Chapter 11 : Preparations
Carlotta stroked Drac’s furry chest absentmindedly, letting his grumbles of contentment soothe her. She’d retreated to her bedroom as soon as they had returned from the market and, sensing something wasn’t right, her loyal little pug had curled up with her on the bed. There was a strange sense of suspended animation in Carlotta’s brain, as if caught somewhere between the past and the present after her experience with the Asmodean. The memories she had been obliged to bring up felt raw as if it had all happened only yesterday. She still felt decidedly weepy, despite her best efforts to get into a better frame of mind.
As glad as she was to be in the peace and quiet of her bedroom, objects all around her reminded her of her life with Marina and, now more painful than ever, of life without her. Carlotta’s eyes lingered on her collection of katana swords mounted on the wall. She had gone on a solo trip to Japan during her lone wolf phase of grieving. What had meant to be a month-long tour had turned into several decades of training in martial arts and sword skills, in an effort to bring some order to the chaotic maelstrom of grief that had threatened to engulf her. Hanging right next to the gleaming blades was a beautiful lacquer and gold leaf mask. Marina had bought it for her in Venice, where they had spent so many happy nights together.
A sharp stab of pure sadness felt like it might break Carlotta’s ribcage open. She closed her eyes, inhaling deeply and willing the feeling away. She heard the bedroom door creak open, then felt the mattress dip as someone sat down. Cassandra’s voice was soft when she spoke, reaching out to gently tuck a stray whisp of hair off Carlotta’s face.
“The others told me what happened, as much as they were able anyway. Are you alright?”
Carlotta nodded, feeling dangerously close to crying again. She heard Cassandra sigh.
“I’m sorry that was the price you had to pay. If it’s any consolation, the potion is complete now. It just needs to brew but it will be ready on Friday.”
Carlotta wiped her eyes as she opened them again, “That’s good, that’s really good. I’m glad.”
There was silence for a moment, Cassandra gently stroking her hair, while they were both lost in thought. Then the older vampire spoke softly again.
“I miss her too. She was…one of a kind. And I know you loved her deeply.”
Carlotta nodded, turning to wipe fresh tears into her already soggy pillow.
“I did. She was…everything.”
“She loved you too. So much. From the moment she first laid eyes on you. That’s why she did what she did in Prague. I really believe that you were the reason we came to Versailles, like she sensed you from afar.”
“I know. I just…I just miss her so much. And it felt so real, like I was there again. With her.”
She heard Cassandra sigh again. She’d been doing a lot of that herself too. They sat in silence for a while, contemplating their centuries of undead adventures.
Finally Cassandra spoke, “And of course I know how you grieved for Madeleine too. I…I also know a little something about losing family.”
Carlotta reached up and took hold of her sister’s hand. They stayed that way for a time, each lost in her own past.
At last Cassandra stood.
“If you feel up to it, we’re all meeting in the living room to discuss how we’re going to administer the potion to Alina.”
Carlotta took a deep breath, “No, of course, I’ll come down. Just give me five minutes to clean myself up and grab a snack.”
She heard Cassandra slip out of the room. With a groan she pushed herself into a sitting position. Dracula looked up at her and tilted his head questioningly, his big brown eyes filled with concern.
“C’mon buddy, that’s enough wallowing from me. Let’s see what crazy shit we’re planning to do next.”
By the time Carlotta slipped into the living room, mug of blood in hand, the conversation was already in full swing. From where Nisha sat on the couch, she saw Carlotta enter and wordlessly extended an arm. Carlotta gratefully tucked herself into the embrace. Not to be left out, Drac also scrambled up onto the couch and piled into the snuggle. Carlotta focussed her attention on Morgana, putting painful memories aside for now.
“We’re going to need to deliver a decent dose of the potion because it’s been weeks now, Mindy, since you first met Alina. She needs to inhale it in a mist form and that’s our biggest challenge.”
Mindy made a sound somewhere between irritation and disgust, “Who designs a potion that needs to be inhaled?? I mean, surely most people that have memory erasing stuff used on them aren’t consenting participants? Making the stupid thing impossible to deliver with any degree of sneakiness just seems like pretty poor planning, doesn’t it?”
Morgana shrugged, “I didn’t design the recipe, Mindy. This potion is a derivation of the rites performed by the Pythia at Delphi. She would purify herself then inhale the vapours within the sanctuary after which she could communicate with Apollo and predict the future. Inhalation is key.”
Over by the fireplace, Cassandra snorted, “Apollo. Twat.”
Morgana shot her sister a glance but said nothing.
Mindy sighed, “Ok, well, um, do we just need to, like, kidnap her or something then?”
Cassandra spoke again, “Ideally we need to administer it with as little fuss or trauma as we can. We’re trying to erase you from her memory, Mindy, so we want to make as little impression on her as possible. We don’t want to create any strong memories in the process.”
There was silence for a few minutes while everyone pondered their options, such as they were. Then Nisha spoke.
“OK, how about we start with the basics? The potion will be ready Friday and we need to administer it that night, because we’ll be out for the count Saturday, right?”
There was a round of silent nods around the room so she continued.
“Ok, so I guess our first question then should be do we even know where Alina will be on Friday night? I mean, it’s all well and good coming up with a cunning plan to erase her memory but we need to actually find her first, innit?”
Mindy frowned in thought for a moment and then began to scroll through her phone, chewing her bottom lip in concentration. Suddenly she let out a triumphant little squeal, making Drac’s ears prick up.
“Aha! OK, right, so……on Friday Alina’s roller derby team is playing. She’s almost sure to be there, at least for her match and then I guess probably The Dusty Trail afterwards?”
Morgana nodded thoughtfully, “We really want to avoid trying to do this at The Dusty Trail. People know us there. That could be an issue if we’re seen hustling Alina into a corner and assaulting her with a mystery substance.”
Suddenly, Cassandra held her hands up, “Wait…wait…what is ‘roller derby’?”
Mindy and Nisha both began talking overtop of one another in their excitement.
“OMG it’s so fun–”
“So, the players are on skates–”
“They are on this track–”
“They all try to take each other out–”
“And the crowd is, like, screaming–”
Cassandra’s eyes darted back and forth between the two of them as she tried to assemble some kind of cohesive vision from their garbled description. Finally she waved her hands for silence.
“Alright, alright so it’s some kind of alcohol-fuelled violent contest on wheels, then?”
“Yup and it’s AWESOME!” Mindy looked like she was going to explode out of her chair with excitement.
Nisha frowned, “Well, no, I mean it’s actually a game of tactics and skill that…”
Cassandra passed a hand over her eyes wearily, interrupting whatever her sister was about to say. “OK, well, I think I more or less get the picture. So Alina is on one of these teams and she’ll be there on Friday night?”
Mindy shrugged, “I mean, she should be, yeah. She’s, um, blocked me from social, so I can’t actually see if she’s said anything. But she wouldn’t shut up about it when we were hanging out, so I doubt she’d miss a match.”
Morgana nodded again. The others could see the cogs turning in her brain. “Ok that actually sounds like it could be ideal. Crowds of inebriated people all in a big space, all excited and moving around. That kind of chaos is probably just what we need to get this done.”
She looked at Mindy, “Obviously you’re going to have to sit this one out as Alina knows you and if she sees you it’s going to tip her off.”
Mindy looked crestfallen, “Wait, there must be something I can do?”
Ignoring her, Morgana pressed on, “Right, so we know where Alina will be and we know the general environment. Now, how are we actually going to deliver the potion?”
A heavy silence fell on the room as everyone’s minds turned over the possibilities. Muninn launched himself from his spot on the curtain rail and flapped down to settle on Morgana’s lap. Lost in thought, she scratched beneath the feathers on his neck while he leaned into her hand with a croak of encouragement.
Finally, Mindy spoke.
“I have an idea.”
If the situation hadn’t been so dire, Carlotta would have laughed at her sisters’ expressions which ranged from carefully neutral to visible apprehension.
Clearly, Mindy sensed the mood in the room because held her hands up for patience, “No, hear me out, please.”
No one spoke up, which Mindy took as a sign that the others were willing to hear whatever she had in mind.
“So, these things are often a pretty popular place for, like, marketing types to try and sell stuff. Usually it’s some kind of premix alcohol or an energy drink or whatever. They hire a bunch of people to dress up and give out samples to the crowd.”
Cassandra scowled, “Mindy what has this got to do with–”
“No wait, I’m not finished. What if we go disguised as a group promoting a new perfume? We can take some random supermarket scent for everyone else but then when we see Alina all we have to do is stay in character and give her a face full of the potion instead.”
Cassandra’s expression had morphed from impatient irritation to thoughtful while Mindy was speaking, she glanced over at Morgana, “That might actually work, mightn’t it?”
Morgana shrugged, “It’s the best idea we have so far. Well done, Min, who knew you were such a sneaky minx?”
Mindy beamed happily as Nisha gave her a wink of encouragement.
All business, Cassandra looked at Mindy, “Ok Min, so we’re going to need – what? Costumes? Decoy perfume?”
Mindy nodded, “And rollerskates.”
Cassandra frowned, “What? Why?”
“Because it’s a roller derby event, Cass. Of course promo girls would be on skates. We have to look the part if this is going to work, right?”
Cassandra was just opening her mouth to protest but Mindy continued before she could get any words out.
“Don’t worry about anything, girls. I’ve got this. As soon as it’s dark I’ll head out to get everything we need. Consider it taken care of.”
The expressions of concern meeting Mindy’s confident reassurances spoke volumes. Could the youngest vampire, who had been the one to get them into this whole debacle, be the one to get them out?
“Mindy, you got the wrong size, these are all much too small for me!”
Cassandra’s tone was exasperated as she looked down at herself.
The sun had been on the verge of peeking over the horizon when Mindy had crashed through the front door with several large bags, calling to her sisters to meet her in the living room.
Taking a swig of blood from her favourite ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ mug, Mindy swivelled to look at Cassandra.
“Nope. That looks perfect, Cass. Tres hot. Do you own a push up bra at all?”
Cassandra stared at her youngest sister, aghast. Like the rest of the vampires, she was wearing what was essentially a cheap ‘sexy racing car driver’ Halloween costume. It left very little to the imagination. Red and black hot pants were completed by a black and white check trim. A matching crop top, black pleather fingerless gloves, knee high red socks, and a pair of reflective aviators completed the look.
Cassandra’s tone was a mixture of outrage and pleading, “You must be joking. We look…ridiculous!”
Mindy sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes, “Cassandra, you are a drop dead gorgeous undead hotty with abs for days. Just for one night let’s turn those good looks to our advantage, mkay? There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’.”
Cassandra opened her mouth to respond but Mindy had already turned away and was helping the others into their matching outfits.
Finally, she stepped back and looked at them all with a grin of pride.
“Amazing! You girls are going to kill it! People are going to be climbing over each other to get a sample of our hot new scent. Speaking of..”
Crossing the room she snatched up the remaining bag and held it up.
“Got these from some dodgy shop on the high street. Some kind of brand knock-off with a generic flower-y scent. I’m going to whip up some new labels for the bottles. You ladies will be showcasing the latest scent for badass bitches – L’Octane – For Life in the Fast Lane!”
Crickets. Tumbleweed. More crickets.
Mindy’s delighted grin melted into a disbelieving scowl, “Oh c’mon, you joyless harpies!! Don’t you get it? Racing? High octane? It’s bloody genius!!”
Carlotta sighed and looked down at her skin-tight outfit.
“We get it, Min. We’re all just wondering whether eternal life is worth going out in public like this.”
Mindy groaned. “Fine. You lot stay down here and grapple with your prudish sensibilities. I’m going to make these bottles look fierce as fuck.”
With that, she stomped out of the room. The remaining sisters all listened to her mithering to herself all the way up the stairs to her bedroom.
There was a moment’s silence and then Cassandra, looking a bit sheepish, turned to the others.
“So, do you think it’s going to be an issue that I’ve never roller skated before?”
Over the following day and night, there was nothing to do but wait. The forced inactivity was its own form of torture. While Morgana and Cassandra fussed over the potion and busied themselves layering as many protective spells on the house as possible as a backup, the others were left to keep their nervousness at bay in any way they could.
Carlotta was in the kitchen when Nisha came stomping through the back door, skateboard in hand, muttering angrily to herself. When she saw her sister she burst out, “The next door neighbour threw a shoe at me!”
Carlotta kept a neutral expression, “Were you skateboarding?”
“Yeah! I was just practising in the driveway. Pop shove-its.”
“It’s 2am, hon. If I still slept and you were crashing and screeching about outside my window, I’d probably throw something at you too.”
Nisha scowled and sloped over to the fridge, retrieving a bag of blood and reaching for a mug.
“I just…I have to do something. I can’t just sit around cooped up in here thinking about how there’s someone waiting to stake us.”
She turned around, taking a mouthful of blood, then took in the scene in the kitchen for the first time with a bemused frown.
Carlotta was on her hands and knees, in a floral apron and bright yellow rubber gloves, clutching a toothbrush.
“Car, what on earth are you doing?”
Carlotta tried awkwardly to look casual, “Oh nothing, I just thought I’d–”
“Are you cleaning the tiles with a literal toothbrush?”
“Well it’s just the grouting–”
“Wait.” Nisha looked around the sparkling surfaces, noting her own shocked reflection staring back at her from a cupboard door that had been polished to within an inch of its life, “Have you cleaned the entire kitchen with that toothbrush?”
“No! No, no. This is actually the second one. I wore one out already doing the ceiling.”
Nisha glanced up at the undeniably clean ceiling, unsure of what the correct response to this domestic goddesses on steroids was. “Right.”
Carlotta’s tone was a comedic mix of defensive and embarrassed, “Well I had to do something! I tried reading a book but I just couldn’t concentrate, what with thoughts of our looming demise interrupting all the time!”
Nisha held up her hands with a grin causing a spatter of warm blood to spill from her mug onto the floor. She noticed Carlotta’s right eye twitch as it made contact with the spotless tiles.
“Whoops, my bad. Hey babe, I get it. You do you. Absolutely no judgement here. Um,” She followed Carlotta’s fixed stare to the pool of spilled blood, “let me clean that up.”
Taking a paper towel she bent down and swiped away the blood. Carlotta’s face became even more pinched as she watched it being ground into the grouting and spread around the surrounding tiles.
There was an awkward pause while they both stared at the spot.
Finally, Nisha stood, “Okay, well, I’m going to leave you to it then.”
As she rounded the breakfast bar, the last thing she saw was Carlotta hunched over the spot scrubbing vigorously with the toothbrush and muttering to herself in French. Nisha’s French was pretty rusty but she’d put money on whatever Car was saying being less than complimentary.
Nisha left the agro cleaning party and ambled into the hall thinking perhaps Mindy could provide some distraction. Instead, she immediately became aware of Morgana and Cassandra’s voices echoing down from the landing. Moving curiously up the stairs, she spotted the two of them. Morgana was sitting within a circle made of little glass bottles with cork stoppers. Each contained what looked like a dead beetle with an iridescent green shell. Lined up before her was a row of bird skulls and in her hand she was wielding an ornate golden hammer. At some imperceptible signal she would intone ‘Hecate’, then violently smash one of the skulls with the hammer. Cassandra, who was standing outside the circle holding a bowl in one hand and an elaborate dagger engraved in Greek in the other, would then shout ‘sta ploia!” then throw a handful of sesame seeds at the back of Morgana’s head.
Nisha watched this routine for a minute or so, observing the bits of bird skull and a million sesame seeds being flung down the stairs. There would be tense words if Carlotta saw this mess in her current cleaning frenzy. Nisha thought about warning them, before wisely deciding they were best left undisturbed. Inching carefully past the pair, who were oblivious to her presence, she carried on along the hall to Mindy’s bedroom.
With a perfunctory knock she pushed the door to Mindy’s room open.
“Please tell me, Min, that you at least aren’t doing something completely weird—“
She took in the scene before her for a heartbeat then sighed.
“Right. I guess that was always too much to hope.”
Mindy was sitting at her dressing table wearing a set of matching lingerie in fire engine red and a motorcycle helmet. She had one foot propped up and was carefully painting her nails in black and white checks.
Nisha leaned her skateboard against the wall, shoved a pile of clothes off the only other chair in the room, and plopped down with a huff.
“Do I want to know what all…this” she gestured broadly in Mindy’s direction, “is about? If it’s some new kink thing I’m not sure I want the details.”
Mindy paused her nail painting for a moment to shoot Nisha an amused look, not that her sister could see it through the opaque visor on the helmet.
“No, silly, I’m getting ready to come with you to the roller derby. There’s no way I’m letting you guys go without me. This way Alina won’t be able to recognise me!”
Nisha took in Mindy’s outfit with a frown, “Min, I hate to break it to you but I’m pretty sure Alina is going to spot you a mile off just by your tattoos even if she can’t see your head.”
Mindy reached up and pushed the visor up so that Nisha could see her rolling her eyes dramatically, “Nish I’m not a complete muppet, I’ll be wearing that.”
She pointed to the bed where a full length racing suit was laid out.
Nisha laughed, “Oh wow, I can’t wait to see Cassandra’s face when she realises you get to wear that while she’s trotting about in essentially underwear.”
Mindy snorted, “Cassandra is a party pooper and she’ll get over it.”
Nisha privately entertained some doubts on this statement. She watched Mindy return to making her nails into little racing flags.
“Min, is this really going to work?”
Mindy’s helmeted head bobbed vigorously and her muffled voice was filled with confidence.
“It totally is, Nish. We’re going to be juuuust fine.”
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