Elle had fought, and she had raged. For years, she had battled against the dying light of her life. Even after her luck had run out, the very last of her life leaving her body, she continued to struggle. But although she had died, her endurance and perseverance was such that she managed to escape his iron clutches, her own grip stronger even than that of the Reaper himself. Then, after clawing her way from death's door, she crawled back over to life's. She was still screaming, long after her she had taken her last breath, refusing to go down or give up. She would not let go or surrender. She would not die or quit. No matter who, or what, came in her way, Elle continued to move forward, endless and unstoppable. She had trained herself over the decades to be this strong, fierce and persistent, and all of that training was paying off. How else could one little girl, who had once been known for her submissiveness, have survived against death enough to reach limbo and stand a foot away from life once again?
And this was almost made all the funnier by the fact that this dead Elle had been the total opposite in life. In life, she had been kind and gentle, forgiving and understanding, compassionate and caring, selfless and friendly, warm and open, trusting and trusted. In life, Elle had been the epitome of innocence and purity, beloved by all who knew her because she really was one of the most loving and charming souls around. She had been so quick to yield, surrender and compromise, hardly ever standing up for herself or demanding anything. She gave in to every demand she received and seldom tried to fight back for her own desires, considering peace, harmony and unity to outweigh any personal or individual desires she might've possessed. Self-sacrificing was a very good term to describe that Elle, always giving and never taking, no matter the personal cost, just so long as a sense of community and kinship remained. But that had been the Living Elle. When death managed to take her, even though it was only temporary, she had suddenly become just as opposite of that Elle as life was to death.
Now, this Dead Elle had not only lost all of her kind, gentle innocence and purity, but she also had, in a fit of self-grandiose, even declared herself the mightiest soldier to ever live, for none before her had ever been quite strong enough to defy death, but she had. She no longer yielded or submitted to anyone or anything and compromise was a word that no longer existed in her vernacular. There was only victory, winners or losers. There was no in between and there was certainly no surrender. But how could there be? When one combatted death, no equivocations could be made and nothing came without a price. This was a lesson Elle had learned all too well and to surrender was to lose all. This idea was one the girl had come to view as a core concept to her identity after she had escaped death.
But even though she had escaped death, she had not yet reentered life. She was still in that limbo stage. But not one to be deterred by anything anymore, the young woman wasted no time in hatching a plan that would help her take that last step from this existence into her old one. The very first idea had been to infiltrate the dreams of a girl named Laura Hollis, who was currently dating her ex, Carmilla Karnstein. Laura and Elle had a special connection, bonded through the trials and tribulations associating with Carmilla always brought around. Sure, Laura didn't know just how deeply that she and Elle were linked, but Laura's own ignorance was of little concern to the bitter and vengeful spirit. All that mattered was that Laura was going to be a very big part of Elle's master plan, and if Elle needed Laura, Elle would have her! With no regret or remorse, the ghost girl managed to force her way, through dreams, into Laura's head, taunting and tormenting her, goading her to come to her schloss.
"I will never give up, I will never let go. No matter where you go or what you do, I will always be here and you will submit to me!" Elle whispered to the sleeping Laura Hollis, her voice curling and hissing around her victim's mind like a snake. Laura twitched in her sleep but was totally powerless to remove Elle from her head. Instead, she could only lie there, still stuck in a sleep state, as Elle continued to taunt her. "I will never surrender, I will never stop. Until you and Carmilla have both paid for your sins, I will never ever let you leave!" she continued to whisper to the sleeping woman, filling her dreams with her own memories of those days when she would creep through the halls of her schloss, Carmilla's dark and mysterious figure trailing ever behind her, no matter how many corners she turned or doors she fled through... "I will never surrender!"
At last, those dreams came true, only this time, it was not Carmilla chasing Elle through the dark halls of her own home, but rather, it was Elle who chased Carmilla, Laura running right alongside her. Elle was no longer the cowardly fleer, but the mighty predator, hunting the two living beings as they roamed her schloss, shrouded in darkness as she continued to taunt and demand her houseguests.
"Your life for your friends," Elle had told Carmilla.
"I want my life, you little thief, I WANT MY LIFE!" she had thundered at Laura. Round and round the schloss they ran, up and down stairs, through doors and windows, in and out of every room. It was a mad dash, Elle trying desperately to reobtain her life from her two living visitors. Even though her plan seemed a bit over the top, she refused to see reason and continue to pursue her two enemies through the schloss, certain that as convoluted as everything was becoming that she couldn't ever stop lest she lose everything she had worked so hard to obtain so far. After all, to surrender was to lose in her mind, so surrender was not an option. Especially not here or now.
There had been several others with Carmilla and Laura, but they meant little to Elle, each of them being picked off by her one right after the other. She hardly even remembered their faces, let alone their names, as she banished each and every one of them to the nightmare realm. Her real beef, after all, was only with Laura and Carmilla. The others didn't matter. So while she disposed of them at her leisure, she kept Carmilla and Laura in the real world, haunting and taunting them to the last as she continued to struggle and strive towards her ultimate end goal: life. No matter how many people she hurt, killed or banished, Elle refused to stop. She did not show any mercy or compassion to anyone. Not to the innocent others who were only part of this crazed adventure because of Carmilla, nor to the other souls who were trapped in this Hell with Elle. No one was spared or saved from Elle's rampage. But she had little time to worry. There was no time to stop and think, reflect or mourn. She could only keep moving forward. She was a fighter, after all, and a fighter never ever let their guard or determination slip, not even for one single second. The others were nothing to her. It was just her, Carmilla and Laura, and that was all that mattered. She could not lose focus or surrender to any potential guilt or remorse she might've felt. After all, to surrender was to lose all, and Elle refused to let that happen.
But then at last, despite all of her effort and determination and insistence that she would never surrender or give up, Elle still lost the game. After Elle had finally dragged Carmilla and Laura back into the nightmare realm with her, reuniting with the other living guests and other trapped souls, one of those other living guests managed to subdue her. Using a crossbow, that other guest manage to hit Elle right in the shoulder. It wasn't a fatal wound, not that such a thing mattered to a semi-ghost girl anymore, but it had hurt and it ripped her focus away from the task at hand just long enough for Carmilla and Laura to get the high ground again. Elle had sunk to the floor after that, partly in shock and pain from being shot (Hey! She might've been a ghost, immune to being fatally wounded, but she could still feel pain!) and partly from despair that she had been so very close to victory only to have it snatched right out from under her at the very last second. The arrow lodged her in shoulder hurt less than this defeat.
Anger, despair, bitterness, envy. All of these negative emotions boiled upon inside of Elle as she watched Laura and Carmilla reunite safely. She had not surrendered, but she had still lost all. How?! And now Carmilla using her Gift of Life not to restore Elle to her past self, but to force everyone to move on. Not on to life, but to death, the very place Elle had tried not to surrender to in the first place. And now she was pretty much being forced to! All the other trapped souls eagerly took Carmilla's gift, encouraging her happily to get on with the ritual that would allow them to leave this awful place, but Elle only continued to snarl and spit, arguing, protesting and fighting still.
Although, this time, there was no coming back from this particular loss, it had been too engrained within her mind and all of these last refusals and acts of defiance were fueled not necessarily by true vengeance, but also by mere instinct and reflex. She had trained herself too well and even though she was sitting slumped over on the ground, clutching her burning shoulder, she continued to decry and insult Carmilla and her crew, screaming injustice and unfairness. Several of the other ghosts tried to get her to shut up while still pleading with Carmilla to do what she had to do to get them out of here, but in a surprise turn of events, Carmilla only raised a hand for silence, looking Elle dead in the eye.
"Listen to me, Elle, I know you are mad at me, still, and I cannot say that I blame you, but please, just for once in your life, thinking about someone other than yourself!" she insisted.
"For once in my life?! Someone other than-?!" Elle looked as though she had been shot a second time, so overcome with disbelief and fury that she couldn't even speak. She didn't even know where to begin. Think about someone else? Once in her life?! And this was coming from Carmilla!? The vampire-turned-human had to be insane! But before she could even formulate a coherent thought, Carmilla continued to speak.
"I know you think that you have been horribly wronged, and you have, I don't disagree with that, but what you are doing is not the answer! Hurting all of these other people who went through the exact same thing as you just because you somehow feel more entitled to life and freedom than they do? That's just plain wrong, an act of betrayal just as bad as mine was. How can you look these other lost souls in the eyes and tell them squarely that you think that they deserved to spend an eternity here while you are the one that gets to go free? What makes you so much better or different from them? Elle, listen to me, if I had the power to grant you the life you missed out on, I would. But I don't! Not when these girls deserve just as much as you do. I will show no favoritism to you, Elle, do you understand?"
Carmilla continued to talk to Elle, Elle growing angrier and angrier with every single self-righteous, preachy, hypocritical, stuck-up, arrogant, ignorant, sermon-like word that came out of her fangless mouth, but even when Elle's face began to contort in rage just because she had no other expression that could suitably explain the hurt and indignation that she felt, Carmilla only kept talking. She kept insisting that Elle, however unfair it was, was going to have to give up her vain and foolish quest for life. It wasn't fair to hinder others to reach her own end goal, especially when she was no more deserving of that special treatment than anyone else in the room. Carmilla insisted that, in this case, the needs of the many outweighed the wants of the few and that Elle was duty and honor-bound to surrender for the sake of peace and harmony. Carmilla was pleading with Elle to be the girl she used to be one last time and make this final compromise for the sake of everybody else.
But as passionate, honest and true as Carmilla's pleading was, it fell upon deaf ears and Elle stubbornly turned her head away from her ex-lover, refusing to listen anymore, not even acknowledging the fact that she was still talking. With a determined glare practically engraved on her face, Elle ignored Carmilla's continued insistence that she needed to go back to being Living Elle just one last time. She refused to surrender to anyone's demands, especially Carmilla's. Even if she had lost this war, at least she could die with dignity and still never surrender, because to surrender was to lose all and even though Elle was losing a lot already, she was determined that she would not lose everything.
Carmilla could see that Elle was not going to listen to her, nor perform this one last act of compassion with her own free will, so the living woman only continued to look down upon the ghost girl with the sincerest of sympathy. She shook her head sadly before turning back to the others.
"Are you ready to go?" she asked and they all answered with an eager, enthusiastic look. Carmilla needed no more than this and, without turning back to give Elle one last glance, she performed the ritual and set them all free.
As soon as the ritual was over, every ghost had been sent away to the afterlife, even Elle, but they had not all gone at the same time. Even though the ritual was very fast-acting, with little time for wiggle room, Elle still managed to hold on the longest, her fighting spirit very active and alive even at this final hour of hers. Even as she was dying, Elle refused to surrender, fighting hard to cling to her last bit of life. As she felt her essence begin to dissolve away and as she saw all the other ghost girls evaporate like a morning mist, she grit her teeth and clenched her fist, even twisting the arrow deeper into her shoulder in hopes that the pain would keep her awake and focused, away from death's seductive grip. Elle began to chant to herself, commanding herself not to shut her eyes and listen to the ever-growing whispers as her vision began to fog over.
Even though she could no longer see Carmilla, Laura, or the schloss, Elle knew she was still there and she tried desperately to cling to that idea. Don't let go. Don't give in. Don't surrender. Don't yield. Don't close your eyes. Don't let them win. Don't lose. Don't stop struggling. Don't stop fighting. Over and over, but it was of no use and Elle felt herself get fainter and fainter, smaller and smaller, and at last, even her mind, itself, began to shut down and turn against her. She tried to keep chanting words of strength and encouragement, but they began to slow down and slur until she could not remember what it was she was trying to say, or what it was supposed to mean to her.
Then at last, as the very final wisp of Elle's consciousness faded away into nothingness, she suddenly felt a very pleasurable sensation. It was not one she could have described with words, except that it felt really nice. Flimsy and undetailed as such a word was, there was nothing else Elle could've said to explain it better. A sudden wave of something, not necessarily peace, joy, love or acceptance, had washed over her and left her feeling really good. Just really good. That was all. No more, no less. That wave filled up her entire being and even though she didn't really feel triumphant or whole again, she felt good. It wasn't a warm and fuzzy kind of good or a rejuvenating and enlivening one. It was just a good one.
The sensation was practically over before it had begun, but Elle could still remember it, that feeling somehow being stronger, clearer and more salient than any other she'd ever felt, including her 150 year rage. If her bitterness and hurt had been like brands in her memory, this one short but powerful feeling of goodness was like a blaze and two final thoughts came to her. The first asked whether or not this might've been the release she had been looking for all along. Sure, it wasn't quite a life, but it was still something good, and after so much suffering and pain, Elle would gladly take something good. Then the second correlated directly with that first thought, agreeing with that subconscious question, but what it offered up was something entirely antithetical to the views she'd held so far, but far clearer than any of those other creeds and ideas had been: sometimes, to surrender is to win. That was the last thought going through Elle's muddled, shrinking mind. Then Elle was totally gone.
AN: As you all know, I hate how little closure Elle was given, but I do remember her almost seeming to smile (or at least frown a little less) right as she disappeared from the schloss, so I liked to think that, within that one little frame, it was her sort of coming to terms with what was going to happen to her now. She didn't necessarily come to peace with it, but she acknowledged that it was inevitable and that she had lost and, this time, there was no coming back from it. Simply put, wasn't agreeing with her fate so much as she was admitting to it.
IDK, the "surrender to win" quote just seemed really applicable to Elle, especially in that one little frame, and I thought it might be nice to give her some of that personal closure since the movie, itself, didn't have time to. Additionally, I do like to think it would be a nice little irony or callback to think that Elle, the Determinator, would eventually come to see that in order to win, she would have to give up. I like to think that this girl, who had such a hard time letting go, would finally actually get her victory, but only after letting go. It would be almost a juxtaposition in that regard, that it would seem like she was surrendering to Carmilla and Co but, in actuality, she was winning all along, she just didn't realize it until that very last millisecond alive. (But the rest of the fic was just Elle raging against the dying light of her life).