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The Vampire Diaries #8: Phantom (The Hunters #1) (2011)

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发表于 2016-9-28 22:16 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式

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本帖最后由 慕然回首 于 2016-10-27 22:29 编辑

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The Hunters: Phantom

Author: L.J. Smith

Category: Young Adult , Fantasy

Series: The Vampire Diaries


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Phantom (The Vampire Diaries: The Hunters, #1)

The past is never far...

Elena Gilbert and her friends saved Fell's Church from evil spirits bent on destroying it, but the town's freedom came at a price: Damon Salvatore's life. Damon's death changes everything.

He and his vampire brother, Stefan, had been locked in a vicious battle for Elena's heart.

Now that he's gone, Elena and Stefan can finally be together.

So why can't Elena stop dreaming of Damon? As Elena's feelings for Damon grow, a new darkness is brewing in Fell's Church.

Elena has been to hell and back, but this demon is like nothing she's ever seen.

Its only goal is to kill Elena and everyone she loves.


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发表于 2016-9-28 22:20 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 1

Elena Gilbert stepped onto a smooth expanse of grass, the spongy blades collapsing beneath her feet. Clusters of scarlet roses and violet delphiniums pushed up from the ground, while a giant canopy hung above her, twinkling with glowing lanterns. On the terrace in front of her stood two curving white marble fountains that shot sprays of water high into the air. Everything was beautiful, elegant, and somehow familiar.

This is Bloddeuwedd's palace, a voice in her head said. But when she had been here last, the field had been crowded with laughing, dancing partygoers. They were gone now, although signs of their presence remained: empty glasses littered the tables set around the edges of the lawn; a silken shawl was tossed over a chair; a lone high-heeled shoe perched on the edge of a fountain. Something else was odd, too. Before, the scene had been lit by the hellish red light that illuminated everything in the Dark Dimension, turning blues to purples, whites to pinks, and pinks to the velvety color of blood. Now a clear light shone over everything, and a full white moon sailed calmly overhead.

A whisper of movement came from behind her, and Elena realized with a start that she wasn't alone after all . A dark figure was suddenly there, approaching her. Damon.

Of course it was Damon, Elena thought with a smile. If anyone was going to appear unexpectedly before her here, at what felt like the end of the world - or at least the hour after a good party had ended - it would be Damon. God, he was so beautiful. Black on black: soft black hair, eyes black as midnight, black jeans, and a smooth leather jacket. As their eyes met, she was so glad to see him that she could hardly breathe. She threw herself into his embrace, clasping him around the neck, feeling the lithe, hard muscles in his arms and chest.

"Damon," she said, her voice trembling for some reason. Her body was trembling, too, and Damon stroked her arms and shoulders, calming her.

"What is it, princess? Don't tell me you're afraid." He smirked lazily at her, his hands strong and steady.

"I am afraid," she answered.

"But what are you afraid of?"

That left her puzzled for a moment. Then, slowly, putting her cheek against his, she said, "I'm afraid that this is just a dream."

"I'll tell you a secret, princess," he said into her ear. "You and I are the only real things here. It's everything else that's the dream."

"Just you and me?" Elena echoed, an uneasy thought nagging at her, as though she were forgetting something -

or someone. A fleck of ash landed on her dress, and she absently brushed it away.

"It's just the two of us, Elena," Damon said sharply.

"You're mine. I'm yours. We've loved each other since the beginning of time."

Of course. That must be why she was trembling - it was joy. He was hers. She was his. They belonged together. She whispered one word: "Yes."

Then he kissed her.

His lips were soft as silk, and when the kiss deepened, she tilted her head back, exposing her throat, anticipating the double wasp sting he'd delivered so many times. When it didn't come, she opened her eyes questioningly. The moon was as bright as ever, and the scent of roses hung heavy in the air. But Damon's chiseled features were pale under his dark hair, and more ash had landed on the shoulders of his jacket. Al at once, the little doubts that had been niggling at her came together.

Oh, no. Oh, no.

"Damon." She gasped, looking into his eyes despairingly as tears filled her own. "You can't be here, Damon. You're... dead."

"For more than five hundred years, princess." Damon flashed his blinding smile at her. More ash was falling around them, like a fine gray rain, the same gray ash Damon's body was buried beneath, worlds and dimensions away.

"Damon, you're... dead now. Not undead, but... gone."

"No, Elena..." He began to flicker and fade, like a dying lightbulb.

"Yes. Yes! I held you as you died..." Elena was sobbing helplessly. She couldn't feel Damon's arms at al now. He was disappearing into shimmering light.

"Listen to me, Elena..."

She was holding moonlight. Anguish caught at her heart.

"Al you need to do is call for me," Damon's voice said.

"Al you need..."

His voice faded into the sound of wind rustling through the trees.

Elena's eyes snapped open. Through a fog she registered that she was in a room filled with sunlight, and a huge crow was perched on the sill of an open window. The bird tilted its head to one side and gave a croak, watching her with bright eyes.

A cold chill ran down her spine. "Damon?" she whispered.

But the crow just spread its wings and flew away.
发表于 2016-9-28 22:29 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 2

Dear Diary,

I AM HOME! I can hardly dare to believe it, but here I am.

I woke with the strangest feeling. I didn't know where I was and just lay here smelling the clean cotton-and-fabric-softener scent of the sheets, trying to figure out why everything looked so familiar.

I wasn't in Lady Ulma's mansion. There, I had slept nestled in the smoothest satin and softest velvet, and the air had smelled of incense. And I wasn't at the boardinghouse: Mrs. Flowers washes the bedding there in some weird-smelling herbal mixture that Bonnie says is for protection and good dreams.

And suddenly, I knew. I was home. The Guardians did it! They brought me home.

Everything and nothing has changed. It's the same room I slept in from when I was a tiny baby: my polished cherry-wood dresser and rocking chair; the little stuffed black-and-white dog Matt won at the winter carnival our junior year perched on a shelf; my rolltop desk with its cubbyholes; the ornate antique mirror above my dresser; and the Monet and Klimt posters from the museum exhibits Aunt Judith took me to in Washington, DC. Even my comb and brush are lined up neatly side by side on my dresser. It's all as it should be. I got out of bed and used a silver letter opener from the desk to pry up the secret board in my closet floor, my old hiding place, and I found this diary, just where I hid it so many months ago. The last entry is the one I wrote before Founder's Day back in November, before I... died. Before I left home and never came back. Until now.

In that entry I detailed our plan to steal back my other diary, the one Caroline took from me, the one that she was planning to read aloud at the Founder's Day pageant, knowing it would ruin my life. The very next day, I drowned in Wickery Creek and rose again as a vampire. And then I died again and returned as a human, and traveled to the Dark Dimension, and had a thousand adventures. And my old diary has been sitting right here where I left it under the closet floor, just waiting for me.

The other Elena, the one that the Guardians planted in everyone's memories, was here all these months, going to school and living a normal life. That Elena didn't write here. I'm relieved, really. How creepy would it be to see diary entries in my handwriting and not remember any of the things they recounted? Although that might have been helpful. I have no idea what everyone else in Fell's Church thinks has been happening in the months since Founder's Day. The whole town of Fell's Church has been given a fresh start. The kitsune destroyed this town out of sheer malicious mischief. Pitting children against their parents, making people destroy themselves and everyone they loved.

But now none of it ever happened.

If the Guardians made good on their word, everyone else who died is now alive again: poor Vickie Bennett and Sue Carson, murdered by Katherine and Klaus and Tyler Smallwood back in the winter; disagreeable Mr. Tanner; those innocents that the kitsune killed or caused to be killed. Me. All back again, all starting over. And, except for me and my closest friends - Meredith, Bonnie, Matt, my darling Stefan, and Mrs. Flowers - no one else knows that life hasn't gone on as usual ever since Founder's Day.

We've all been given another chance. We did it. We saved everyone.

Everyone except Damon. He saved us, in the end, but we couldn't save him. No matter how hard we tried or how desperately we pleaded, there was no way for the Guardians to bring him back. And vampires don't reincarnate. They don't go to Heaven, or Hell, or any kind of afterlife. They just... disappear.

Elena stopped writing for a moment and took a deep breath. Her eyes filled with tears, but she bent over the diary again. She had to tell the whole truth if there was going to be any point to keeping a diary at all . Damon died in my arms. It was agonizing to watch him slip away from me. But I'll never let Stefan know how I truly felt about his brother. It would be cruel - and what good would it do now?

I still can't believe he's gone. There was no one as alive as Damon - no one who loved life more than he did. Now he'll never know -

At that moment the door of Elena's bedroom suddenly flew open, and Elena, her heart in her throat, slammed the diary shut. But the intruder was only her younger sister, Margaret, dressed in pink flower-printed pajamas, her cornsilk hair standing straight up in the middle like a thrush's feathers. The five-year-old didn't decelerate until she was almost on top of Elena - and then she launched herself at her through the air.

She landed squarely on her older sister, knocking the breath out of her. Margaret's cheeks were wet, her eyes shining, and her little hands clutched at Elena. Elena found herself holding on just as tightly, feeling the weight of her sister, inhaling the sweet scent of baby shampoo and Play-Doh.

"I missed you!" Margaret said, her voice on the verge of sobbing. "Elena! I missed you so much!"

"What?" Despite her effort to make her voice light, Elena could hear it shaking. She realized with a jolt that she hadn't seen Margaret - really seen her - for more than eight months. But Margaret couldn't know that. "You missed me so much since bedtime that you had to come running to find me?"

Margaret drew slightly away from Elena and stared at her. Margaret's five-year-old clear blue eyes had a look in them, an intensely knowing look, that sent a shiver down Elena's spine.

But Margaret didn't say a word. She simply tightened her grip on Elena, curling up and letting her head rest on Elena's shoulder. "I had a bad dream. I dreamed you left me. You went away." The last word was a quiet wail.

"Oh, Margaret," Elena said, hugging her sister's warm solidity, "it was only a dream. I'm not going anywhere." She closed her eyes and held on to Margaret, praying her sister had truly only had a nightmare, and that she hadn't slipped through the cracks of the Guardians' spell .

"All right, cookie, time to get a move on," said Elena after a few moments, gently tickling Margaret's side. "Are we going to have a fabulous breakfast together? Shall I make you pancakes?"

Margaret sat up then and gazed at Elena with wide blue eyes. "Uncle Robert's making waffles," she said. "He always makes waffles on Sunday mornings. Remember?"

Uncle Robert. Right. He and Aunt Judith had gotten married after Elena had died. "Sure, he does, bunny," she said lightly. "I just forgot it was Sunday for a minute."

Now that Margaret had mentioned it, she could hear someone down in the kitchen. And smell something delicious cooking. She sniffed. "Is that bacon?"

Margaret nodded. "Race you to the kitchen!"

Elena laughed and stretched. "Give me a minute to wake all the way up. I'll meet you down there." I'll get to talk to Aunt Judith again, she realized with a sudden burst of joy. Margaret bounced out of bed. At the door, she paused and looked back at her sister. "You really are coming down, right?" she asked hesitantly.

"I really am," Elena said, and Margaret smiled and headed down the hall.

Watching her, Elena was struck once more by what an amazing second chance - third chance, really - she'd been given. For a moment Elena just soaked in the essence of her dear, darling home, a place she'd never thought she'd live in again. She could hear Margaret's light voice chattering away happily downstairs, the deeper rumble of Robert answering her. She was so lucky, despite everything, to be back home at last. What could be more wonderful?

Her eyes filled with tears and she closed them tightly. What a stupid thing to think. What could be more wonderful? If the crow on her windowsill had been Damon, if she'd known that he was out there somewhere, ready to flash his lazy smile or even purposely aggravate her, now that would have been more wonderful.

Elena opened her eyes and blinked hard several times, willing the tears away. She couldn't fall apart. Not now. Not when she was about to see her family again. Now she would smile and laugh and hug her family. Later she would collapse, indulging the sharp ache inside her, and let herself sob. After all , she had all the time in the world to mourn Damon, because losing him would never, ever stop hurting.
发表于 2016-9-28 22:45 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 3

The bright morning sun shone on the long, winding drive that led to the garage behind the boardinghouse. Puffs of white cloud scudded across the light blue sky. It was such a peaceful scene that it was almost impossible to believe that anything bad had ever happened in this place. The last time I was here, thought Stefan, putting on his sunglasses, it was a wasteland.

When the kitsune had held sway in Fell's Church, it had been a war zone. Children against parents, teenage girls mutilating themselves, the town half-destroyed. Blood on the streets, pain and suffering everywhere.

Behind him, the front door opened. Stefan turned quickly to see Mrs. Flowers coming out of the house. The old woman wore a long black dress, and her eyes were shielded by a straw hat covered with artificial flowers. She looked tired and worn, but her smile was as gentle as always.

"Stefan," she said. "The world is here this morning, the way it should be." Mrs. Flowers stepped closer and gazed up into his face, her sharp blue eyes warm with sympathy. She looked as if she were about to ask him something, but at the last minute seemed to change her mind and instead said, "Meredith called, and Matt, too. It seems that, against al the odds, everyone has survived unscathed." She hesitated, and then squeezed his arm. "Almost everyone."

Something twisted painful y in Stefan's chest. He didn't want to talk about Damon. He couldn't, not yet. Instead, he bowed his head. "We owe you a great debt, Mrs. Flowers," he said, choosing his words with care. "We never could have defeated the kitsune without you - you were the one who held them at bay and defended the town for so long. None of us will ever forget that."

Mrs. Flowers's smile deepened, an unexpected dimple flickering in one cheek. "Thank you, Stefan," she said with equal formality. "There is no one I would have rather fought alongside than you and the others." She sighed and patted his shoulder. "Although I must be getting old at last; I feel the need to spend most of today dozing in a chair in the garden. Fighting evil takes more out of me than it used to."

Stefan offered his arm to assist her down the porch steps, and she smiled at him once more. "Tel Elena that I'll make those tea biscuits she likes whenever she's ready to leave her family and come visit," she said, then turned toward her rose garden.

Elena and her family. Stefan imagined his love, her silky blond hair tumbling about her shoulders, little Margaret in her lap. Elena had another shot at a real human life now, which was worth everything.

It had been Stefan's fault that Elena lost her first life - he knew that with a hard certainty that gnawed at his insides. He had brought Katherine to Fell 's Church, and Katherine had destroyed Elena. This time he would make sure Elena was protected.

With one last glance at Mrs. Flowers in her garden, he squared his shoulders and walked into the woods. Birds sang at the sun-dappled edges of the forest, but Stefan was headed much deeper in, where ancient oaks grew and the underbrush was thick. Where no one would see him, where he could hunt.

Stopping in a small clearing several miles in, Stefan took off his sunglasses and listened. From nearby came the soft crackle of something moving beneath a bush. He concentrated, reaching out with his mind. It was a rabbit, its heart beating rapidly, looking for its own morning meal. Stefan focused his mind on it. Come to me, he thought, gently and persuasively. He sensed the rabbit stiffen for a moment; then it hopped slowly out from under a bush, its eyes glassy.

It came toward him docilely and, with an extra mental nudge from Stefan, stopped at his feet. Stefan scooped it up and turned it over to reach the tender throat, where its pulse fluttered. With a silent apology to the animal, Stefan gave himself over to his hunger, allowing his fangs to click into place. He tore into the rabbit's throat, drinking the blood slowly, trying not to wince at the taste. While the kitsune had threatened Fell's Church, Elena, Bonnie, Meredith, and Matt had insisted he feed on them, knowing human blood would keep him as strong as possible for the fight. Their blood had been almost otherworldly: Meredith's fiery and strong; Matt's pure and wholesome; Bonnie's sweet as dessert; Elena's heady and invigorating. Despite the foul taste of the rabbit in his mouth, his canines prickled with remembered hunger. But now he wouldn't drink human blood, he told himself firmly. He couldn't keep crossing that line, even if they were willing. Not unless his friends' safety was at risk. The change from human to animal blood would be painful; he remembered that from when he had first stopped drinking human blood - aching teeth, nausea, irritability, the feeling that he was starving even when his stomach was full - but it was the only option.

When the rabbit's heartbeat stopped altogether, Stefan gently disengaged. He held the limp body in his hands for a moment, then set it on the ground and covered it with leaves. Thank you, little one, he thought. He was still hungry, but he had already taken one life this morning. Damon would have laughed. Stefan could almost hear him. Noble Stefan, he would scoff, his black eyes narrowing in half-affectionate disdain. You're missing all the best parts of being a vampire while you wrestle with your conscience, you fool.

As if summoned by his thoughts, a crow cawed overhead. For a moment, Stefan fully expected the bird to plummet to earth and transform into his brother. When it didn't, Stefan gave a short half laugh at his own stupidity and was surprised when it sounded almost like a sob. Damon was never coming back. His brother was gone. They'd had centuries of bitterness between them and had only just started to repair their relationship, joining together to fight the evil that always seemed drawn to Fell's Church and to shield Elena from it. But Damon was dead, and now Stefan was the only one left to protect Elena and their friends.

A latent worm of fear squirmed in his chest. There was so much that could go wrong. Humans were so vulnerable, and now that Elena had no special powers, she was as vulnerable as any of them.

The thought sent him reeling, and immediately he took off, running straight toward Elena's house on the other side of the woods. Elena was his responsibility now. And he would never let anything hurt her again.

The upstairs landing was almost the same as Elena remembered it: shining dark wood with an Oriental carpet runner, a few little tables with knickknacks and photographs, a couch near the big picture window overlooking the front drive.

But halfway to the stairs, Elena paused, glimpsing something new. Among the silver-framed photos on one of the small tables was a picture of herself and Meredith and Bonnie, faces close together, grinning widely in caps and gowns and proudly brandishing diplomas. Elena picked it up, holding it close. She had graduated from high school. It felt odd to see this other Elena, as she couldn't help thinking of her, her blond hair pulled back in an elegant French twist, creamy skin flushed with excitement, smiling with her best friends, and not remember a thing about it. And she looked so carefree, this Elena, so full of joy and hope and expectations for the future. This Elena knew nothing of the horror of the Dark Dimension or the havoc the kitsune had caused. This Elena was happy. Glancing quickly among the photos, Elena located a few more she hadn't seen before. Apparently this other Elena had been queen of the Snow Ball, though Elena remembered Caroline had won that crown after Elena's death. In this picture, however, Queen Elena was resplendent in pale violet silk, surrounded by her court: Bonnie fluffy and adorable in shiny blue taffeta; Meredith sophisticated in black; auburn-haired Caroline looking aggrieved in a tight silver dress that left very little to the imagination; and Sue Carson, pretty in pale pink, smiling straight into the camera, very much alive. Tears stung Elena's eyes once more. They had saved her. Elena and Meredith and Bonnie and Matt and Stefan had saved Sue Carson.

Then Elena's gaze landed on another photograph, this one of Aunt Judith in a long, lacy wedding dress, Robert standing proudly beside her in a morning suit. With them was the other Elena, clearly the maid of honor, in a dress the color of green leaves, holding a bouquet of pink roses. Beside her stood Margaret, shining blond head ducked shyly, grasping Elena's dress with one hand. She was wearing a full -skirted white flower girl's dress tied with a wide green sash, and she clutched a basket of roses in her other hand.

Elena's hands shook a little as she put this picture down. It looked as if a good time had been had by all. What a pity she hadn't actual y been there.

Downstairs, a glass clinked against the table, and she heard Aunt Judith laugh. Putting aside al the strangeness of this new past she'd have to learn, Elena hurried down the stairs, ready to greet her future.

In the dining room, Aunt Judith poured orange juice from a blue jug while Robert spooned batter onto the waffle iron. Margaret was kneeling behind her chair, narrating an intense conversation between her stuffed rabbit and a toy tiger.

A great surge of joy filled Elena's chest, and she grabbed Aunt Judith in a tight hug and spun her around. Orange juice spilled across the floor in a wide arc.

"Elena!" scolded Aunt Judith, half laughing. "What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing! I just I love you, Aunt Judith," Elena said, hugging her tighter. "I really do."

"Oh," said Aunt Judith, her eyes soft. "Oh, Elena, I love you, too."

"And what a beautiful day," Elena said, pirouetting away.

"A wonderful day to be alive." She dropped a kiss on Margaret's blond head. Aunt Judith reached for the paper towels.

Robert cleared his throat. "Are we to take it that you've forgiven us for grounding you last weekend?"

Oh. Elena tried to figure out how to respond, but after she'd been living on her own for months, the whole concept of being grounded by Aunt Judith and Robert seemed ridiculous. Still , she widened her eyes and put on an appropriately contrite expression. "I'm truly sorry, Aunt Judith and Robert. It won't happen again." Whatever it is. Robert's shoulders relaxed. "We'll say no more about it, then," he said with obvious relief. He slid a hot waffle onto her plate and handed her the syrup. "Do you have anything fun planned for today?"

"Stefan is picking me up after breakfast," Elena said, then paused. The last time she had talked to Aunt Judith, after the disastrous Founder's Day pageant, Aunt Judith and Robert had been seriously anti-Stefan. They, like most of the town, had suspected him of being responsible for Mr. Tanner's death.

But apparently they had no problem with Stefan in this world, because Robert simply nodded. And, she reminded herself, if the Guardians had done what she asked, Mr. Tanner was alive, so they couldn't have suspected Stefan of killing him... Oh, it was all so confusing!

She went on: "We're going to hang out in town, maybe catch up with Meredith and the others." She couldn't wait to see the town back to its old, safe self and to be with Stefan when, for once, they weren't battling some horrible evil but could just be a normal couple.

Aunt Judith grinned. "So, just another lazy day, hmm? I'm glad you're having a nice summer before you go off to college, Elena. You worked so hard al last year."

"Mmm," said Elena vaguely, cutting into her waffle. She hoped the Guardians had gotten her into Dalcrest, a small college a couple hours away, as she'd requested.

"Come on up, Meggie," Robert said, buttering the little girl's waffle. Margaret scrambled up onto her chair, and Elena smiled at the obvious affection on Robert's face. Margaret was clearly his darling little girl. Catching Elena's eye, Margaret growled and thrust the toy tiger across the table toward her. Elena jumped. The little girl snarled, and her face was momentarily transformed into something savage.

"He wants to eat you with his big teeth," Margaret said, her little-girl voice hoarse. "He's coming to get you."

"Margaret!" Aunt Judith scolded as Elena shuddered. Margaret's briefly feral look reminded her of the kitsune, of the girls they had driven mad. But then Margaret gave her a huge grin and made the tiger nuzzle Elena's arm. The doorbell rang. Elena crammed the last bite of waffle into her mouth. "That's Stefan," she mumbled around it.

"See you later." She wiped her lips and checked her hair in the mirror before opening the door.

And there was Stefan, as handsome as ever. Elegant Roman features, high cheekbones, a classical straight nose, and sensual y curving mouth. He held his sunglasses loosely in one hand, and his leaf green eyes caught hers with a gaze of pure love. Elena broke into a wide, involuntary smile.

Oh, Stefan, she thought to him, I love you, I love you. It's so wonderful to be home. I can't stop missing Damon and wishing we could have done something differently and saved him - and I wouldn't want to stop thinking of him -

but I can't help being happy, too.

Wait. She felt like someone had slammed on the brakes and she'd been thrown against a seat belt.

Though Elena was sending the words, and a huge wave of affection and love with them, toward Stefan, there was no response, no return of emotions. It was as if there were an invisible wall between her and Stefan, blocking her thoughts from reaching him.

"Elena?" Stefan said aloud, his smile faltering. Oh. She hadn't realized. She hadn't even thought about this.

When the Guardians took her powers, they must have taken everything. Including her telepathic connection to Stefan. It had lingered... She was sure she had still heard him, and reached his mind, after she had lost her connection to Bonnie. But now it was gone completely. Leaning forward, she grasped his shirt, pulled him to her, and kissed him fiercely.

Oh, thank God, she thought, as she felt the familiar, comforting sense of their minds entwining. Stefan's lips curled into a smile beneath hers.

I thought I'd lost you, she thought, that I wouldn't be able to reach you like this anymore, either. Unlike with the telepathic connection they'd shared, she knew the thoughts weren't reaching Stefan as words but as images and emotions. From him, she felt a wordless, steady stream of unfailing love.

A throat was cleared pointedly behind them. Elena reluctantly released Stefan and turned to see Aunt Judith watching them.

Stefan straightened with an embarrassed blush, the slightest look of apprehension in his eyes. Elena grinned. She loved that he'd been through hell - literally - but was still scared to upset Elena's aunt. She put her hand on his arm, trying to send a message that Aunt Judith now accepted their relationship, but Aunt Judith's warm smile and greeting said it for her.

"Hello, Stefan. You'll be back by six, won't you, Elena?"

Aunt Judith asked. "Robert's got a late meeting, so I thought you, Margaret, and I could go out for a girls' night together." She looked hopeful yet hesitant, like someone knocking on a door that might be slammed in her face. Elena's stomach knotted with guilt. Have I been avoiding Aunt Judith this summer?

She could imagine that, if she hadn't died, she might have been eager to move on with her life and chafed at the family that wanted to keep her home and safe. But this Elena knew better - knew how lucky she was to have Aunt Judith and Robert. And it seemed that this Elena had a lot of making up to do.

"Sounds like fun!" she said cheerfully, pasting a bright smile on her face. "Can I invite Bonnie and Meredith?

They'd love a girls' night." And it would be nice, she thought, to have friends around who were as clueless about what had been going on in this version of Fell's Church as she was.

"Wonderful," Aunt Judith said, looking happier and more relaxed. "Have a good time, kids."

As Elena headed out the door, Margaret ran out of the kitchen. "Elena!" she said, wrapping her arms tightly around Elena's waist. Elena bent and kissed the top of her head.

"I'll catch you later, bunny rabbit," she said. Margaret motioned for Elena and Stefan to kneel down, then put her lips right next to their ears. "Don't forget to come back this time," she whispered before retreating inside.

For a moment, Elena just knelt there, frozen. Stefan squeezed her hand, pulling her up, and even without their telepathic connection, she knew they were having the same thought.

As they headed away from the house, Stefan took her by the shoulders. His green eyes gazed into hers, and he bent forward to brush a light kiss upon her lips.

"Margaret's a little girl," he said firmly. "It could just be that she doesn't want her big sister to leave. Maybe she's worried about you going off to college."

"Maybe," Elena murmured as Stefan wrapped his arms around her. She inhaled his green, woodsy scent and felt her breathing slow and the knot in her stomach loosen.

"And if not," she said slowly, "we'll work it out. We always do. But right now I want to see what the Guardians gave us."
发表于 2016-9-28 22:57 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 4

It was the little changes that surprised Elena the most. She had expected the Guardians to bring Fell's Church back. And they had.

The last time she'd seen the town, probably a quarter of the houses had been rubble. They'd been burned or bombed, some fully destroyed, some only half-gone, with police tape dangling dismally across what was left of their entrances. Around and above the ruined houses, trees and bushes had grown and stretched strangely, vines draping over the debris, giving the streets of the small town the look of an ancient jungle.

Now Fell's Church was - mostly - the way Elena remembered it. A picture postcard - perfect small Southern town of deep-porched houses surrounded by careful y tended flower gardens and big old trees. The sun was shining and the air was warm with the promise of a hot and humid Virginia summer day.

From a few blocks away came the muted roar of a lawn mower, and the smell of cut grass filled the air. The Kinkade kids in the house on the corner had dragged out their badminton set and were batting the birdie back and forth; the youngest girl waved to Elena and Stefan as they passed. Everything took Elena back to the long July days she'd known all the previous summers of her life. Elena hadn't asked for her old life back, though. Her exact words had been: I want a new life, with my real old life behind me. She'd wanted Fell's Church to be the way it would have been now, months later, if evil had never come to town back at the beginning of her senior year. But she hadn't realized how jarring all the little changes would be. The small colonial-style house in the middle of the next block had been painted a surprising shade of pink, and the old oak tree in its front lawn had been cut down and replaced with a flowering shrub.

"Huh." Elena turned to Stefan as they passed the house.

"Mrs. McCloskey must have died, or moved to a nursing home." Stefan looked at her blankly. "She never would have let them paint her house that color. There must be new people living there," she explained, shivering slightly.

"What is it?" Stefan asked instantly, as attuned to her moods as ever.

"Nothing, it's just..." Elena tried to smile as she tucked a silky lock of hair behind her ear. "She used to feed me cookies when I was a kid. It's strange to realize she might have died of natural causes while we've been gone."

Stefan nodded, and the two walked silently to Fell's Church's small downtown. Elena was about to point out that her favorite coffee shop had been replaced by a drugstore, when she grabbed Stefan's arm. "Stefan. Look."

Coming toward them were Isobel Saitou and Jim Bryce.

"Isobel! Jim!" Elena shouted joyfully, and ran toward them. But Isobel was stiff in her arms, and Jim was looking at her curiously.

"Uh, hi?" Isobel said hesitantly.

Elena instantly stepped back. Oops. In this life, did she even know Isobel? They'd been in school together, of course. Jim had gone out with Meredith a couple of times before he and Isobel started dating, although Elena hadn't known him well . But it was possible she had never even spoken to quiet, studious Isobel Saitou before the kitsune came to town.

Elena's mind worked busily, trying to figure out how to get out of this without seeming crazy. But a warm buzz of happiness kept rising up in her chest, keeping her from taking the problem too seriously. Isobel was okay. She'd suffered so much at the hands of the kitsune: She'd pierced herself in horrible ways and slit her own tongue so severely that even after she'd recovered from the kitsune's thrall , she'd spoken in a soft slur. Worse, the kitsune goddess had been in Isobel's house the whole time, pretending to be Isobel's grandmother.

And poor Jim... Infected through Isobel, Jim had torn himself apart, eating at his own flesh. Yet here he was, as handsome and carefree - albeit mildly confused - as ever. Stefan smiled broadly, and Elena couldn't stop giggling.

"Sorry, guys, I'm just... so happy to see familiar faces from school. I must miss good old Robert E. Lee High School, you know? Who would have thought?"

It was a pretty weak excuse, but Isobel and Jim smiled and nodded. Jim cleared his throat awkwardly and said,

"Yeah, it was a good year, wasn't it?"

Elena laughed again. She couldn't help herself. A good year.

They chatted for a few minutes before Elena casually asked, "How's your grandmother, Isobel?"

Isobel looked at her blankly. "My grandmother?" she said.

"You must be confusing me with someone else. Both my grandmothers have been dead for years."

"Oh, my mistake." Elena said good-bye and managed to contain herself until Isobel and Jim were out of earshot. Then she took Stefan by the arms, pulled him toward her, and gave him a resounding kiss, feeling delight and triumph passing back and forth between them.

"We did it," she said when the kiss had ended. "They're fine! And not just them." More solemn now, she gazed up into his green eyes, so serious and kind. "We did something real y important and wonderful, didn't we?"

"We did," Stefan agreed, but she couldn't help but notice something hard in his voice as he said it.

They walked hand in hand, and without discussing it, they headed for the edge of town, crossing Wickery Bridge and climbing the hill. They turned into the cemetery, past the ruined church where Katherine had hidden, and down into the little valley below that held the newer part of the graveyard.

Elena and Stefan sat down on the neatly trimmed grass by the big marble headstone with "Gilbert" carved into the front.

"Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad," Elena whispered. "I'm sorry it's been so long."

Back in her old life, she had visited her parents' graves often, just to talk to them. She'd felt like they were able to hear her somehow, that they were wishing her well from whatever higher plane they'd ended up on. It had always made her feel better to tell them her troubles, and before her life had gotten so complicated, she had told them everything.

She put out one hand and gently touched the names and dates carved on the tombstone. Elena bent her head.

"It's my fault they're dead," she said. Stefan made a soft noise of disagreement, and she turned to look at him. "It is," she said, her eyes burning. "The Guardians told me so."

Stefan sighed and kissed her forehead. "The Guardians wanted to kill you," he said. "To make you one of them. And they accidental y killed your parents instead. It's no more your fault than if they had shot at you and missed."

"But I distracted my father at the critical moment and made him crash," Elena said, hunching her shoulders.

"So the Guardians say," Stefan replied. "But they wouldn't want it to sound like their fault. They don't like to admit they make mistakes. The fact remains that the accident that killed your parents wouldn't have happened if the Guardians hadn't been there."

Elena lowered her eyes to hide the tears swimming in them. What Stefan said was true, she thought, but she couldn't stop the chorus of my fault my fault my fault in her head.

A few wild violets were growing on her left, and she picked them, along with a patch of buttercups. Stefan joined her, handing her a sprig of columbine with yellow bel -shaped blossoms to add to her tiny wildflower bouquet.

"Damon never trusted the Guardians," he said quietly.

"Well, he wouldn't - they don't think much of vampires. But beyond that..." He reached for a tall stalk of Queen Anne's lace growing beside a nearby headstone. "Damon had a pretty finely tuned sense for detecting lies - the lies people told themselves and the ones they told other people. When we were young we had a tutor - a priest, no less - who I liked and my father trusted, and Damon despised. When the man ran off with my father's gold and a young lady from the neighborhood, Damon was the only one who wasn't surprised." Stefan smiled at Elena. "He said that the priest's eyes were wrong. And that he spoke too smoothly."

Stefan shrugged. "My father and I never noticed. But Damon did."

Elena smiled tremulously. "He always knew when I wasn't being totally honest with him." She had a sudden flash of memory: of Damon's deep black eyes holding hers, his pupils dilated like a cat's, his head tilting as their lips met. She looked away from Stefan's warm green eyes, so different from Damon's dark ones, and twisted the thick stalk of the Queen Anne's lace around the other flowers. When the bouquet was tied together, she placed it on her parents' grave.

"I miss him," Stefan said softly. "There was a time when I would have thought... when his death might have been a relief. But I'm so glad we came together - that we were brothers again - before he died." He put a gentle hand beneath Elena's chin and tilted her head up so that her eyes met his again. "I know you loved him, Elena. It's okay. You don't have to pretend."

Elena gave a little gasp of pain.

It was like there was a dark hole inside her. She could laugh and smile and marvel at the restored town; she could love her family; but all the time there was this dull ache, this terrible sense of loss.

Letting her tears loose at last, Elena fell into Stefan's arms.

"Oh, my love," he said, his voice catching, and they wept together, taking comfort in each other's warmth. Fine ash had fallen for a long time. Now it settled at last and the small moon of the Nether World was covered with thick, sticky piles of dust. Here and there, opalescent fluid pooled against the charred blackness, coloring it with the rainbow of an oil slick.

Nothing moved. Now that the Great Tree had disintegrated, nothing lived in this place.

Deep below the surface of the ruined moon was a body. His poisoned blood had stopped flowing and he lay unmoving, unfeeling, unseeing. But the drops of fluid saturating his skin nourished him, and a slow thrum of magical life beat steadily on.

Every now and then a flicker of consciousness rose within him. He had forgotten who he was and how he had died. But there was a voice somewhere deep inside him, a light, sweet voice he knew well , that told him, Close your eyes now. Let go. Let go. Go. It was comforting, and his last spark of consciousness was holding on for a moment longer, just to hear it. He couldn't remember whose voice it was, although something in it reminded him of sunlight, of gold and lapis lazuli.

Let go. He was slipping away, the last spark dimming, but it was all right. It was warm and comfortable, and he was ready to let go now. The voice would take him all the way to... to wherever it was he would go. As the flicker of consciousness was about to go out for the last time, another voice - a sharper, more commanding voice, the voice of someone used to having his orders obeyed - spoke within him.

She needs you. She's in danger.

He couldn't let go. Not yet. That voice pulled painfully at him, holding him to life.

With a sharp shock, everything shifted. As if he'd been ripped out of that gentle, cozy place, he was suddenly freezing cold. Everything hurt.

Deep within the ash, his fingers twitched.
发表于 2016-9-28 23:05 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 5

"Are you excited for Alaric to arrive tomorrow?" Matt asked. "He's bringing his researcher friend Celia, right?"

Meredith kicked him in the chest.

"Oof!" Matt staggered backward, knocked breathless despite the protective vest he had on. Meredith followed up with a roundhouse kick to Matt's side, and he fell to his knees, barely managing to raise his hands and block a straight punch to his face.

"Ow!" he said. "Meredith, time-out, okay?"

Meredith dropped into a graceful tiger stance, her back leg supporting her weight while her front foot rested lightly on her toes. Her face was calm, her eyes cool and watchful. She looked ready to pounce if Matt showed any sign of sudden movement.

When he'd arrived to spar with Meredith - to help her keep her hunter-slayer skills in top-notch shape - Matt had wondered why she had handed him a helmet, mouth guard, gloves, shin guards, and vest, while she wore only sleek black workout clothes.

Now he knew. He hadn't even come close to hitting her, while she'd pummeled him mercilessly. Matt eased a hand up under the vest and rubbed rueful y at his side. He hoped he hadn't cracked a rib.

"Ready to go again?" Meredith said, her eyebrows raised in challenge.

"Please, no, Meredith," Matt said, raising his hands in surrender. "Let's take a break. It feels like you've been punching me for hours."

Meredith walked over to the small fridge in the corner of her family's rec room and tossed Matt a bottle of water, then sank down next to him on the mat. "Sorry. I guess I got carried away. I've never sparred with a friend before."

Looking around as he took a long, cool drink, Matt shook his head. "I don't know how you managed to keep this place secret for so long." The basement room had been converted into a perfect place to train: throwing stars, knives, swords, and staves of various kinds were mounted on the walls; a punching bag hung in one corner, while a padded dummy leaned in another. The floor was lined with mats, and one wall was completely mirrored. In the middle of the opposite wall hung the fighting stave: a special weapon for battling the supernatural that had been handed down through generations of Meredith's family. It was deadly but elegant-looking, the hilt covered with jewels, the ends spiked with silver, wood, and white ash, and the needles steeped in poison. Matt eyed it warily.

"Well ," said Meredith, looking away, "the Suarez family has always been good at keeping secrets." She began to move through a tae kwon do form: back stance, double fist block, left front stance, reverse middle punch. She was graceful as a slim black cat in her workout gear. After a moment, Matt capped his water bottle, climbed to his feet, and began to mirror her movements. Left double front kick, left inside block, double-handed punch. He knew he was half a beat behind and felt shambling and awkward next to her, but frowned and concentrated. He'd always been a good athlete. He could do this, too.

"Besides, it's not like I was bringing my prom dates down here," Meredith offered after a cycle, half smiling. "It wasn't that hard to hide." She watched Matt in the mirror. "No, block low with your left hand and high with your right hand, like this." She showed him again, and he shadowed her movements.

"Okay, yeah," he said, only half concentrating on his words now, focused on the positions. "But you could have told us. We're your best friends." He moved his left foot forward and mimicked Meredith's backward elbow blow.

"At least, you could have told us after the whole thing with Klaus and Katherine," he amended. "Before that, we would have thought you were crazy."

Meredith shrugged and dropped her hands, and Matt followed before he realized that the gestures weren't part of the tae kwon do form.

Now they stood side by side, staring at each other in the mirror. Meredith's cool and elegant face looked pale and pinched. "I was brought up to keep my heritage as a hunters layer a deep, dark secret," she said. "Telling anybody wasn't something I could consider. Even Alaric doesn't know."

Matt turned away from Meredith's mirror image to gape at the real girl. Alaric and Meredith were practical y engaged. Matt had never been that serious with anyone - the girl he'd come closest to loving was Elena, and obviously that hadn't worked out - but he'd sort of figured that, if you committed your heart to somebody, you told them everything.

"Isn't Alaric a paranormal researcher? Don't you think he would understand?"

Frowning, Meredith shrugged again. "Probably," she said, sounding irritated and dismissive, "but I don't want to be something for him to study or research, any more than I want him to freak out. But since you and the others know, I'll have to tell him."

"Hmm." Matt rubbed his aching side again. "Is that why you're pounding on me so aggressively? Because you're worried about telling him?"

Meredith met his eyes. The lines of her face were still tense, but a mischievous glimmer shone in her eyes.

"Aggressive?" she asked sweetly, falling back into the tiger stance. Matt felt an answering smile tug at the corners of his mouth. "You haven't seen anything yet."

Elena surveyed the restaurant Judith had picked with a kind of bemused horror. Beeping video game machines vied for attention with old-fashioned arcade games like Whac-AMole and Skee-Ball . Bouquets of brightly colored balloons bobbed over every table, and a cacophony of song rose from various corners as singing waiters delivered pizza after pizza. What seemed like hundreds of children ran loose across the floor, shrieking and laughing. Stefan had walked her to the restaurant, but, eyeing the neon paint job with alarm, he'd declined to come in.

"Oh, I shouldn't intrude on girls' night," he'd said vaguely, and then disappeared so quickly Elena suspected he'd used vampiric speed.

"Traitor," she'd muttered, before warily opening the bright pink door. After their time together in the graveyard, she felt stronger and happier, but she would have liked some support here, too.

"Welcome to Happytown," chirped an unnatural y cheery hostess. "Table for one, or are you meeting a party?"

Elena repressed a shudder. She couldn't imagine anyone choosing to come to a place like this by themselves. "I think I see my group now," she said politely, catching sight of Aunt Judith waving to her from a corner.

"This is your idea of a fun girls' night out, Aunt Judith?"

she asked when she reached the table. "I was picturing something more like a cozy bistro."

Aunt Judith nodded toward the other side of the room. Peering over, Elena spotted Margaret, happily whacking away at toy moles with a mallet.

"We're always dragging Margaret to grown-up places and expecting her to behave," Aunt Judith explained. "I thought it was time she got a turn to do something she enjoyed. I hope Bonnie and Meredith won't mind."

"She certainly looks like she's enjoying herself," Elena said, studying her little sister. Her memories of Margaret from the last year were of strain and anxiety: During the fall Margaret had been upset by Elena's fighting with Judith and Robert and by the mysterious happenings in Fell's Church, and then, of course, devastated by Elena's death. Elena had watched her through the windows afterward and seen her sobbing. She'd suffered more than any five-year old should, even if she didn't remember any of it now. I'll take care of you, Margaret, she promised fiercely and silently, watching the studious concentration on her sister's face as Margaret practiced a little old-fashioned carnival violence. You won't have to feel like that again in this world.

"Are we waiting for Bonnie and Meredith?" Aunt Judith prompted gently. "Did you end up inviting them to join us?"

"Oh," said Elena, jarred out of her reverie. She reached for a handful of popcorn from the basket in the middle of the table. "I couldn't get ahold of Meredith, but Bonnie's coming. She'll love this."

"I absolutely, totally do love this," a voice agreed from behind her. Elena turned to see Bonnie's silky red curls.

"Especial y the expression on your face, Elena." Bonnie's wide brown eyes were dancing with amusement. She and Elena shared a look that was full of all the we're back, we're back, they did what they said and Fell's Church is the way it should be again that they couldn't say in front of Aunt Judith, then fell into each other's arms.

Elena squeezed Bonnie tightly, and Bonnie buried her face in Elena's shoulder for a moment. Her petite body quivered slightly in Elena's arms, and Elena realized that she wasn't the only one walking a fine line between delight and devastation. They'd gained so much - but it had come at a very high price.

"Actual y," said Bonnie with careful cheer as she released Elena, "I had my ninth birthday at a place very much like this. Remember the Hokey-Pokey Grill ? That was the place to be when we were in elementary school." Her eyes held a bright sheen that might be tears, but her chin stuck out determinedly. Bonnie, Elena thought with admiration, was going to have fun if it killed her.

"I remember that party," Elena said, matching Bonnie's lightness. "Your cake had a big picture of some boy band on it."

"I was mature for my age," Bonnie told Aunt Judith merrily. "I was boy crazy way before any of my friends were."

Aunt Judith laughed and waved Margaret over toward their table. "We'd better order before the stage show starts," she said.

Elena, eyes wide, mouthed, Stage show? at Bonnie, who smirked and shrugged.

"Do you girls know what you want?" Aunt Judith asked.

"Do they have anything besides pizza?" Elena asked.

"Chicken fingers," answered Margaret, climbing into her chair. "And hot dogs."

Elena grinned at her sister's tousled hair and expression of delight. "What are you going to have, bunny?" she asked.

"Pizza!" Margaret answered. "Pizza, pizza, pizza."

"I'll have pizza, too, then," Elena decided.

"It's the best thing here," Margaret confided. "The hot dogs are weird-tasting." She squirmed in her chair. "Elena, are you coming to my dance recital?" she asked.

"When is it?" Elena asked.

Margaret frowned. "The day after tomorrow," she said.

"You know that."

Elena glanced quickly at Bonnie, whose eyes were wide.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," she told Margaret affectionately, and her sister nodded firmly and stood up on her chair to reach the popcorn.

Under cover of Aunt Judith's scolding and the semi-melodious sound of their singing waiter approaching, Bonnie and Elena exchanged a smile.

Dance recitals. Singing waiters. Pizza.

It was good to live in this kind of world for a change.
发表于 2016-9-28 23:18 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 6

The next morning was clear and hot again, another beautiful summer day. Elena stretched lazily in her comfy bed, then pulled on a T-shirt and shorts and padded down to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal.

Aunt Judith was braiding Margaret's hair at the table.

"Morning," Elena said, pouring milk into her bowl.

"Hi, sleepyhead," said Aunt Judith, and Margaret gave her a big smile and a finger-wiggling wave. "Keep still , Margaret. We're about to leave for the market," she told Elena. "What are you doing today?"

Elena swallowed her mouthful of cereal. "We're going to pick up Alaric and his friend at the train station and just hang out and catch up," she said.

"Who?" Aunt Judith asked, her eyes narrowing. Elena's mind spun. "Oh, uh, you remember, he subbed for Mr. Tanner teaching history last year," she said, wondering if that was in fact true in this world. Aunt Judith frowned. "Isn't he a little old to be socializing with high school girls?"

Elena rolled her eyes. "We're not in high school anymore, Aunt Judith. And he's only about six years older than us. And it's not just girls. Matt and Stefan are coming, too."

If this was Aunt Judith's reaction to the news of their spending time with Alaric, Elena could tell why Meredith was hesitant to tell people about their relationship. It made sense to wait a couple of years, until people thought of her as a grown-up. Since no one here knew all that Meredith had seen and done, she seemed like any other eighteen year-old to them. It's a good thing Aunt Judith doesn't know Stefan's five hundred years older than I am, Elena thought with a secret smirk. She thinks Alaric's too old.

The doorbell rang.

"That's Matt and everybody," Elena said, rising to put her bowl in the sink. "See you guys tonight."

Margaret widened her eyes at Elena in silent appeal, and Elena detoured on her way to the door to squeeze the little girl's shoulder. Was Margaret still worried Elena wouldn't come back?

Out in the foyer, she ran her fingers through her hair before opening the door.

Standing in front of her was not Stefan, though, but a perfect stranger. A really good-looking stranger, Elena noted automatically, a boy about her age with curly golden hair, sculpted features, and bright blue eyes. He was holding a deep red rose in one hand.

Elena stood a little straighter, unconsciously pulling her shoulders back and pushing her hair behind her ears. She adored Stefan, but that didn't mean she couldn't look at other boys, or talk to them. She wasn't dead, after all . Not anymore, she thought, smiling at her private joke. The boy smiled back. "Hey, Elena," he said cheerfully.

"Caleb Small wood!" Aunt Judith said, coming into the hall. "There you are!"

Elena felt herself recoil, but she kept the smile on her face. "Any relation to Tyler?" she said, outwardly calm, and ran her eyes over him, trying to be subtle, checking for... for what? For signs of his being a werewolf? She realized she didn't even know what those would be. Tyler's good looks had always had a flavor of an animal about them, with his large white teeth and broad features, but had that been a coincidence?

"Tyler's my cousin," Caleb answered, his smile beginning to turn to a quizzical frown. "I thought you knew that, Elena. I'm staying with his folks while Tyler's... gone."

Elena's mind raced. Tyler Small wood had run away after Elena, Stefan, and Damon had defeated his ally, the evil vampire Klaus. Tyler had left his girlfriend - and sometimes hostage - Caroline pregnant. Elena hadn't discussed Tyler and Caroline's fate with the Guardians, so she had no idea what had happened with them in this reality. Was Tyler even a werewolf now? Was Caroline pregnant? And if she was, was it with werewolf or human babies? She shook her head slightly. Brave new world, indeed.

"Well, don't leave Caleb out on the porch. Let him in,"

Aunt Judith instructed from behind her. Elena stood aside, and Caleb moved past her into the hall.

Elena tried to reach out with her mind and sense Caleb's aura, to read him to see if he was dangerous, but once again came up against that brick wall. It would take some time to get used to being a normal girl again, and suddenly Elena felt horribly vulnerable.

Caleb shifted from foot to foot, looking uncomfortable, and she quickly composed herself. "How long have you been in town?" she asked, and then kicked herself for treating this boy she obviously was supposed to know like a stranger again.

"Well," he said slowly, "I've been in town al summer. Did you hit your head over the weekend, Elena?" He grinned teasingly at her.

Elena lifted a shoulder, thinking of all she had suffered over the weekend. "Something like that."

He held out the rose. "This must be for you."

"Thank you," said Elena, confused. A thorn pricked her finger as she took it by the stem, and she stuck the finger in her mouth to stanch the blood.

"Don't thank me," he said. "It was just sitting on the front steps when I got here. You must have a secret admirer."

Elena frowned. Plenty of boys had admired her through school, and if this had been nine months ago, she could have made a good guess at who would leave her a rose. But now she didn't have a clue.

Matt's battered old Ford sedan pulled up outside and honked. "I've got to run, Aunt Judith," she said. "They're here. Nice seeing you, Caleb."

Elena's stomach twisted as she walked toward Matt's car. It wasn't just the strangeness of meeting Caleb that was affecting her, she realized, turning the rose's stem absently between her fingers. It was the car itself. Matt's old Ford was the car she had driven off Wickery Bridge back in the winter, panicked and pursued by evil forces. She'd died in this car. The windows had shattered as she hit the creek, and the car had filled with icy water. The scratched steering wheel and the dented hood of the car, covered with water, had been the last things she'd seen in that life.

But here the car was - as whole again as she was. Pushing the memory of her death from her mind, she waved at Bonnie, whose eager face was visible through the passenger window. She could forget about all those old tragedies, because now they had never happened. Meredith perched elegantly on the swing on her front porch, pushing herself gently back and forth with one foot. Her strong, tapered fingers were still ; her dark hair fell smoothly across her shoulders; her expression was as serene as ever.

There was nothing about Meredith that might show how tensely and busily her thoughts were churning, worries and contingency plans whirring away behind her cool facade. She had spent yesterday trying to figure out what the Guardians' spell had changed for her and her family -

particularly her brother, Christian, who Klaus had kidnapped over a decade ago. She still didn't understand it all , but it was dawning on her that Elena's bargain had more far-reaching consequences than any of them had imagined.

But today her thoughts were occupied with Alaric Saltzman.

Her fingers tapped anxiously against the arm of the swing. Then she schooled herself into still ness again. Self-discipline was where Meredith found her strength, and if Alaric, her boyfriend - or at least, he had been her boyfriend... actual y her perhaps engaged-to-be-engaged, sort of almost fiance, before he left town - turned out to have changed toward her in the months they'd been apart, well, no one, not even Alaric, would see how that would hurt her.

Alaric had spent the past several months in Japan, investigating paranormal activity, a dream come true for a doctoral student in parapsychology. His study of the tragic history of Unmei no Shima, the Island of Doom, a small community where children and parents had turned against one another, had helped Meredith and her friends to understand what the kitsune were doing to Fell's Church, and how to fight it.

Alaric had been working at Unmei no Shima with Dr. Celia Connor, a forensic pathologist who, despite her full academic credentials, was the same age as Alaric, only twenty-four. So, clearly, Dr. Connor was brilliant. From his letters and emails, Alaric had been having the time of his life in Japan. And he'd certainly found a lot of interests in common with Dr. Connor. Perhaps more so than with Meredith, who had only just graduated from a small -town high school, no matter how mature and intelligent she might be.

Meredith gave herself a mental shake and sat up straighter. She was being ridiculous, worrying about Alaric's relationship with his colleague. She was pretty sure she was being ridiculous, anyway. Fairly sure. She gripped the arms of the swing more tightly. She was a vampire hunter. She had a duty to protect her town, and she had, with her friends, protected it well already. She wasn't just an ordinary teenager, and if she needed to prove that to Alaric again, she was confident she could, Dr. Celia Connor or no Dr. Celia Connor.

Matt's rattletrap of an old Ford sedan chugged up to the curb, Bonnie in front with Matt, Stefan and Elena sitting close together in the back. Meredith rose and crossed the lawn toward it.

"Is everything okay?" said Bonnie, round eyed, when she opened the door. "Your face looks like you're heading off to battle."

Meredith smoothed her features into impassivity and scrambled for an explanation that wasn't, I'm worried about whether my boyfriend still likes me. Quickly and easily, she realized there was another reason she was tense, a true one.

"Bonnie, I have a duty to help look out for everyone now,"

Meredith said simply. "Damon's dead. Stefan doesn't want to hurt humans, and that handicaps him. Elena's Powers are gone. Even though the kitsune were defeated, we still need protection. We'll always need to be careful."

Stefan tightened his arm around Elena's shoulders. "The things that make Fell's Church so appealing to the supernatural, the ley lines that have attracted all kinds of beings here for generations, are al still here. I can sense them. And other people, other creatures, will sense them, too."

Bonnie's voice rose in alarm. "So it's all going to happen again?"

Stefan rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I don't think so. But something else might. Meredith's right, we have to be vigilant." He dropped a kiss onto Elena's shoulder and rested his cheek against her hair. There was no question, Meredith thought wryly, why this particular supernatural being was drawn to Fell's Church, anyway, and it wasn't because of the ley lines running through the area. Elena toyed with a single dark red rose, something Stefan must have brought her. "Is that the only reason you're worried, Meredith?" she asked lightly. "Your duty to Fell's Church?"

Meredith felt herself flush a little, but her voice was dry and calm. "I think that's reason enough, don't you?"

Elena grinned. "Oh, it's reason enough, I suppose. But could there be another one?" She winked at Bonnie, whose anxious expression lightened in response. "Who do we know who will be fascinated by all the tales you have to tell ?

Especially when he finds out that the story's not over yet?"

Bonnie turned all the way around in her seat, her smile growing. "Oh. Oh. I see. He won't be able to think of anything else, will he? Or anyone else."

Now Stefan's shoulders relaxed, and up in the driver's seat Matt let out a chuckle and shook his head. "You three," he said affectionately. "Us guys never stood a chance."

Meredith looked straight ahead and lifted her chin slightly, ignoring them all. Elena and Bonnie knew her too well , and the three of them had spent enough time scheming together that she should have known they'd see through her plan in a minute. But she didn't have to admit to it.

The solemn mood in the car had lifted, though. Meredith realized they were all doing it on purpose, reaching out gently and carefully with jokes and lighthearted teasing, trying to ease the pain Elena and Stefan must both be feeling.

Damon was dead. And while Meredith had developed a cautious, wary respect for the unpredictable vampire during their time in the Dark Dimension, and Bonnie had felt, Meredith thought, something warmer, Elena had loved him. Really loved him. And even though Damon and Stefan's relationship had been rocky, to say the least, for centuries, he had been Stefan's brother. Stefan and Elena were hurting, and everyone knew it.

After a minute, Matt's eyes flicked up to the rearview mirror to glance at Stefan. "Hey," he said, "I forgot to tell you. In this reality you didn't disappear on Halloween - you stayed the starting wide receiver and we took the football team all the way to the state championships." He grinned, and Stefan's face opened in simple pleasure. Meredith had almost forgotten that Stefan had played with Matt on their high school football team before their history teacher, Mr. Tanner, died at the Halloween haunted house and everything went to hell . She had forgotten he and Matt had been real friends, playing sports and hanging out, despite the fact that they'd both loved Elena. And maybe still do both love Elena? she wondered, and glanced quickly at the back of Matt's head from under her eyelashes. She wasn't sure how Matt felt, but he had always struck her as the kind of guy who, when he fell in love, stayed in love. But he was also the kind of guy who would always be too honorable to try to break up a relationship, no matter what he felt.

"And," Matt went on, "as the quarterback of the state champions, I guess I'm a pretty good prospect for colleges." He paused and broke out in a wide, proud smile.

"Apparently, I have a full athletic scholarship to Kent State."

Bonnie squealed, Elena clapped, and Meredith and Stefan burst out with congratulations.

"Me, me now!" Bonnie said. "I guess I studied harder in this reality. Which was probably easier, since one of my best friends didn't die first semester and was available to help tutor me."

"Hey!" Elena said. "Meredith was always a better tutor than me. You can't blame it on me."

"Anyway," Bonnie continued, "I got into a four-year college! I didn't even bother to apply to any in our other life because my GPA was not high. I was going to take nursing classes at the community college like Mary did, even though I'm not sure I'm real y cut out to be a nurse because, yuck, blood and other fluids. But, anyway, my mom was saying this morning that we should go shopping for my room at Dalcrest before Labor Day." She shrugged a little.

"I mean, I know it's not Harvard, but I'm pretty excited."

Meredith joined in the congratulations quietly. She had, in fact, gotten into Harvard.

"Ooh. And! And!" Bonnie was bouncing in her seat with excitement. "I ran into Vickie Bennett this morning. She's definitely not dead! I think she was surprised when I hugged her. I forgot we weren't really friends."

"How is she?" asked Elena interestedly. "Did she remember anything?"

Bonnie tilted her head. "She seems fine. I couldn't exactly ask her what she remembered, but she didn't say anything about being dead or vampires or anything. I mean, she was always a little bit blah, you know? She did tell me she saw you downtown last weekend and you told her what color lip gloss she ought to buy."

Elena raised her eyebrows. "Really?" She paused and went on uncertainly, "Is anybody else feeling weird about all of this? I mean, it's wonderful - don't get me wrong. But it's weird, too."

"It's confusing," Bonnie said. "I'm grateful, obviously, that al the horrible things are gone and everybody's okay. I'm thrilled to have my life back. But my father blew up at me this morning when I asked where Mary was." Mary was one of Bonnie's older sisters, the last one living at home besides Bonnie. "He thought I was trying to be funny. Apparently she moved in with her boyfriend three months ago, and you can imagine how my dad feels about that."

Meredith nodded. Bonnie's dad was the protective paternal type, and pretty old-fashioned in his attitudes toward his daughters' boyfriends. If Mary was living with her boyfriend, he must be apoplectic.

"Aunt Judith and I have been fighting - at least, I think so. But I can't find out exactly why," Elena confessed. "I can't ask, because obviously I should already know."

"Shouldn't everything be perfect now?" Bonnie said wistfully. "It seems like we've been through enough."

"I don't mind being confused, as long as we can go back to real life," Matt said earnestly.

There was a little pause, which Meredith broke, reaching for something to take them out of their somber thoughts.

"Pretty rose, Elena," she said. "Is that a gift from Stefan?"

"No, actually," Elena said. "It was sitting on my front stoop this morning." She twirled it between her fingers. "It's not from any of the gardens on our street, though. No one has such beautiful roses." She smiled teasingly at Stefan, who tensed up once more. "It's a mystery."

"Must be from a secret admirer," Bonnie said. "Can I see?"

Elena handed it up to the front seat, and Bonnie turned the stem around carefully in her hand, looking at the blossom from all angles. "It's gorgeous," she said. "A single, perfect rose. How romantic!" She pretended to swoon, lifting the rose to her forehead. Then she flinched.

"Ouch! Ouch!"

Blood ran down her hand. Much more blood than ought to come from the prick of a thorn, Meredith noted, already reaching into her pocket for a tissue. Matt pulled off the road.

"Bonnie - " he began.

Stefan breathed in sharply and leaned forward, his eyes widening. Meredith forgot about the tissue, fearing the sudden sight of blood had caused Stefan's vampiric nature to take over.

Then Matt gasped and Elena said sharply, "A camera, quick! Someone give me your phone!" with such a tone of command that Meredith automatically handed Elena her phone.

As Elena pointed the camera phone at Bonnie, Meredith finally saw what had startled the others.

The dark red blood was running down Bonnie's arm, and as it ran, it had streamed into twists and curves from her wrist to her elbow. The trickles of blood spelled out a name over and over. The same name that had been haunting Meredith for months.
发表于 2016-9-28 23:27 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 7

"Who's Celia?" Bonnie said indignantly, as soon as they'd wiped off the blood. She'd put the rose down carefully in the middle of the front seat, between her and Matt, and they were all very consciously not touching it. Pretty as it was, it looked more sinister than beautiful now, Stefan thought grimly.

"Celia Connor," Meredith said sharply. "Dr. Celia Connor. You saw her in a vision once, Bonnie. The forensic anthropologist."

"The one who's working with Alaric?" Bonnie said. "But why would her name show up in blood on my arm? In blood."

"That's what I'd like to know," Meredith said, frowning.

"It could be some kind of warning," Elena proposed. "We don't know enough yet. We'll go to the station, we'll meet Alaric and Celia, and then..."

"Then?" prompted Meredith, meeting Elena's cool blue eyes.

"Then we'll do whatever we have to do," Elena said. "As usual."

Bonnie was still complaining when they got to the train station.

Patience, Stefan reminded himself. Usual y he enjoyed Bonnie's company, but right now, his body craving the human blood he'd become accustomed to, he felt... off. He rubbed his aching jaw.

"I'd really hoped we'd get at least a couple days of everything being normal," Bonnie moaned for what seemed like the thousandth time.

"Life's not fair, Bonnie," Matt said gloomily. Stefan glanced at him in surprise - Matt was usually the first to leap in and try to cheer up the girls - but the tall blond was leaning against the closed ticket booth, his shoulders drooping, his hands tucked into his pockets. Matt met Stefan's gaze. "It's all starting up again, isn't it?"

Stefan shook his head and glanced around the station. "I don't know what's going on," he said. "But we all need to be vigilant until we can figure it out."

"Oh, that's comforting," Meredith muttered, her gray eyes alertly scanning the platform.

Stefan folded his arms across his chest and shifted closer to Elena and Bonnie. Al his senses, normal and paranormal, were on full alert. He reached out with his Power, trying to sense any supernatural consciousnesses near them, but felt nothing new or alarming, just the calm background buzz of ordinary humans going about their everyday business.

It was impossible to stop worrying, though. Stefan had seen many things in his five hundred years of existence: vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, angels, witches, all sorts of beings who preyed on or influenced humans in ways most people could never even imagine. And, as a vampire, he knew a lot about blood. More than he had cared to admit.

He'd seen Meredith's eyes flick toward him with suspicion when Bonnie began to bleed. She was right to be wary of him: How could they trust him when his basic nature was to kill them?

Blood was the essence of life; it was what kept a vampire going centuries after his natural life span should have ended. Blood was the central ingredient in many spells both benevolent and wicked. Blood had Powers of its own, Powers that were difficult and dangerous to harness. But Stefan had never seen blood behave in the way it had on Bonnie's arm today.

A thought struck him. "Elena," he said, turning to face her.

"Hmmm?" she answered distractedly, shading her eyes as she peered down the track.

"You said the rose was just lying there waiting for you on the porch when you opened the door this morning?"

Elena brushed her hair out of her eyes. "Actual y, no. Caleb Small wood found it there and handed it to me when I opened the door to let him in."

"Caleb Small wood?" Stefan narrowed his eyes. Elena had mentioned earlier that her aunt had hired the Small wood boy to do some work around the house, but she should have told him of Caleb's connection to the rose before. "Tyler Small wood's cousin? The guy who just showed up out of nowhere to hang around your house? The one who's probably a werewolf, like the rest of his family?"

"You didn't meet him. He was perfectly fine. Apparently he's been around town al summer without anything weird happening. We just don't remember him." Her tone was breezy, but her smile didn't quite reach her eyes. Stefan reached out automatically to speak to her with his mind, to have a private conversation about what she was real y feeling. But he couldn't. He was so used to depending on the connection between them that he kept forgetting it was gone now; he could sense Elena's emotions, could feel her aura, but they could no longer communicate telepathically. He and Elena were separate again. Stefan hunched his shoulders miserably against the breeze.

Bonnie frowned, the summer wind whipping her strawberry ringlets around her face. "Is Tyler even a werewolf now? Because if Sue's alive, he didn't kil her to become a werewolf, right?"

Elena held her palms to the sky. "I don't know. He's gone, anyway, and I'm not sorry. Even before he was a werewolf, he was a real jerk. Remember what a bul y he was at school? And how he was always drinking out of that hip flask and hitting on us? But I'm pretty sure Caleb's just a regular guy. I'd have known if there was something wrong with him."

Stefan looked at her. "You've got wonderful instincts about people," he said careful y. "But are you sure you're not relying on senses you don't have anymore to tell you what Caleb is?" He thought of how the Guardians had painful y clipped Elena's Wings and destroyed her Powers, the Powers she and her friends only half-understood. Elena looked taken aback and was opening her mouth to reply when the train chugged into the station, preventing further discussion.

Only a few people were disembarking at the Fell's Church station, and Stefan soon spotted Alaric's familiar form. After stepping down to the platform, Alaric reached back to steady a slender African-American woman as she exited behind him.

Dr. Celia Connor was certainly lovely - Stefan would give her that. She was tiny, as small as Bonnie, with dark skin and close-cropped hair. The smile she gave Alaric as she took his arm was charming and slightly puckish. She had large brown eyes and a long, elegant neck. Stylish but practical in designer clothing, she wore soft leather boots, skinny jeans, and a sapphire-toned silk shirt. A long, diaphanous scarf was wrapped around her neck, adding to her sophisticated demeanor.

When Alaric, al tousled sandy hair and boyish grin, whispered familiarly in her ear, Stefan felt Meredith tense. She looked like she'd like nothing better than to try out a few of her martial arts moves on a certain gorgeous forensic anthropologist.

But then Alaric spotted Meredith, dashed over, and took her in his arms, pulling her off her feet as he swung her into a hug, and she visibly relaxed. In a few moments, they were both laughing and talking, and they didn't seem to be able to stop touching each other, as if they needed to reassure themselves that they were actually together again at last. Clearly, Stefan thought, any worries Meredith had had about Alaric and Dr. Connor had been groundless, at least as far as Alaric was concerned. Stefan turned his attention to Celia Connor again.

His first wary tendrils of Power discovered a slight simmering resentment emanating from the anthropologist. Understandable: She was human, she was quite young despite her poise and her many professional achievements, and she had spent a great deal of time working closely with the very attractive Alaric. It wouldn't be surprising if she felt a bit proprietary toward him, and here he was being pulled away from her and into the orbit of a teenage girl.

But more important, his Power found no supernatural shadow hanging about her and no answering Power in her. Whatever the meaning of the name Celia written in blood, it seemed Dr. Celia Connor hadn't caused it.

"Somebody take pictures!" Bonnie called, laughing. "We haven't seen Alaric for months. We have to document his return!"

Matt got out his phone and took a couple of pictures of Alaric and Meredith, their arms around each other.

"All of us!" Bonnie insisted. "You too, Dr. Connor. Let's stand in front of the train - it's a terrific backdrop. You take this one, Matt, and then I'll take some with you in them."

They shuffled into various positions: bumping, excusing, introducing themselves to Celia Connor, throwing their arms around one another in a casual y exuberant style. Stefan found himself pushed to the edge, Elena's arm through his, and he discreetly inhaled the clean, sweet scent of her hair.

"All aboard!" the conductor called, and the train doors closed.

Matt, Stefan realized, had stopped taking pictures and was staring at them, his blue eyes widening in what looked like terror. "Stop the train!" he shouted. "Stop the train!"

"Matt? What on earth?" Elena said. And then Meredith looked behind them, toward the train, with an expression of dawning comprehension.

"Celia," she said urgently, reaching out toward the other woman.

Stefan watched in confusion as Celia jerked away from them abruptly, almost as if an unseen hand had grabbed her. As the train began to move, Celia walked, then ran beside it with stiff, frantic motions, her hands pulling rapidly at her throat.

Suddenly Stefan's perspective shifted and he understood what was happening. Celia's diaphanous scarf had somehow been firmly caught by the closing door of the train, and now the train was pulling her along by the neck. She was running to keep from being strangled, the scarf like a leash yanking her along. And the train was beginning to pick up speed. Her hands pulled at the scarf, but both ends were caught in the door, and her tugging only seemed to tighten it around her neck.

Celia was approaching the end of the platform and the train was chugging faster. It was a flat drop from the platform to the scrub ground beyond. In a few moments, she would fall , her neck would be broken, and the train would drag her along for miles.

Stefan took all this in within the space of a single breath and sprang into action. He felt his canines lengthen as a surge of Power went through him. And then he took off, faster than any human, faster than the train, and sped toward her.

With one quick motion, he took her in his arms, relieving the pressure around her throat, and tore the scarf in half. He stopped and put Celia down as the train sped up and left the station. The remnants of the scarf slipped from around her neck and fluttered onto the platform by her feet. She and Stefan stared at each other, breathing hard. Behind them, he could hear the others shouting, their feet pounding on the platform as they ran toward them. Celia's dark brown eyes were wide and filled with tears of pain. She licked her lips nervously and took several short, gasping breaths, pressing her hands against her chest. He could hear her heart pounding, her blood rushing through her system, and he concentrated on pulling his canines back and resuming his human face. She staggered suddenly, and Stefan slipped his arm around her.

"It's okay," he said. "You're all right now."

Celia gave a short, slightly hysterical laugh and wiped at her eyes. Then she stood upright, straightening her shoulders, and inhaled deeply. Stefan could see her deliberately calming herself, although her heartbeat was reeling, and he admired her self-control.

"So," she said, holding out her hand, "you must be the vampire Alaric's told me about."

The others were coming up to them now, and Stefan glanced at Alaric in alarm.

"That's something I'd rather you kept private," Stefan told her, feeling a prick of irritation at Alaric for divulging his secret. But his words were almost drowned out by a gasp from Meredith. Her gray eyes, usually so serene, were dark with horror.

"Look," she said, pointing. "Look at what it says." Stefan turned his attention to the pieces of sheer fabric around their feet.

Bonnie gave a little whimper and Matt's eyebrows furrowed. Elena's beautiful face was blank with shock, and Alaric and Celia both appeared entirely confused. For a moment, Stefan saw nothing. Then, like a picture coming into focus, his vision adjusted and he saw what everyone was looking at. The torn scarf had fallen into an elaborately twisted heap, and the supposedly random folds of fabric quite clearly formed letters that spelled: meredith
发表于 2016-9-28 23:37 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 8

"It was seriously creepy," said Bonnie. They had al bundled into Matt's car, Elena hopping onto Stefan's lap and Meredith onto Alaric's (which, Bonnie had noted, Dr. Celia had seemed less than thrilled by). Then they'd hurried back to the boardinghouse, looking for counsel. Once there, they'd all crowded into the parlor and spilled out the story to Mrs. Flowers, talking over one another in their excitement. "First Celia's name - in my blood -

appearing out of nowhere," Bonnie went on, "and then there's this weird accident that could have killed her, and then Meredith's name appears, too. It was all just really, really creepy."

"I'd put it a bit more strongly than that," Meredith said. Then she arched an elegant eyebrow. "Bonnie, this is no doubt the first time I've ever complained you weren't being dramatic enough."

"Hey!" Bonnie objected.

"There you go," Elena joked. "Keep looking on the bright side. The latest insanity is making Bonnie low-key."

Matt shook his head. "Mrs. Flowers, do you know what's happening?"

Mrs. Flowers, seated in a cozy corner chair of the parlor, smiled and patted him on the shoulder. She'd been knitting when they came in, but had laid the pink bundle of yarn aside and had fixed her calm blue eyes on them with her full attention as they told their story. "Dear Matt," she said.

"Always straight to the point."

Poor Celia had been sitting on the couch by Alaric and Meredith, looking stunned since they'd arrived. It was one thing to study the supernatural, but the reality of a vampire, mysteriously appearing names, and a brush with death must have been a shock to her system. Alaric had a reassuring arm around her shoulders. Bonnie thought maybe the arm should have been around Meredith's shoulders. After all , Meredith's name had just shown up in the scarf's folds. But Meredith was just sitting there, watching Alaric and Celia, her face composed, her eyes unreadable.

Now Celia leaned forward and spoke for the first time.

"Pardon me," she said politely, her voice shaking a bit,

"but I don't understand why we've brought this... this issue to..." Her voice trailed off as her eyes flickered to Mrs. Flowers.

Bonnie knew what she meant. Mrs. Flowers looked like the epitome of a sweet, dotty elderly lady: soft flyaway gray hair drawn back in a bun, a politely vague expression, a wardrobe that leaned toward pastels or shabby blacks, and a habit of muttering quietly, apparently to herself. A year ago, Bonnie herself had thought Mrs. Flowers was just the crazy old woman who ran the boardinghouse where Stefan lived.

But appearances could be deceptive. Mrs. Flowers had earned the respect and admiration of every one of them by the way she had protected the town with her magic, Power, and good sense. There was a lot more to this little old lady than met the eye.

"My dear," said Mrs. Flowers firmly, "you've had a very traumatic experience. Drink your tea. It's a special calming blend that's been passed down in my family for generations. We will do everything we can for you."

Which, Bonnie observed, was a very sweet and ladylike way of putting Dr. Celia Connor in her place. She was to drink her tea and recuperate, and they would figure out how to solve the problem. Celia's eyes flashed, but she sipped her tea obediently.

"Now," Mrs. Flowers said, looking around at the others, "it seems to me that the first thing to do is to figure out what the intention is behind the appearance of the names. Once we do that, perhaps we will have a better idea of who might be behind their appearance."

"Maybe to warn us?" Bonnie said hesitantly. "I mean, Celia's name appeared, and then she almost died, and now Meredith..." Her voice trailed off and she looked at Meredith apologetically. "I'm worried you might be in danger."

Meredith squared her shoulders. "It certainly wouldn't be the first time," she said.

Mrs. Flowers nodded briskly. "Yes, it's possible that the appearance of the names has a benevolent intention. Let's explore that theory. Someone may be trying to get a warning to you. If so, who? And why do they have to do it in this way?"

Bonnie's voice was even softer and more hesitant now. But if no one else was going to say it, she would. "Could it be Damon?"

"Damon's dead," Stefan said flatly.

"But when Elena was dead, she warned me about Klaus," Bonnie argued.

Stefan massaged his temples. He looked tired. "Bonnie, when Elena died, Klaus trapped her spirit between dimensions. She hadn't fully passed away. And even then, she could only visit you in your dreams - not anyone else, just you, because you can sense things other people can't. She couldn't make anything happen in the physical world."

Elena's voice trembled. "Bonnie, the Guardians told us that vampires don't live on after death. In any sense of the word. Damon's gone." Stefan reached out and took her hand, his eyes troubled.

Bonnie felt a sharp stab of sympathy for them both. She was sorry she'd brought Damon up, but she hadn't been able to stop herself. The thought that he might be watching over them, irascible and mocking but ultimately kind, had briefly lifted the weight from her heart. Now that weight came crashing back down. "Well ," she said dully, "then I don't have any idea who might be warning us. Does anybody else?"

They all shook their heads, baffled. "Who even knows about us now that has this kind of power?" Matt asked.

"The Guardians?" said Bonnie doubtfully.

But Elena shook her head with a quick decisive motion, blond hair swinging. "It's not them," she said. "The last thing they'd do is send a message in blood. Visions would be more their style. And I'm pretty sure the Guardians washed their hands of us when they sent us back here."

Mrs. Flowers interlocked her fingers in her lap. "So perhaps there is some as yet unknown person or being looking after you, warning you of danger ahead."

Matt had been sitting ramrod straight in one of Mrs. Flowers's daintier chairs, and it creaked alarmingly as he leaned forward. "Um," he said. "I think the better question is, what's causing that danger?"

Mrs. Flowers spread her small , wrinkled hands. "You're perfectly right. Let's consider the options. On the one hand, it could be a warning for something that was natural y going to happen. Celia's - you don't mind if I call you Celia, do you, dear?"

Celia, still looking shell -shocked, shook her head.

"Good. Celia's scarf getting caught in the train doors could have been a natural accident. Forgive me for saying so, but those long, dramatic scarves can be very dangerous. The dancer Isadora Duncan was killed in just that way when her scarf caught in the wheel of a car many years ago. Perhaps whoever sent the message was simply raising a flag for Celia to be careful, or for the rest of you to take care of her. Perhaps Meredith merely needs to be cautious over the next few days."

"You don't think so, though, do you?" asked Meredith sharply.

Mrs. Flowers sighed. "This al feels rather malevolent to me. I think if someone wanted to warn you about the possibility of accidents, they could find a better way than names written in blood. Both of these names appeared as the results of rather violent incidents, correct? Bonnie cutting herself and Stefan ripping the scarf from Celia's neck?"

Meredith nodded.

Looking troubled, Mrs. Flowers continued. "And, of course, the other possibility is that the appearance of the names is itself malicious. Perhaps the names' appearance is an essential ingredient in or targeting method for some spell that is causing the danger."

Stefan frowned. "You're talking about dark magic, aren't you?"

Mrs. Flowers met his eyes squarely. "I'm afraid so. Stefan, you're the oldest and most experienced of us by far. I've never heard of anything like this, have you?"

Bonnie felt a bit surprised. Of course, she knew that Stefan was much older than even Mrs. Flowers - after all , he'd been alive before electricity, or running water, or cars, or anything they took for granted in the modern world, while Mrs. Flowers was probably only in her seventies. But still , it was easy to forget how long Stefan had lived. He looked just like any other eighteen-year-old, except that he was exceptionally handsome. A traitorous thought flickered at the back of her mind, one she'd had before: How was it that Elena always got all the best-looking guys?

Stefan was shaking his head. "Nothing like this, no. But I think you're right that it may be dark magic. Perhaps, if you spoke to your mother about it..."

Celia, who was starting to take more of an interest in what was going on, looked at Alaric quizzically. Then she cast a glance toward the door, as if expecting a hundred year-old woman to wander in. Bonnie grinned to herself, despite the seriousness of the situation.

They had al gotten so matter-of-fact about Mrs. Flowers's frequent conversations with the ghost of her mother that none of them blinked when Mrs. Flowers gazed off into space and started muttering rapidly, eyebrows lifting, eyes scanning unoccupied space as if someone unseen were speaking to her. But to Celia it must have seemed pretty strange.

"Yes," said Mrs. Flowers, returning her attention to them.

"Mama says there is indeed something dark stirring in Fell's Church. But" - her hands lifted, palms empty - "she cannot tell what form it takes. She simply warns us to be careful. Whatever it is, she can sense that it's deadly."

Stefan and Meredith frowned, taking this in. Alaric was murmuring to Celia, probably explaining what was going on. Matt bowed his head.

Elena pushed on, already working on the next angle.

"Bonnie, what about you?" she asked.

"Huh?" Bonnie asked. Then she realized what Elena meant. "No. Nuh-uh. I'm not going to know anything Mrs. Flowers's mother doesn't."

Elena just looked at her, and Bonnie sighed. This was important, after all . Meredith's name was next, and if there was one thing that was true, it was that she and Meredith and Elena had one another's backs. Always. "All right," she said reluctantly. "I'll see if I can find out anything else. Can you light me a candle?"

"What now?" Celia asked in confusion.

"Bonnie's psychic," Elena explained simply.

"Fascinating," Celia said brightly, but her eyes slid, cool and disbelieving, across Bonnie.

Well , whatever. Bonnie didn't care what she thought. She could assume that Bonnie was pretending or crazy if she wanted to, but she'd see what happened eventually. Elena brought a candle over from its spot on the mantel, lit it, and placed it on the coffee table.

Bonnie swallowed, licked her lips, which were suddenly dry, and tried to focus on the candle flame. Although she'd had plenty of practice, she didn't like doing this, didn't like the sensation of losing herself, as if she were sliding underwater.

The flame flickered and grew brighter. It seemed to swell and fil Bonnie's field of vision. Al she could see was flame. I know who you are, a cold, rough voice suddenly growled in her ear, and Bonnie twitched. She hated the voices, sometimes as soft as if they were coming from a distant television, sometimes right beside her, like this one. She somehow always managed to forget them until the next time she began to fall into a trance. A faraway child's voice began a wordless off-key humming, and Bonnie focused on making her breathing slow and steady.

She could feel her eyes slipping out of focus. A sour taste, wet and nasty, filled her mouth.

Envy twisted, sharp and bitter, inside her. It's not fair, not fair, something muttered sullenly in her skull . And then blackness took over.

Elena watched apprehensively as Bonnie's pupils widened, reflecting the candle flame. Bonnie was able to sink into trances much more quickly now than when she had begun having them, which worried Elena.

"Darkness rises." A flat, hollow voice that didn't sound anything like Bonnie's came from her friend's mouth. "It's not here yet, but it wants to be. It's cold. It's been cold for a long time. It wants to be near us, out of the darkness and as warm as our hearts. It hates."

"Is it a vampire?" asked Meredith quickly.

The not-Bonnie voice gave a harsh, choking laugh. "It's much stronger than any vampire. It can find a home in any of you. Watch one another. Watch yourselves."

"What is it?" asked Matt.

Whatever it was that spoke through Bonnie hesitated.

"She doesn't know," said Stefan. "Or she can't tell us. Bonnie," he said intently, "is someone bringing this thing to us? Who's causing it?"

No hesitation this time. "Elena," it said. "Elena brought it."
发表于 2016-9-28 23:58 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 9

Bonnie winced at the nasty metalic taste in her mouth and blinked several times, until the room around her came back into focus. "Ugh," she said. "I hate doing that."

Everyone was staring at her, their faces white and shocked.

"What?" she said uneasily. "What'd I say?"

Elena was sitting very still . "You said it was my fault," she said slowly. "Whatever is coming after us, I brought it here."

Stefan reached out to cover her hand with his own. Unbidden, the meanest, narrowest part of Bonnie's mind thought wearily, Of course. It's always about Elena, isn't it?

Meredith and Matt filled Bonnie in on the rest of what she'd said in her trance, but their eyes kept returning to Elena's stricken face, and as soon as they finished telling her what she'd missed, they turned away from Bonnie, back to Elena.

"We need to make a plan," Meredith said to her softly.

"We'll all want some refreshment," Mrs. Flowers said, rising to her feet, and Bonnie followed her into the kitchen, eager to escape the tension of the room.

She wasn't really a plan girl, anyway, she told herself. She'd made her contribution just by being the vision girl. Elena and Meredith were the ones everyone looked to for making the decisions.

But it wasn't fair, was it? She wasn't a fool, despite the fact that her friends al treated her like the baby of the group. Everyone thought Elena and Meredith were so clever and so strong, but Bonnie had saved the day again and again - not that anyone ever remembered that. She ran her tongue along the edges of her teeth, trying to scrape off the nasty sour taste still in her mouth.

Mrs. Flowers had decided that what the group needed to soothe them was some of her special elder-flower lemonade. While she filled the glasses with ice, poured the drinks, and set them out on a tray, Bonnie watched her restlessly. There was a rough, empty feeling inside Bonnie, like something was missing. It wasn't fair, she thought again. None of them appreciated her or realized al she'd done for them.

"Mrs. Flowers," she said suddenly. "How do you talk to your mother?"

Mrs. Flowers turned to her, surprised. "Why, my dear,"

she said, "it's very easy to speak to ghosts, if they want to speak to you, or if they are the spirits of someone you loved. Ghosts, you see, have not left our plane but stay close to us."

"But still ," Bonnie pressed on, "you can do more than that, a lot more." She pictured Mrs. Flowers, young again, eyes flashing, hair flying, fighting the kitsune's malevolent Power with an equal Power of her own. "You're a very powerful witch."

Mrs. Flowers's expression was reserved. "It's kind of you to say so, dear."

Bonnie twirled a ringlet of her hair around one finger anxiously, weighing her next words. "Well... if you would, of course - only if you have time - I'd like you to train me. Whatever you'd be willing to teach me. I can see things and I've gotten better at that, but I'd like to learn everything, anything else you can show me. Divining, and about herbs. Protection spells. The works, I guess. I feel like there's so much I don't know, and I think I might have talent, you know?

I hope so, anyway."

Mrs. Flowers looked at her appraisingly for one long moment and then nodded once more.

"I wil teach you," she said. "With pleasure. You possess great natural talent."

"Really?" Bonnie said shyly. A warm bubble of happiness rose inside her, filling the emptiness that had engulfed her just moments ago.

Then she cleared her throat and added, as casual y as she could manage, "And I was wondering... can you talk to anyone who's dead? Or just your mother?"

Mrs. Flowers didn't answer for a few moments. Bonnie felt like the older woman's sharp blue gaze was looking straight through her and analyzing the mind and heart inside. When Mrs. Flowers did speak, her voice was gentle.

"Who is it you want to contact, dear?"

Bonnie flinched. "No one in particular," she said quickly, erasing an image of Damon's black-on-black eyes from her mind. "It just seems like something that would be useful. And interesting, too. Like, I could learn all about Fell's Church's history." She turned away from Mrs. Flowers and busied herself with the lemonade glasses, leaving the subject behind for now.

There would be time to ask again, she thought. Soon.

"The most important thing," Elena was saying earnestly, "is to protect Meredith. We've gotten a warning, and we need to take advantage of it, not sit around worrying about where it came from. If something terrible - something I brought somehow - is coming, we'll deal with it when it gets here. Right now, we look out for Meredith."

She was so beautiful, she made Stefan dizzy. Quite literally: Sometimes he would look at her, catch her at a certain angle, and would see, as if for the first time, the delicate curve of her cheek, the lightest rose-petal blush in her creamy skin, the soft seriousness of her mouth. In those moments, every time, his head and stomach would swoop as if he'd just gotten off a roller coaster. Elena. He belonged to her; it was as simple as that. As if for hundreds of years he had been journeying toward this one mortal girl, and now that he had found her, his long, long life finally had found its purpose.

You don't have her, though, something inside him said. Not all of her. Not really.

Stefan shook off the traitorous thought. Elena loved him. She loved him bravely and desperately and passionately and far more than he deserved. And he loved her. That was what mattered.

And right now, this sweet mortal girl he loved was efficiently organizing a schedule for guarding Meredith, assigning duties with the calm expectation that she would be obeyed. "Matt," she said, "if you're working tomorrow night, you and Alaric can take the daytime shift. Stefan will take over at night, and Bonnie and I will pick up in the morning."

"You should have been a general," Stefan murmured to her, earning himself a quick smile.

"I don't need guards," Meredith said irritably. "I've been trained in martial arts and I've faced the supernatural before." It seemed to Stefan that her eye rested speculatively on him for a second, and he forced himself not to bristle under her scrutiny. "My stave is all the protection I need."

"A stave like yours couldn't have protected Celia," Elena argued. "Without Stefan there to intervene, she would have been killed." On the couch, Celia closed her eyes and rested her head against Alaric's arm.

"Fine, then." Meredith spoke in a clipped tone, her eyes on Celia. "It's true, out of all of us, only Stefan could have saved her. And that's the other reason this whole team effort to protect me is ridiculous. Do you have the strength and speed these days to save me from a moving train, Elena? Does Bonnie?" Stefan saw Bonnie, coming in with a tray of lemonade glasses, pause and frown as she heard Meredith's words.

He had known, of course, that with Damon dead and Elena's Powers gone, he was the only one left to protect the group. Well , Mrs. Flowers and Bonnie had some limited magical ability. Then Stefan amended the thought further. Mrs. Flowers was actual y quite powerful, but her powers were still depleted from fighting the kitsune. It came to the same thing, then: Stefan was the only one who could protect them now. Meredith might talk about her responsibilities as a vampire hunter, but in the end, despite her training and heritage, she was just another mortal. His eyes scanned the group, all the mortals, his mortals. Meredith, serious gray eyes and a steely resolve. Matt, eager and boyish and decent down to the bone. Bonnie, sunny and sweet, and with a core of strength perhaps even she didn't know she had. Mrs. Flowers, a wise matriarch. Alaric and Celia... well , they weren't his mortals the way the others were, but they fell under his protection while they were here. He had sworn to protect humans, when he could. If he could.

He remembered Damon saying to him once, laughing in one of his fits of dangerous good humor, his face gleeful,

"They're just so fragile, Stefan! You can break them without even meaning to!"

And Elena, his Elena. She was as vulnerable as the rest of them now. He flinched. If anything ever happened to her, Stefan knew beyond a doubt that he would take off the ring that let him walk in the day, lie down in the grass above her grave, and wait for the sun.

But the same hollow voice inside that questioned Elena's love for him whispered darkly in his ear: She would not do the same for you. You are not her everything. As Elena and Meredith, with occasional interjections from Matt and Bonnie, continued to argue about whether Meredith needed the efforts of the group to guard her, Stefan closed his eyes and slipped into his memories of Damon's death.

Stefan watched, foolish and uncomprehending and just not fast enough, as Damon, quicker than him till the last, dashed toward the huge tree and flung Bonnie, light as dandelion fluff, out of the reach of the barbed branches already plummeting toward her.

As he threw her, a branch caught Damon through his chest, pinning him to the ground. Stefan saw the moment of shock in his brother's eyes before they rolled backward. A single drop of blood ran from his mouth down his chin.

"Damon, open your eyes!" Elena was screaming. There was a rough tone in her voice, an agony Stefan had never heard from her before. Her hands jerked at Damon's shoulders, as if she wanted to shake him hard, and Stefan pulled her away. "He can't, Elena, he can't," he said, half sobbing.

Couldn't she see that Damon was dying? The branch had stopped his heart and the tree's poison was spreading through his veins and arteries. He was gone. Stefan had gently lowered Damon's head to the ground. He would let his brother go.

But Elena wouldn't.

Turning to take her in his arms and comfort her, Stefan saw that she had forgotten him. Her eyes were closed and her lips were moving soundlessly. All her muscles were taut, straining toward Damon, and Stefan realized with a dull shock that she and Damon were connected still, that a last conversation was being carried on along some private frequency that excluded him.

Her face was wet with tears, and she suddenly fumbled for her knife and with one swift, sure movement, nicked her own jugular vein, starting blood flowing across her neck. "Drink, Damon," she said in a desperate, prayerlike voice, prying his mouth open with her hands and angling her neck above it.

The smell of Elena's blood was rich and tangy, making Stefan's canines itch with desire even in his horror at her carelessness in cutting her own throat. Damon did not drink. The blood ran out of his mouth and down his neck, soaking his shirt and pooling on his black leather jacket. Elena sobbed and threw herself on top of Damon, kissing his cold lips, her eyes clenched shut. Stefan could tell she was still in communion with Damon's spirit, a telepathic exchange of love and secrets private between them, the two people he loved most. The only people he loved.

A cold tendril of envy, the feeling of being the outsider looking in, the one who was left all alone, curled along Stefan's spine even as tears of grief ran down his face. A phone rang, and Stefan snapped back to the present. Elena glanced at her cell and then answered, "Hi, Aunt Judith." She paused. "At the boarding house with everybody. We picked up Alaric and his friend from the train." Another pause and she grimaced. "I'm sorry, I forgot. Yes, I will . In just a few minutes, all right? Okay. Bye."

She hung up and got to her feet. "Apparently at some point I promised Aunt Judith I would be home for dinner tonight. Robert's getting out the fondue set and Margaret wants me to show her how to dip bread in cheese." She rolled her eyes, but Stefan wasn't fooled. He could see how delighted Elena was to have her baby sister idolizing her again.

Elena went on, frowning, "I'm not sure I'll be able to get out again tonight, but someone needs to be with Meredith at all times. Can you stay here tonight, Meredith, instead of at home?"

Meredith nodded slowly, her long legs drawn up under her on the couch. She looked tired and apprehensive, despite her earlier bravado. Elena touched her hand in farewell , and Meredith smiled at her. "I'm sure your minions will take good care of me, Queen Elena," she said lightly.

"I'd expect nothing less," Elena answered in the same tone, turning her smile on the rest of the room. Stefan got to his feet. "I'll walk you home," he said. Matt rose, too. "I can drive you," he offered, and Stefan was surprised to find that he had to suppress the urge to shove Matt back into his seat. Stefan would take care of Elena. She was his responsibility.

"No, stay here, both of you," Elena said firmly. "It's only a few blocks, and it's still broad daylight out. You look after Meredith."

Stefan settled back in his chair, eyeing Matt. With a wave, Elena was gone, and Stefan stretched out his senses to follow her as far as he could, pushing his Power to sense whether anything dangerous, anything at all , lurked nearby. His Powers weren't strong enough, though, to reach all the way to Elena's house. He curled his hands into tight, frustrated fists. He had been so much more powerful when he allowed himself to drink human blood. Meredith was watching him, gray eyes sympathetic.

"She'll be okay," she said. "You can't watch her all the time."

But I can try, thought Stefan.

When Elena strolled up her walk, Caleb was clipping the glossy green leaves of the flowering camel ia bushes in front of the house.

"Hi," she said, surprised. "Have you been here all day?"

He stopped trimming and wiped the sweat off his forehead. With his blond hair and healthy tan, he looked like a California surfer transplanted to a Virginia lawn. Elena thought Caleb seemed just right on a perfect summer day like this one, a lawn mower humming in the distance somewhere, the sky blue and high above them.

"Sure," he said cheerfully. "Lots to do. It looks good, right?"

"It really does," she said. And it did. The grass was mowed, the hedges were perfectly trimmed, and he had set out some daisies in the flower beds near the house.

"What've you been up to today?" Caleb asked.

"Nothing as energetic as this," Elena said, suppressing the memory of the desperate race to save Celia. "My friends and I just picked someone up at the train station and hung out inside for the rest of the day. I hope the weather holds, though. We want to take a picnic up to Hot Springs tomorrow."

"Sounds like fun," Caleb said agreeably. Elena was tempted for a moment to invite him along. Despite Stefan's reservations, he seemed like a nice guy, and he probably didn't know many people in town. Maybe Bonnie would hit it off with him. He was pretty cute, after all . And Bonnie hadn't really been interested in anyone for a while. Anyone other than Damon, a secret little voice said in the back of her mind.

But of course she couldn't invite Caleb. What was she thinking? She and her friends couldn't have outsiders around while they talked about what supernatural entity had it in for them now.

A little pang of longing hit her. Would she ever be a girl who could have a picnic and swim and flirt and be able to talk to anyone she liked, because she had no dark secrets to conceal?

"Aren't you exhausted?" she asked, quickly changing the subject.

She thought she saw a flicker of disappointment in his eyes. Had he realized she was thinking of inviting him along on the picnic and then changed her mind? But he answered readily enough. "Oh, your aunt ran me out a couple of glasses of lemonade, and I had a sandwich with your sister at lunchtime." He grinned. "She's a cutie. And an excellent conversationalist. She told me all about tigers."

"She talked to you?" Elena said with surprise. "She's usually really shy around new people. She wouldn't talk to my boyfriend, Stefan, until he'd been around for months."

"Oh, well ," he said, and shrugged. "Once I showed her a couple of magic tricks, she was so fascinated she forgot to be shy. She's going to be a master magician by the time she starts first grade. She's a natural."

"Really?" said Elena. She felt a sharp shift in her stomach, a sense of loss. She had missed so much of her little sister's life. She'd noticed at breakfast that she looked and sounded older. It was like Margaret had grown into a different person without her. Elena gave herself a mental shake: She needed to stop being such a whiner. She was unbelievably lucky just to be here now.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "Look, I taught her this." He held out a tanned fist, turned it over, and opened his hand to reveal a camel ia blossom, waxy and white, closed his hand, then opened it again to reveal a tightly furled bud.

"Wow," said Elena, intrigued. "Do it again."

She watched intently as he opened and closed his hand several times, revealing flower then bud, flower then bud.

"I showed Margaret how to do it with coins, switching between a quarter and a penny," he said, "but it's the same principle."

"I've seen tricks like that before," she said, "but I can't figure out where you're hiding the one that isn't showing. How do you do it?"

"Magic, of course," he said, smiling, and opened his hand to let the camel ia blossom fall at Elena's feet.

"Do you believe in magic?" she said, looking up into his warm blue eyes. He was flirting with her, she knew - guys always flirted with Elena if she let them.

"Well , I ought to," he said softly. "I'm from New Orleans, you know, the home of voodoo."

"Voodoo?" she said, a cold shiver going down her spine. Caleb laughed. "I'm just playing with you," he said.

"Voodoo. Jeez, what a load of crap."

"Oh, right. Totally," Elena said, forcing a giggle.

"One time, though," Caleb continued, "back before my parents died, Tyler was visiting, and the two of us went to the French Quarter to get our fortunes told by this old voudon priestess."

"Your parents died?" Elena asked, surprised. Caleb lowered his head for a moment, and Elena reached out to touch him, her hand lingering on his. "Mine did, too," she said.

Caleb was very still. "I know," he said.

Their eyes met, and Elena winced in sympathy. There was such pain in Caleb's warm blue eyes when she looked for it, despite his easy smile.

"It was years ago," he said softly. "I still miss them sometimes, though, you know."

She squeezed his hand. "I know," she said quietly. Then Caleb smiled and shook his head a little, and the moment between them was over. "This was before that, though," he said. "We were maybe twelve years old when Tyler visited." Caleb's slight Southern accent got stronger as he went on, his tone lazy and rich. "I didn't believe in that stuff back then, either, and I don't think Tyler did, but we thought it might be kind of fun. You know how it's fun to scare yourself a little sometimes." He paused. "It was pretty creepy, actually. She had all these black candles burning and weird charms everywhere, stuff made of bones and hair. She threw some powder on the floor around us and looked at the different patterns. She told Tyler she saw a big change coming for him and that he needed to think carefully before he put himself in someone else's power."

Elena flinched involuntarily. A big change had certainly come for Tyler, and he had put himself in the vampire Klaus's power. Wherever Tyler was now, things hadn't turned out the way he'd planned.

"And what did she tell you?" she asked.

"Nothing much, really," he answered. "Mostly just to be good. Stay out of trouble, look out for my family. That kind of thing. Stuff I try to do. My aunt and uncle need me here now, with Tyler missing." He looked down at her again, shrugged, and smiled. "Like I said, though, it was mostly just a load of crap. Magic and all that nutty stuff."

"Yeah," Elena said hollowly. "All that nutty stuff."

The sun went behind a cloud and Elena shivered once more. Caleb moved closer to her.

"Are you cold?" he said, and reached a hand out toward her shoulder.

At that moment a raucous caw burst from the trees by the house, and a big black crow flew toward them, low and fast. Caleb dropped his hand and ducked, covering his face, but the crow angled up at the last minute, flapping furiously, and soared away over their heads.

"Did you see that?" Caleb cried. "It almost hit us."

"I did," Elena answered, watching as the graceful winged silhouette disappeared into the sky. "I did."

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