze at Hope behind him, she was listening to everything Caroline said almost reverently — so were the rest of them. At least she was taking the danger seriously. He threw her and Rebekah a meaningful look: stick together.

“We’re approaching the lake,” Hayato said in a hushed tone. “Quiet now…”

When Caroline stopped walking, everyone fell into place behind her. With a quick motion, Hayato stepped forward with a lighter in hand. Reaching out, his helmet lit up the shape of a tall torch sticking up from the ground. When he lit the first torch, the area illuminated considerably and then, they could finally see the edge of the lake.

Klaus could see where it got its name — it was such a deep ink color it was startling to behold, blacker than black, almost vantablack. As Hayato continued to light up a line of torches along the shore, more of the lake’s outline became visible. It was so large that tiny waves actually lapped against the dark underground sand on which they were now standing. However, it was so dark in the cavern no one could actually get a sense for how big the body of water truly was; you couldn’t see how far it extended in any direction. Really, you couldn’t see much farther than the short distance their lights fell.

Tied to one of the torches in the ground was a rope that extended a short way out over the lake to where a small yellow, rubber, rescue dinghy was located. A second and third were tied to subsequent torches. Those tiny things were what were going to carry them about this huge, dark, and seemingly infinite underground lake?

“I knew there were underground chambers and pools,” Klaus said, “But I had no idea how far down or how large. How big is this lake? How far down are we?”

“We’re about 20 miles deep right here,” Ko answered immediately. “This is one of the deepest caves we’ve ever reached. As for how big The Black Lake is? We really have no way to tell; we assume it’s the size of at least one of the Great Lakes in America because it does have waves. We’re also not really sure what causes the waves… like, would water be affected by the lunar cycle down here-?”

“—Save it for later, please, Ko,” Caroline prompted as gently as she could. “We don’t need to draw attention that we’re here. Now, how on Earth do we find this girl?”

“You did say she was a lab patient didn’t you?” Rebekah asked. “May I ask why we’re going through all this trouble for someone who is infected?”

“She’s a little girl!” Hayato chastised, surprising everyone since he’d not yet addressed one of the Mikaelsons specifically before now unless he had to. “Besides, in our research we’ve found a way to slow the progression of the disease by several years using vampire blood. That little girl will still be fully cognitive for the next four or five years! She’s out there somewhere and terrified.”

Rebekah had the good sense to look a little ashamed and Caroline suspected that had something to do with the way she’d been subtly gravitating towards Hayato ever since he’d arrived. Hayato was very attractive, slightly taller than Klaus but had a very wiry and thin frame with striking features — all of which Rebekah had clearly noticed though Hayato appeared oblivious to anything other than the situation at hand.

Klaus, on the other hand, was only keeping tabs on Rebekah to make sure she was keeping tabs on Hope. He was startled by this first revelation onto Caroline’s research. Adding an extra four to five years of usable blood onto a human’s life? Perhaps her cure research could be useful, after all.

“And where exactly do we think they’ve taken the girl?” Klaus asked, “Have you ever been across the lake before?”

“No…” Caroline admitted evenly and maintaining eye contact, sure that he was going to have one of his Original Freakouts any second. “We’ve never been able to make it the whole way across, we don’t even have any idea how long it is.”

“So-” he began but Caroline cut him off with a sharp shushing sound.

Her head whipped around as she faced the direction of the lake. She closed her eyes as she concentrated, suddenly using every ounce of her concentration to just listen. As she’d finished describing their knowledge of the lake to Klaus she thought she had heard— There it was again. The wail in the distance sent a cold and powerful shiver straight down Caroline’s spine from the top of her head all the way to her toes. She looked towards Ko and Hayato, mouthing Did you hear that? They were both deathly still and silent and only responded with the quickest of nods.

Now, Klaus and Rebekah were straining to hear too. Not once over their many centuries alive had they ever encountered anyone with better hearing than they but, they had not spent the past six decades underground. Down here, in the dark, all of your senses became much steadily more and more in-tune with the darkness until most people felt almost nocturnal within the first six months. The only citizens who really didn’t fare well down here were the humans and witches; human families, and Ridley herself for that matter, usually visited a makeshift tanning salon set up in the city several times a week to make sure they were getting enough Vitamin D.

Everyone was silent still until Hope spoke up finally. She’d been quiet for the last fifteen minutes or more. Klaus wasn’t sure if it was because she was in awe or just hyper-aware of potential danger. He suspected it was a bit of both.

“I hear it,” Hope said, looking up to maintain eye contact with Caroline. “A child crying. It’s coming from somewhere on the lake.”

Klaus quickly strode over to where his daughter was standing so that he could listen from her angle and then, he heard it too. Somewhere out in the distance across the lake, a little girl was softly whimpering and crying, alone in the darkness. Was she alone?

“She doesn’t sound that far out,” Klaus said once he’d heard the sounds himself. “She can’t possibly be across the lake.”

“There are dozens of islands out there,” Ko said. “Most of them no bigger than large rocks but they’re big enough to leave a child on. Not to mention the unknown number of enclaves from around the edges of the lake.”

“We’ll just have to follow the sound,” Caroline said firmly. “Alright, let’s get this done. Who’s definitely coming and who’s staying?”

Ko and Hayato both exchanged glances, mentally agreeing on something in less time than it took to blink.

“I’ll go,” Ko said. “Hayato can help guide us back from the shore.”

“I’d like to go with you,” Ezra said, timidly. “I don’t know what we’ll see out there… if anything but, that’s why I’m here, to see as much as possible. And if anything goes wrong, I’m a strong fighter and I know my way around a boat.”

Caroline smiled and nodded, confirming the girl could join her. “Just remember, everything is different in the dark here,” she said. “You fight differently because you see differently. And this lake isn’t as placid as it seems. We’ve lost boats and vampires out here before.”

“Which reminds me,” Klaus said. “Are these really our only transportation option?” He was gesturing to the yellow rubber rescue dinghies which, admittedly, didn’t look like they could hold up against much.

“Unfortunately,” Caroline replied, not offended by his hesitancy. The Black Lake was an intimidating spot. “Until we get this area better mapped out and build a more accessible root to get here, these are all we can really get out here. You saw how many cliffs we had to repel over to get down here, imagine trying to do that with a real boat.”

Yes, it would have been difficult to get a canoe or, better yet, a small motorboat down here but, looking out over that dark lake, Klaus still thought it seemed worth it.

“So, am I to gather that you’ll be joining us on the lake then?” Caroline asked to confirm.

“Indeed, I shall,” he replied, thankful that she was willing to accept his participation without question. If she had demanded he tell her why, he wouldn’t have known what to say. Because I don’t want to ever let you out of my sight again. Because there’s no way in hell I’d let you out on that lake without me. “Don’t get any ideas just because your friend is joining us,” Klaus said, turning to his daughter in part to distract himself from the onslaught of thoughts about Caroline. “As decided before, you will be staying on shore with your Aunt Rebekah. That boy of yours will stay with you as well.”

Very progressive, Caroline couldn’t help but think to herself again. Caroline hadn’t had much time to talk to Hope yet but she’d been steadily observing her from the moment she’d arrived with Ezra and Vale. Hope was a strong young woman and she knew how to handle herself. All things considered, Caroline was technically less than two decades older than her so Hope would conceivably have the same amount of experience as she did herself. Caroline would have had to have a stern talk with her mother if she had ever intimated to Caroline that she needed a man to care for her. Though she suspected these interactions with Vale had more to do with Vale proving himself to Klaus than any actual misogynistic beliefs, it still irritated Caroline. She’d been doing just fine taking care of herself, and an entire city to boot, without a man for well over a decade, thank you very much.

If Hope or Vale were going to say anything in response, Caroline broke through the tension by continuing to plan their trip out.

“Can we take any of your hybrids?” she asked Klaus.

He looked over the six men and women who had traveled with him specifically to rescue Hope and nothing more. Not one of them looked at all put out about the situation in the slightest. Anxious, maybe a bit but, also… excited. Suddenly he began to sense that emotion from everyone except the Chiang Mai vampires present. Everyone here from Vegas was entranced with the city here, it’s adventure and, clearly, Caroline herself.

He pointed to three of them and said “Stay on shore with Hope. You three, come with us.”

Caroline took a backpack from Hayato and throwing it over her own shoulder. Before she slipped it fully onto her back, she opened it up to sift through it and pulled out a gun to toss to Klaus. Ko did the same with her own pack, handing a gun to Ezra.

“Just in case the wolves are out here,” Ko explained.

Caroline began to walk towards the boats. “Ko, you take one, I’ll take the other. We need someone who knows the territory in each,” she said.

No one even had to be asked where they were going, it was so obvious. Ezra filed into the dinghy behind Ko and Klaus took his seat behind Caroline.

“Two of you with them,” Klaus said to the hybrids and gesturing to Ko’s boat, “One of you with us.”

Caroline silently agreed with his assessment and began untying their dinghy from its post at the shore. Simultaneously she and Ko cast off, handing each member of their boat an oar to paddle.

“Keep an eye on the light,” Caroline ordered to Hayato. “Don’t wait any longer than two hours and, if we’re gone longer than that, send out a single troop from our militia and nothing more.”

Hayato nodded. Klaus pressed two fingers to his lips before pointing them back to Hope. She mimicked the gesture. It had been their wordless goodbye for as long as she could remember. Then, he mouthed to her as they drifted further from shore: Be safe.

They traversed the lake for the first several minutes in almost reverential silence. They were paddling into the most extreme absence of light that Klaus had ever experience in his many years alive. Occasionally he would glance back to the shore, watching his daughter grow smaller in the distance. He could still make out the light of their torches but, soon enough, it was only a pinprick.

Ahead of him, at the front of the boat, Caroline slowed their paddling pointed out across the water ahead of them to Ko in the boat next to them.

“Careful, there’s a tight group of stalagmites up ahead,” she said. “Go slowly and paddle around them.”

Sure enough, the light from their helmet’s illuminated the black water ahead of them and Klaus could see dozens of razor-sharp rock stalagmites peeking up from beneath the water’s surface. If they weren’t careful, the rocks could tear their boat to shreds.

Caroline had been calling these caves home for so long that she wasn’t nearly as on edge as everyone else with her. Nevertheless, the Black Lake inspired a sort-of terror even in her. It was unknown. It was like the Bermuda Triangle of their cave systems. It was the one area where people still seemed to get lost after all these years. And, it was so very dark — and that darkness so very vast and unending — that, even with their lighted helmets on, they could see less than 200 feet in front of them in any direction.

She did a cursory check around her to make sure everyone on her team was still doing alright. Ko looked grim but fine. Ezra plus all the hybrids just looked hypnotized by the unending blackness in front of them. That reaction was typical; it took a good several months to two years to complete adjust to living down here.

Last but not least, her eyes met Klaus’s. He was sitting immediately behind her and, the moment their eyes locked, he gave her a wolfish grin. She pursed her lips and whipped around, pretending to be more annoyed than she truly was. Even out here, in no-man’s land, under dire circumstances, he still wanted to seduce her. The fact simultaneously complimented her and made her sincerely question his priorities.

Trying to wipe thoughts of him from her head, Caroline looked out onto the water in front of them. The light barely stretched out at all and the water was an inky, almost cloudy, black. She couldn’t see a thing. It was like staring into nothing.

But then, she saw something and its presence sent her reeling backwards, landing with her back pressed into Klaus’s chest. It was almost intimate and, it likely would have felt that way if her heart hadn’t been hammering in her chest for entirely different reasons.

“Jesus!” she breathed out.

Klaus grasped her firmly about the shoulders before pushing up to look out over the water himself.

“What?” he demanded. “What did you see?”

“Nothing…” she assured him, shaking her head to regain clarity. “My mind was just playing tricks on me.”

Klaus didn’t really buy that. Caroline had been living here for decades. Maybe this dark made some people hallucinate — at first, before they became used to it — but Caroline was an expert in this environment now. What had she really seen?

For a split second she had thought she’d seen the silvery-grey sheen of something pass quickly and lithely beneath them in the water. It had seemed much larger and faster than the boat.

“Caroline…” Klaus began in an extremely hesitant tone. He needed her to be honest with him.

His questioning tone was followed by a sickening lurch. The boat swayed, too much to ignore.

For a split second, they were all silent again. And then, something visibly rippled beneath the thin rubber at the bottom of the boat. Something enormous.

"There's something under the boat," Caroline said, as if they all hadn’t experienced the exact same feeling. Next to her, Ko and Ezra had stopped paddling. They were gazing at her with wide eyes.

Caroline didn’t speak again, she just motioned to her team around her. She gestured to the lights, their oars, and made the signal to keep their mouths closed. Lights off, oars up, don’t make a sound. They flicked out their lights in tandem and were, for the first time, left in true darkness.

Back on the shore, Hope and the rest watched as the last pinpoint of the boat’s light finally went out. None of them realized that they’d turned out the light; they simply thought Klaus and the rest had finally gone too far to see the light any further.

On the boat, none of them were even daring to breath. They waited just a few seconds which felt like agonizing minutes.

And then, something parted the surface of the water next to them. It sounded like a fin surfacing above the lake before quickly disappearing again. Though they couldn’t see anything, Caroline and Klaus’s eyes were both locked in the direction of the sound. Their every sense was trying desperately to see but down here, this far below ground to where man had never been, even their supernatural senses couldn’t prevail against the pitch black.

Whatever was beneath them paused its motions for a moment. Their concentration on the water was broken by another sharp cry from a young girl. The girl, she was still out here and now they were close. She sounded less than a few hundred feet away.

Still unwilling to turn the lights back on or make a sound, Caroline slowly lowered her own paddle back into the water, hoping that the others would hear her and follow suit. If they were lucky, whatever beast was swimming beneath them would not care enough to return to the boats again.

They paddled in silent darkness, now following only the sound of the girl’s crying that grew closer and closer in each second.

Out of nowhere, though, they heard an abrupt and startling ripping sound send shock-waves through the air. In turning out the lights, Caroline had hoped to avoid the attention of the monster beneath them. But, in doing so, she’d forgotten about the stalagmites creeping up from the floor of the lake.

She felt it as if it was hitting her own body when the sharp rock tore open the bottom surface of her boat. The epically cold water of the lake surrounded their feet in an instant and Caroline had to concentrate very hard not to gasp at the freezing contact.

“Lights on, now!” she demanded and the lights from each person’s helmet flicked on one after another.

The water was flooding their boat quickly and the newly lighted area showed the stalagmite that had punctured their boat resting below the surface of the water and the deep tear in their rubber boat.

“Get over here, now!” Klaus demanded to the other boat. He needn’t have said anything. Ko was already paddling her way over, and around the stalagmites, since she’d first heard the fear in Caroline’s tone.

The second the other dinghy was next to them, Klaus and Caroline and their hybrid had tossed themselves onto the floor of Ko’s boat.

And, immediately after, the lights of their helmets reflected on the shining skin of an enormous monster that began to surface from the depths of the lake. It’s head alone was over five meters long and it had huge sharp teeth. The great beast’s head broke the surface of the water with an open mouth and swallowed the remains of the punctured dinghy whole.

They didn’t even need to wait for Caroline’s command. Everyone switched their lights off immediately after the huge creature had submerged with the rubber boat in its mouth.

“What the hell is that?” Caroline shrieked, not caring in the slightest that she’d lost her composure. She’d never seen a creature that large in her entire life.

Back on the shore, they had seen the lights from the boats flicker on and off several times now. They were pretty sure they had caught a shriek or two as well. Hope couldn’t help herself after that. Taking a step closer to the edge of the water, she cupped her hands around her mouth.

Dad?” Hope called out, in a terrified question. “Ezra? DAD!” Vale couldn’t help his response. He was at Hope’s side in an instant, cradling her against him.

Out on the lake, they were still in the pitch black but Klaus found himself looking to Caroline before he responded to his daughter’s frantic cries. His automatic inclination was to respond to Hope for reassurance but, somehow, he doubted that would go over well with Caroline right now.

Gazing back at him while he silently questioned her, Caroline shook her head a minute amount. She felt truly bad for Klaus. All he wanted to do was reassure his daughter but, if he did, it might cost all of their lives.

“Are they okay?” Hope asked Hayato, back on the shore of the lake.

“I think so,” Hayato responded genuinely. “If something had gone wrong, I think we’d have heard more.”

That was true, Hope considered. Her father liked to pretend that he left her out of harm’s way for purely paternal reasons and, largely, this was true. However, Klaus had learned over the years what a valuable asset his daughter could be. She was, perhaps, the most powerful witch to have existed. As long as Hope was waiting for him on shore… she could help to ensure her father’s safety.

The sobbing of the young girl grew louder as they continued to traverse the water quietly. Their lights were out again and they were paddling as quietly as possible. The boat was somewhat sunken in, too. It really wasn’t meant for this many people.

As the crying became closer, Caroline was about to tell everyone to stop and turn on their lights. But, then, they felt something shift beneath their boat again.

It was back.

She knew they were close to land. They had to be to hear this young girl’s sobs, right?

“Jump!” she ordered, right as the boat began sway beneath her again as the monster approached.

Without thinking or looking, they all leapt out of the boat. The small rubber dinghy they’d been sitting in before was promptly snatched up and devoured by the jaws of the same creature as before.

Klaus didn’t care what she thought of it; he grabbed her hand tightly in his own and she squeezed back.

“Okay,” she breathed out. “I’m going to count to three and then we’ll turn our lights back on. Okay?”Klaus was gripping both of her hands so tightly in his own that it was almost painful. “Okay,” he confirmed.
She breathed out a long, deep sigh before looking up to hold his eyes.
“One… two… three…” Klaus said.
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