Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Hunters: Moonsong Chapter Forty

Damon was moving fast, and Elena and the others had to almost race to keep up with him as they headed for the library. â€Å"Typical Stefan, sacrificing himself,† he muttered angrily. â€Å"He could have asked for help when he realized something was going on.† He stopped for a second to let the others catch up and glared at them al . â€Å"If Stefan can't handle a few newly made vampires by himself, I'm ashamed of him,† he said. â€Å"Maybe we should just leave him after al . Survival of the fittest.† Elena touched his hand lightly, and, after a moment, Damon hurried on toward the library. She didn't for an instant believe he would leave Stefan a captive. None of them did. The taut, strained lines of his face showed that Damon was entirely focused on the danger his brother was in, their rivalry temporarily forgotten. â€Å"It's not just a few vampires,† Matt said. â€Å"There are about twenty-five of them. I'm sorry, you guys, I've been a moron.† He swung the stave Meredith had given him – Samantha's stave – determinedly in one hand. â€Å"It's not your fault,† Bonnie said. â€Å"You couldn't have known your frat – or whatever – was evil, could you?† If anyone had spotted them as they crossed the campus, Elena was sure they would have been an alarming sight: she and Bonnie were clutching the large, sharp hunting knives Meredith had given them only half concealed under their jackets. Matt was holding the stave, and Meredith had her own stave in one hand. But it was past midnight, and the path they were fol owing was deserted. Only Damon wasn't carrying a weapon, and he clearly was a weapon. His human fa?ade seemed to have lifted, and his angry expression could have been carved out of stone, except for the glimpse of sharp white teeth between his lips and the seemingly bottomless darkness of his eyes. When they reached the closed library, Damon didn't pause, forcing its metal doors open with the grinding sound of splitting metal. Elena glanced around nervously. The last thing they needed was campus security showing up. But the paths near the library were dark and empty. They al fol owed Damon down to the basement and into the hal ways of administrative offices. Final y, he stopped outside the door marked Research Office where he and Elena had once met Matt. â€Å"This is the entrance?† he asked Matt and, at his nod, efficiently broke the lock on the door. â€Å"You're al staying up here. Just Meredith and I are going down.† He looked at Meredith. â€Å"Want to kil some vampires, hunter? Let's fulfil your destiny, shal we?† Meredith slashed her stave in the air, and a slow smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. â€Å"I'm ready,† she said at last. â€Å"I'm coming, too,† Elena said, keeping her voice steady. â€Å"I'm not waiting up here while Stefan's in danger.† Damon drew a breath, and she thought he was going to argue with her, but instead he sighed. â€Å"Al right, princess,† he said, his voice gentler than it had been since Matt told them what had happened to Stefan. â€Å"But you do what I – or Meredith – tel you.† â€Å"I'm not waiting up here,† Matt said stubbornly. â€Å"This is my fault.† Damon turned on him, his mouth twisting into a sneer. â€Å"Yes, it is your fault. And you told us Ethan can control you. I don't want to get your knife in my back while we're fighting your enemies.† Matt dropped his head, defeated. â€Å"Okay,† he said. â€Å"Go down two flights of stairs, and you'l see the doors to the room they're in.† Damon nodded sharply and pul ed up the trapdoor. Meredith fol owed him down the stairs, but Matt caught Elena's arm as she headed after them. â€Å"Please,† he said quickly. â€Å"If any of the pledges stil seem rational, even if they're vampires, try to get them out. Maybe we can help them. My friend Chloe†¦Ã¢â‚¬  In the grim lines of his face, his pale blue eyes were frightened. â€Å"I'l try,† Elena said, and squeezed his hand. She exchanged a glance with Bonnie, then fol owed Meredith through the trapdoor. When they reached the entrance to the Vitale Society's chamber, Meredith and Damon pressed their backs against the elaborately carved wooden doors. Watching, Elena could see a similarity for the first time between them. Now that they were facing a battle, Meredith and Damon were both wearing eager smiles. One †¦ two †¦ came Damon's silent count †¦ three. They pushed together. The double doors flew inward, and the chains that had held them closed went flying. Damon stalked in, stil smiling a vicious gleaming smile, Meredith erect and alert behind him, her stave poised. Dark figures rushed at them, but Elena was looking past them, searching for Stefan. Then her eyes found him, and al the breath rushed out of her. He was hurt. Tied firmly to a chair, he raised a pale face to greet her, his leaf-green eyes agonized. From his arm, dark red blood dripped steadily, pooling on the floor beneath his chair. Elena went a little mad. Charging across the room toward Stefan, she was only half aware of one of the hooded figures leaping at her, and of Damon catching it in midstride, casual y snapping its neck and letting the body fal to the floor. Absently, she registered the smack of wood against flesh as Meredith caught another attacker with her stave so that it fel in convulsions as the concentrated essence of vervain from the stave's spikes hit its bloodstream. And then she was crouching next to Stefan, and, for a moment at least, nothing else mattered. He was shaking slightly, just the faintest tremors, and she stroked his hand, careful of the wound on his forearm. Raised red ridges ran around his wrists below the rope, spots of blood on their surface. â€Å"Vervain on the ropes,† he muttered. â€Å"I'm okay, just hurry.† And then, â€Å"Elena?† Below the pain in his voice, a dawning note of joy. She hoped he could read al the love she felt in her eyes as she met his gaze. â€Å"I'm here, Stefan. I'm so sorry.† She took out the knife Meredith had given her and began to saw at the ropes that held him, careful not to cut him, trying not to pul the ropes any tighter. He winced in pain, and then the ropes around his wrists snapped. â€Å"Your poor arm,† she said, and felt in her pockets for something to staunch the blood, final y just pul ing off her jacket and holding it against the cut. Stefan took the jacket from her. â€Å"You'l have to cut through the rest of the ropes, too,† he said, his voice strained. â€Å"I can't touch them because of the vervain.† She nodded and went to work on the ropes holding his legs. â€Å"I love you,† she told him, concentrating on her work, not looking up. â€Å"I love you so much. I hurt you, and I never wanted to. Never, Stefan. Please believe me.† She finished cutting through the ropes around his knee s and ankles and chanced a glance up at Stefan's face. Tears, she realized, were running down her own face, and she wiped them away. The thud of another body hitting the floor and a screech of rage came from behind them. But Stefan's eyes held hers unwaveringly. â€Å"Elena, I†¦Ã¢â‚¬  he sighed. â€Å"I love you more than anything in the world,† he said simply. â€Å"You know that. No conditions.† She took a long, shuddering breath and wiped the tears away again. She had to be able to see, had to keep her hands from shaking. The ropes around his torso were looped and twisted together. She pul ed at them, finding where there was enough give to start cutting, and Stefan hissed in pain. â€Å"Sorry, sorry,† she said hurriedly, and began to slice through the rope as rapidly as she dared. â€Å"Stefan,† she began again, â€Å"the kiss with Damon – Well, I can't lie and say I don't feel anything for him – but the kiss wasn't anything I'd planned on. I didn't even mean to be with him that night, it just happened. And when you saw us, that kiss, he'd just saved my life†¦Ã¢â‚¬  She was stumbling over her words now, and she let them trail off. â€Å"I don't have any real excuses, Stefan,† she said flatly. â€Å"I just want you to forgive me. I don't think I can live without you.† The last of the ropes parted, and she eased them from around him before she looked up, frightened and hopeful. Stefan was gazing at her, his sculpted lips turning up in a half smile. â€Å"Elena,† he said and pul ed her to him in a brief, tender kiss. Then he pushed her to the wal . â€Å"Stay out of this, please,† he said, and limped toward the fight, stil weak from the vervain, but reaching to pul a vampire away from Meredith and sinking his own fangs into its neck. Not that she needed his help. Meredith was amazing. When had she gotten so good? Elena had seen her fight before, of course, and she'd been strong and quick, but now the tal girl was as graceful as a dancer and as deadly as an assassin. She was fighting three vampires, who circled her angrily. Spinning and kicking, moving almost as fast as the monsters she was fighting, despite the fact that their speed was supernatural, she knocked one off his feet, sending him flying, and, in a smooth fol ow-up blow, bashed another in the face, leaving the vampire staggering backward with his hands up, half blinded. There were bodies littered across the floor, evidence of Meredith's skil and Damon's vicious rage. As Elena watched, Stefan tossed down the drained body of the vampire he had been fighting and looked around. Only Ethan and the three vampires surrounding Meredith remained on their feet. Damon had Ethan on the run, backing nervously away as Damon stalked toward him, peppering him with sharp open-handed blows. â€Å"†¦ my brother,† she heard Damon muttering. â€Å"Insolent pup. You think you know anything, child, you think you want power?† With a sudden, violent movement, he grabbed Ethan's arm and jerked. Elena could hear the bone snap. Stefan passed Elena, heading toward Meredith again, and paused for a moment. â€Å"Ethan was laying a trap for Damon,† he told her dryly. â€Å"I don't know why I was worried. Clearly, he didn't know what he was trying to catch.† Elena nodded again, suppressing a grin. The idea of any brand-new vampire getting the better of Damon, with al his experience and cunning, seemed ridiculous. Then the tide of the battle suddenly turned. One of the vampires Meredith was fighting dodged her blow and, half bent over, flung itself at her, knocking the slender girl into the air. There was an endless moment where Meredith looked like she was flying, arms akimbo, and then she slammed headfirst into the heavy altarlike table at the front of the room. The table wobbled and fel over with a heavy thud. Meredith lay stil , her eyes closed, unconscious. Elena ran to her and knelt down, cradling her head in her lap. The three vampires Meredith had been fighting were worse for the wear. One had blood steadily streaming down his face, another was limping, and the last was doubled over as if something had been injured inside her, but they could stil move fast. In an instant, they had surrounded Stefan. As Damon growled and turned, shifting his stance to help his brother, Ethan saw his chance and launched himself at Damon. Faster than Elena's eye could fol ow, his teeth were gouging at Damon's throat, bright spurts of blood flying up. He had a knife in one hand and was trying to cut at Damon at the same time as he bit. With a cry of pain and shock, Damon clawed at Ethan, trying to fling him away. Elena picked up her knife again and rushed toward them. But two of the remaining vampires were on Damon in a split second, pul ing his arms back. One caught Damon's midnight dark hair in his hand, yanking the older vampire's head back to expose his throat more ful y to Ethan's teeth. Off balance, Damon staggered backward and for a moment caught Elena's eye, his face soft with dismay. Terrified, Elena grabbed at the back of one of the vampires, and it threw her to the floor without even looking at her. Stefan, meanwhile, was caught in a struggle with another vampire, desperate to get to his brother. Damon was a better and a more experienced warrior than any of the vampires attacking him. But if they pushed their momentary advantage, used their superior numbers, they might bring him down before he could recover. She clutched her knife tighter and jumped to her feet again, knowing in her heart that she'd be too late to save him but that she needed to try. A snarling blur shot past her, and Stefan, free of his adversary, slammed into Ethan, throwing him across the room, sending his knife flying. Without pausing, he ripped one of the other vampires from Damon's arm and snapped his neck. By the time the body hit the floor, Damon had neatly dispatched the other one. The brothers, both panting, exchanged a long look that seemed to carry a lot of unspoken communication. Damon wiped a smear of crimson blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. Suddenly an arm was around Elena's throat, and the knife was wrenched out of her hand. She was being dragged upward. Something sharp was poking her in the tender hol ow at the bottom of her neck. â€Å"I can kil her before you could even get over here,† Ethan's voice said, too loud by her ear. Elena flailed an arm backward, trying to grab at his hair or face, and he kicked viciously at her legs, knocking her off-balance, and pul ed her closer. â€Å"I could snap her neck with one arm. I could stab her with her own knife and let her bleed out. It would be fun.† He was holding her knife, Elena realized, pressed against her throat. His other arm hung loose, and curiously bent. Damon had broken it, Elena remembered. Stefan and Damon froze and then very slowly turned toward Elena and Ethan, both their faces shuttered and wary. Then Damon's broke into a rictus of rage. â€Å"Let her go,† he snarled. â€Å"We'd kil you the second she hit the ground.† Ethan laughed, a remarkably genuine laugh for someone in a life-or-death standoff. â€Å"She'l stil be dead, though, so I think it might be worth it. You're not planning to let me leave here anyway, are you?† He turned to Stefan, his voice mocking. â€Å"You know, I heard all about the Salvatore brothers from some of Klaus's other descendants. They said you were aristocratic and beautiful and terribly hot tempered. That Stefan was moral, and that Damon was remorseless. But they also said that you were both fools for love, always for love. It's your fatal flaw. So, yeah, I think my chances are a lot better when I've got your girlfriend in my power. Whose girlfriend is she, actual y? I can't tel .† Elena flinched. â€Å"Wait a second, Ethan.† Stefan held out his hands placatingly. â€Å"Hold on. If you agree not to bring back Klaus and let Elena go safely, we'l give you whatever you want. Get out of town, and we won't come after you. You'l be safe. If you know about us, you know we'l keep our word.† Behind him, Damon nodded reluctantly, his eyes on Elena's face. Ethan laughed again. â€Å"I don't think you have anything I want anymore, Stefan,† he said. â€Å"The rest of the Vitale Society, including our newest initiates, wil be coming back soon, and I think they'l tip the scales back in my favor.† He tightened his arm around Elena's throat. â€Å"We've kil ed so many students on this campus. Surely one more won't be missed.† Damon hissed in rage and started forward, but Ethan cal ed out, â€Å"Stop right there, or – â€Å" Suddenly, he jerked, and Elena felt a sharp, stinging pain in her throat. She squeaked in horror and grabbed at her own neck. But it was only a scratch from the knife. As Stefan and Damon stood helpless and furious, Ethan's arm loosened from around her throat. He made a hideous gurgling noise. Elena yanked away as soon as his grip weakened. Blood was running in long thick rivulets from Ethan's torso, and his mouth opened in shock as he clutched at himself and slowly fel forward, a round hole in his chest fil ing with blood. Behind him, Meredith stood, hair flying, her usual y cool gray eyes burning like dark coals in her face. Her stave was coated in Ethan's blood. â€Å"I got him in the heart,† she said, her voice fierce. â€Å"Thank you,† Elena murmured politely. She was feeling†¦ real y †¦ very peculiar, and it wasn't until she was actual y starting to fal that she thought, Oh no, I think I'm going to faint. Blurrily, she saw both Damon and Stefan rushing forward to catch her, and when she came to a moment later, she was held tightly in two pairs of arms. â€Å"I'm okay,† she said. â€Å"It was just †¦ for a second, I was†¦Ã¢â‚¬  She felt one pair of arms pul her closer for a moment, and then they released her, shifting her weight over to the other set. When she looked up, Stefan was clutching her tightly to him. Damon stood a few feet away, his face unreadable. â€Å"I knew you'd come to save me,† Stefan said, holding Elena but looking at Damon. Damon's lips twitched into a tiny, reluctant smile. â€Å"Of course I did, you idiot,† he said gruffly. â€Å"I'm your brother.† They looked at each other for a long moment, and then Damon's eyes flicked to Elena, stil in Stefan's arms, and away. â€Å"Let's put out the torches and go,† he said briskly. â€Å"We've stil got about fourteen vampires to find.†

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